December 01, 2006

The name's Lastname. Firstname Lastname

James Bond made his special style of self-introduction famous: "Bond. James Bond", he says. (In the new film Casino Royale, which is terrific, Daniel Craig as Bond does it at least twice; one is in the very last frame.) But Richard von Busack, a James Bond fan who works as film critic for a San Jose and Santa Cruz area free newspaper, the Metro, says that in the 1946 film My Darling Clementine, Henry Fonda introduces himself as "Earp. Wyatt Earp". So, von Busack asks, since James Bond didn't start it, who did? How old is it?

Someone around Language Log Plaza will probably be able to make progress on dating it. Perhaps Zimmer. Ben Zimmer. [Update: Already Lew Furr has pointed out to me that in The Big Sleep, another 1946 movie, we get a character introducing himself as "Jones; Harry Jones". That doesn't push it back to before 1946, but Lew thinks that A. A. Fair/Erle Stanley Gardner's private detective Donald Lam might predate it: Lam regularly introduces himself as "Lam; Donald Lam." ]

By the way, another thing von Busack wants to know is what ELLIPSIS stands for in the new Casino Royale. It's a linguistic term for leaving stuff out because it's understood (as in I could kill you, but I won't ____, where the "____" means "kill you"). But in the film, as far as I can see, it's an arbitrary word that has been chosen as the password of the day for a locked door at the Miami International Airport. We see it when it gets texted to an assassin's cell phone. By guessing its intended use (and that part is easy to miss, I think), Bond is able to get into the staff-only areas of the airport and, in one of several stunning chase-and-action suspense scenes (plot spoiler!), thwart a terrorist attack on an airliner.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at December 1, 2006 02:50 PM