Wednesday, August 26, 2009

It’s a Secret to Everybody, Part Ten: Name Origins for Chrono Trigger

(This is a reposting of just one section of my rather lengthy “It’s a Secret to Everybody” post on video game etymologies. Click the link to see the whole shebang. Links to other sections are at the bottom of this post.)


The two Chrono Trigger games — both major presences in my wasted youth — each offer a few names worth examining by virtue of becoming problematic as a result of their translation from Japanese to English. Foremost is the first game’s protagonist, Crono, whose name defies etymological sensibilities by omitting the “H” that appears in the series title as a result of the five-character limit that wasn’t extended for the American version of the game; had six characters been allowed, the hero’s name might have been Chrono and therefore more correct. (In official Japanese-language press materials, the name appears with the “H,” it should be noted — or at least that is the case when it’s not rendered as Kurono.) I discuss Crono’s odd name in an older post that focuses on the unusual decision to strip his mother of a name in the game’s English translation. Whereas she had one in the original Japanese, she’s inexplicably known only as Mom in the English version.

missing an “h,” missing a clear pronunciation, missing a distinctive name

Similarly problematic is the name of Chrono Trigger’s leading lady, Marle, which lends itself to a few different pronunciations — somewhere between Meryl and Marley, depending on who’s doing the pronouncing — but which appeared in early Japanese media and English translations of said media as Marl, Mal or Mar, none of which have particularly appealing, heroine-worthy connotations. And then there’s Lucca, a young scientific genius whose name happens to be shared — as it’s pronounced, if not as it’s spelled — by two other female characters of games that Square produced aside from Chrono Trigger: Final Fantasy IV’s Luca, who grows up into a master of robot technology in Final Fantasy IV: The After, and Luka, a young-looking but old-acting character in Secret of Mana.

Crono, Marle and Lucca aren’t the interesting ones, however. As a result of the game’s tendency to skip through time, the three end up meeting heroes from various epochs — among them, Ayla, Frog and Magus. The first, a fur-clad warrior cavewoman, would seem to take her name from the protagonist of Jean M. Auel’s 1980 novel Clan of the Cave Bear, who is also a prehistoric woman who excels at hunting. Japanese media offers Ayla’s name as Eira, however, and I wonder if the decision to link the character to Clan of the Cave Bear might have been made by the American translators and not the original creators. Given that the Chrono Trigger centers around time travel, I wonder if Eira could have any relation to the English word era but have never found an answer one way or the other.

suitably prehistoric, appropriately changeable, and he of many names

Another of the game’s central characters is its representative of the medieval age — an anthropomorphic, sword-toting frog who happens to be named Frog. As the game progresses, the player learns that Frog was cursed into slimy, green amphibiousness and once had both a human form and a more suitable name, Glenn. In Japanese, Frog’s name is Kaeru, which literally translates as “frog,” appropriately enough, but can also mean “to change,” which might be just as appropriate, as well as “to return,” which is really neither here nor there. That Frog’s previous name was Glenn is probably not especially significant, but I can’t help but wonder if it was chosen for its resemblance to the word green, which would be all the greater if English-to-Japanese translation happened to render the name Grenn instead of Glenn. Furthermore, Frog and the rest of the Chrono Trigger cast were designed by artist Akira Toriyama, who also did the character designs for another Squaresoft game, Tobal No. 1, which featured an fair-skinned, green-clad character named Gren Kutz. This guy’s name was probably supposed to be Glenn.

And then there’s Magus, who I wrote about in a previous post. His various names are a rather complicated matter. If you include various identities he goes by in both the English and Japanese versions as well as characters in sequels closely associated with him, Magus has eight.

Both Chrono Trigger and its sequel, Chrono Cross, feature a pair of impish characters who represent a sword called the Masamune — a powerful weapon in the game as well as many other video games. (This weapon and all the others take their names from a famed thirteenth-century swordsmith, Gorō Nyūdō Masamune, who has become synonymous with masterful sword design.) The twin spirits, however, are strictly a Chrono series thing, and the origin of their names, Masa and Mune, is pretty obvious. In the Japanese version of the games, however, no famous Japanese sword is referenced. The blade is the Grandleon and the associated spirits are Gran and Leon. Not nearly as cool, really.

masa, mune, and mr. masamune himself

The brothers also have a sister, Doreen, who doesn’t do much of anything in Chrono Trigger besides have a name that stays the same in both the Japanese and English versions of the game, despite the fact that Doreen is the most ordinary Western name of the whole lot. (It’s theorized that her name is supposed to approximate the English word dream, which could be significant in that it’s suggested that she and her brothers might have been dreamed into existence.) In Chrono Cross, however, all three siblings fuse together to form a new powerful weapon — something called the Mastermune in the English version and Grandream in the Japanese. (Oddly, Mastermune features only one sibling’s name; Grandream features only the ones excluded from Mastermune.) Grandream sort of resembles the name of Gran Dolina, an archeological site in Spain’s Atapuerca Mountains where evidence of the first hominians in Western Europe has been unearthed. Given Chrono Trigger’s theme time travel, it wouldn’t be an entirely inappropriate reference, but I feel like it’s just a coincidence.

