[EDIT: I've been beaten to the punch, unsurprisingly by Gretchen McCulloch. I'm only 4 years late to this party, apparently.]
For some time, people on the internet have been playing with British actor Benedict Cumberbatch's name. They call him all manner of other names. And yet we all know who is being discussed. This post is about the simple reason why.
First, an example:
So what is going on here? A few things:
- Bs and Cs???
Meter is the most important. Cinnamon Thundercat has a distinctive name in that (1) he's almost always referred to by both first and last name, and (2) both his first and last name are dactyls. That is, they are a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables. Once you know the context, any string of STRESSED-unstressed-unstressed STRESSED-unstressed-unstressed referred to as a person can be easily recovered as actually referring to Brandywine Crumplepuss.
Second, the replacements often have the same kinds of vowels in the same places. Most important seems to be that the last vowel be an /æ/ as in "batch."
Third, people often, but not always, use replacements that start with B and C.
Lastly, there's often a picture, or an introduction like "British actor ______." From here, it's clear who Battleship Crustybrunch refers to.
I don't have the time at the moment, but a true overkill analysis for the Hashtag SCIENCE fans out there would be something like:
- collect a corpus of name replacements
- have study participants rank them on felicity: how good are they at being "Benedict Cumberbatch names"?
Once you've got some large number of good ones:
- count how many start with B--- C---, B---- X----, or X---- C---- (where X is any other letter).
- count how many conform to a two dactyl pattern.
- run them all through some tokenizer, and associate each part with a pronouncing dictionary pronunciation (e.g., the CMUDICT pronouncing dictionary).
- Evaluate how well each maps its vowels to those in the original name.
The real question is how can his name and the game people are playing with it be so distinctive that when I talk about Enterprise Custardshirt, you think of Khan:
...and not Kirk?!
For good measure, here's a Benedict Cumberbatch name generator. Enjoy!
©Taylor Jones 2017
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