Peter Funt Peter Funt, 2/9/2015 [Archive]

What's In a Name?

By Peter Funt

Just guessing here, but I imagine forecasters at the Weather Channel are embarrassed about having to give winter storms names like "Juno," "Kari" and "Linus." Juno is what they called the almost-big one that hit the Northeast in late January. My radar says marketing gurus, not meteorologists, are behind this nonsense.

A symptom of our super-simplified media and click-happy culture is naming things, whether they need names or not. Nothing gets traction nowadays without a hashtag.

I suppose it goes back to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, whose Watergate reporting led to the most ubiquitous tag of all time. It's been four decades yet we still label every scandal a "gate" — as in "Deflate-gate," concerning under-inflated footballs used by the New England Patriots.

Then came Ted Koppel and ABC-TV and their 1979 decision to give a news story its own name. "America Held Hostage" was devoted to a single story concerning captives in Iran. Eventually the series became "Nightline," but the gimmick of "branding" stories stuck — as in "Mystery of Flight 370," which is what CNN called hundreds of hours of coverage about the disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines plane last year.

As for naming storms, the U.S. Weather Bureau (now the National Weather Service) made a fine mess of things over the years. After World War II it began giving tropical storms names used in the military's phonetic alphabet — you know, "Able, Baker, Charlie," and so forth. When these ran out a switch was made to women's names which riled feminist organizations for three decades until men's names were added.

Like this system or not, at least when a government agency names a storm every Tom, Dick and Roker uses it. But the Weather Channel's storm aliases are limited to the confines of the company's cable channel and website. It's as if this newspaper decided to give its own names to presidential speeches — so the State of the Union would be referred to here as, say, Francis. "Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill differed sharply in their reaction to Speech Francis."

The Weather Channel uses fairly uncommon names, such as Juno, a goddess from Roman mythology. No chance that could be confused with anything — except, of course, NASA's Juno spacecraft, now roughly 1.5 billion miles away from Earth on its jaunt to Jupiter. NASA has long been incapable of mounting missions until it gives them names — along with logos to be sewn on controllers' jumpsuits.

And let's not even get started on the military, which has a fondness for branding everything it does, as in "Operation Make Mine a Double Latte." The conflict with the terrorist group ISIS has officially been dubbed "Operation Inherent Resolve," which, as names go, is both a political posture and quite a mouthful.

A few months back CNN issued a report on "The 13 hashtags that changed the world." Some were profound, such as #ICantBreathe, which drew attention to Eric Garner's death at the hands of New York City police. But the very fact that hashtags are changing — or even helping to change — the world, is itself a discomfiting commentary on our times.

When Payton Manning retires from football we might all learn what the heck "Omaha" means. Until then his pet codeword to teammates is just another name, like those on a Weather Channel map, forming an expanding alternate linguistic universe. #Sheesh.

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Peter Funt is a writer and speaker. His book, "Cautiously Optimistic," is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com. © 2014 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate.

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author



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