In keeping the time-honored tradition of naming video game characters after rock stars, Chrono Trigger features a trio of B-level villains named Ozzie, Flea and Slash, who would seem to take their names from Ozzy Osbourne, Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers and, again, Slash from Guns N’ Roses. (For the record, that’s three characters named after Slash, each in unrelated games. And here’s another: the Chrono Cross character Nikki, who is such a rockstar that he actually fights with his guitar and who happens to be known in Japan as Slash. I’m guessing Nikki takes his American name from the Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx.)

the condiment crew: ozzie, flea and slash

In the Japanese version, the trio has themed names that honor another onomastic tradition: random-ass food names. Ozzie, Flea and Slash are Vinegar, Mayonnaise and Soy Sauce. Or damn close, anyway: The last two fall just a little short, at Mayonee instead of Mayoneezu and Soisuu instead of Soisoosu. The Condiment Crew also helps make sense of another Chrono Trigger character, Tata, whose English name is a clipped version of what the Japanese version was aiming for: Tarta, as in tartar sauce.

Chrono Cross continues the condiment theme with minor, comic relief bosses named Solt, Peppor and Ketchop — or, in Japanese, Salton, Sugar Lou and, for some reason, Ludwig. Yeah, at this point, it seems like something that should be put to an end.

Whereas Chrono Trigger features only seven playable characters, Chrono Cross offers a whopping 45, including some like Glenn and Luccia whose names seem to reference those from the first game. I’m not going to try and tackle the whole cast, but I’ll make a note on one that always stood out to me: Macha.

mammycha, essentially

For being a relatively minor character that only appears in a single game, Macha could inspire long academic papers on the subjects of racial depictions in video games and racial otherness as perceived by Japanese pop culture. In short, she appears to be an incarnation of the mammy stock character, even though the world of Chrono Cross doesn’t exactly have race as we in the real world do — that is, Africa and America don’t exist in the games, so the notion of an African-American representation doesn’t exactly work. But hell — she wields kitchen tools in battle and attacks by throwing dishes at enemies or literally folding them like laundry. For the purposes of this post, I’ll leave the matter at the fact that her Japanese name, Mamacha, even more closely resembles the word mammy. (She and her family members also suffer from a peculiar speech impediment that makes them add the syllable “cha” to the end of words for no apparent reason, but I’ve never been able to make any sense of this.) Macha was the subject of one of the earlier posts of this style that I ever put up on this blog, so have a look if you’d like to read more.

Finally, Finally, there’s an interesting note about Crono’s mother in Chrono Trigger and the mother of the Chrono Cross protagonist, Serge. Both games open with the heroes being awakened by their mothers and these scenes are clearly intended to parallel each other. But whereas Serge’s mom gets a proper name, Marge, Crono’s mom is simply known as that — Mom. As I noted in this post, the Japanese version of Chrono Trigger gave the character an actual name, Jina, but it was for some reason nixed from the English language version. I can’t imagine why, other than some translator’s belief that English-speaking players wouldn’t otherwise put it together that Jina is Crono’s mother and not some strange woman wandering into his room and opening his curtains. Very odd.

The whole “It’s a Secret to Everybody” series:

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Red Face Is Apparently Genetic

What follows is a short story about my mom, my dad, my grandmother, my grandfather, and four items, each of which I associate with one of these people.

Needed to shave.

Lacked proper Mach 3 razor.

Borrowed father’s electric shaver.

Had forgotten that electric shavers are useless if you have more than a few days’ worth of beard.

Ended up grinding the damn thing into my face trying to make it work.

Gave up after twenty minutes.

Stole one of my mom’s disposable lady razors, associations be damned.

Finished shaving.

Suffered with red, irritated face.

Went to pick up grandma’s prescription at drug store.

Saw aftershave-skin soother combo.

Bought it.

Applied it.

Burned the christ out of my face.

Slammed fist on counter several times.

Recognized the smell.

Realized that the “balm” I bought was, in fact, the very same brand as that which I’d previously burned my face with twenty years previous, while toodling through the contents of my grandfather’s medicine cabinet.

Face still hurts

However, I now smell like my grandpa.

The lesson: Your family matters. And twenty years is enough time to forget extreme physical pain.

An Atypical Slideshow for a Family Reunion

Don’t think I had terrible time. I didn’t. However, because I am who I am, the following images represent what I was drawn to — or at least what I thought would be easier to photograph.


Ruins of an ancient civilization, apparently.


“Get in, kids!”


