Saturday, June 20, 2009

Blue-Eyed, Dressed for Every Situation

The word of the week: It’s a synthpop band, a river, a tributary river in the generic sense, a city, a record label, and a lot more than most words get to be.
yazoo (YAZ-oo or ya-ZOO) — noun: a tributary that runs parallel to a river (especially when separated by a natural levee).
Excluding the hydrologists and potamologists who read this blog, this word should be familiar to most people as the name of the 80s band who released the song “Situation.”

I know what you’re saying: Drew, you idiot, the band that sang “Situation” was Yaz, not Yazoo. You’re half-right, though I wouldn’t have thought so until recently. The band does call itself Yaz in the U.S., but only because it ended up getting sued when it attempted to cross over from the U.K. to here with its original name, Yazoo. Those two end letters meant a lot of money, at least to the American band already calling itself Yazoo, about which we know nothing today. According to Wikipedia, Yazoo —the famous one, I mean — took its name from the record label Yazoo Records, which boasts all manner of roots music, including some acts I’ve heard of, like Ma Rainey and Blind Willie Johnson, and some I haven’t, like some guy who called himself Barbecue Bob.

Given that a lot of these acts seemed to have originated in the American South, it could well be that the label got its name from Mississippi’s Yazoo River, notable because it parallels the Mississippi River, which in turn gave rise to the term yazoo tributary and as well as just plain yazoo. And the river got its name from the apparently extinct Yazoo tribe of Native Americans, who formerly lived at the mouth of the river. The official site of Yazoo County lists a ton of variant spellings — among them, Yachou, Yasoux, Yasoons, Illasus, others — that eventually gave way to Yazoo. No one knows what the name meant to the people who coined it. That mystery notwithstanding, I like the that the word has persisted, if only in rivers and bands… and one more place.

In light of this past week on this blog and what I’m going to call “the big post”, I was hoping to get away from games-‘n’-names for a bit, but I Googled “yazoo etymology” and the first hit to appear, at least for me, was a link to a page explaining the Final Fantasy VII character Yazoo, which I didn’t know about until today. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

One last note: Until I looked up the lyrics for “Situation,” I’d always thought the opening line was “Though I dress for every situation.” Nope.

Previous words of the week:
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