This might be the most stereotypical piece of Prohibition-era bar flare ever, but I’m still amused.


And then I met the King of Beers — but, like, the actual guy. He asked me about bringing him a baby to help him escape his painted prison, but I said no.


Had this happy kitty cat asked me for anything, however, I would have happily complied.


Not a family member.


Probably not a family member. Also, this photograph was not taken at a yard sale or thrift store. However, the spot photographed always looks like this nonetheless.


Windmills, immobile and laid on the ground. I feel like this image belongs on a card you send to people you don’t like.


Drink Rainier Beer. But more importantly, respect cyan planetoids that may be hovering around.


“Why yes, I would like to see your Sleepaway Camp shower stall.”


Mystery machine (non-Scooby Doo version)


And, as with all things, it ended with a dog.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Silence of the Daylight

Walking back from the grocery store and toward my empty office, I knew I was free to make my single serving of salad in whatever fashion I chose. With that fact in mind, I noticed how quickly the fog had swooped in and reduced the sunset to a single ball that didn’t even hurt to look at. Most everyone had gone home. The street ahead would be empty. I couldn’t hear anything — not seagulls or crows, even


This was not how an August day should end, especially in a place known for enjoying its true summer later in the calendar. But don’t think I couldn’t find the upsides: independence, at least for a night, plus the rare opportunity to stare directly into the sun without going blind.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

It’s a Secret to Everybody, Part Nine: Name Origins for Earthbound/Mother

(This is a reposting of just one section of my rather long “It’s a Secret to Everybody” post on video game etymologies. Click the link to see the whole shebang. Links to other sections are at the bottom of this post.)


In Nintendo’s Earthbound/Mother games, a gradually increasing amount of cleverness went into naming protagonists. In the first game — Mother in Japan, unreleased but unofficially called Earthbound Zero in the U.S. — the little boy who saves the world is named Ninten, which is about as obvious as a Sega hero being named Ages. The sequel features a new hero, named Ness, who despite only being a slightly altered version of Ninten is, as a result of his appearances in the Smash Bros. games, infinitely better known outside Japan. His name is either a reference to the American name for Nintendo’s first home console, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), or its successor, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, (SNES). (If it’s the latter, it’s an anagram of an acronym — and that’s not something you see everyday.)

clay boys: ninten, ness, lucas and claus

The third game, Mother 3, stars another little boy, Lucas, whose name doesn’t allude to any Nintendo system, but another major character in the story is his twin brother, Claus, whose name happens to be an anagram for Lucas’s. Since this post went up, an anonymous commenter has pointed out that the series’s creator, Shigesato Itoi, has admitted to borrowing the notion of twins named Lucas and Claus from the twin narrators of Le grand cahier, also known as The Notebook, a 1986 novel by Hunagrian author Agota Kristof.

The extent of Earthbound’s references doesn’t end with Nintendo in-jokes and anagrams. In fact, it takes on pop culture more broadly than most games do. Included in its targets are a whole slew of references to The Beatles and their work. With respect to these, I have a few theories about where the minor character Tony might have gotten his name, but I’ll admit right now that they stretch plausibility. Plus, the explanations are long enough that I’d rather leave them all in their own post here.

The Earthbound creators did a neat little verbal trick with the heroines in the first and second games. Much in the way Ninten and Ness bear a more-than-passing resemblance, their respective love interests, Ana and Paula Polestar, are also essentially the same character, slightly reworked from one game to the next. Ana’s theme song from Mother is titled “Pollyana” in a way that would seem to foreshadow Paula in the sequel, which is a nice way of tying the characters together. Considering the character’s sunny dispositions, the song title also arguably makes a reference to the children’s literature character of the same name. (A slightly redone version of the song exists in Earthbound as the theme played in Ness’s home.) The line of pink-dressed, politely behaved Earthbound/Mother heroines ends with Earthbound; in Mother 3, the sole female character is a tomboyish character given the suitably fierce name Kumatora, which translates to “bear tiger.”

earthbound’s youthful pokey on right; mother 3’s pasty porky-of-the-future on left

While the heroes change from one game to the next, Earthbound and Mother 3 have a common villain in the form of a horrible, pudgy child. In the first game, he’s Pokey, Ness’s next-door neighbor, who eventually crosses over to the dark side. In Mother 3, he’s Porky — the same bad seed but having blossomed many years in the future into the leader of an army of humanoid pigs. This job title makes the second, retconned version of his name more appropriate, even if his Japanese name, Poki, would seem to allow for either Pokey or Porky, though some cite Pokey as a mistranslation. If Mother 3 ever gets an official Nintendo-sanctioned translation, perhaps we’ll know for sure what to call him. Commenter mkkmypet suggests that Porky may be the more appropriate name for the character, noting that his brother Picky, who appears in Earthbound, is much skinnier. Porky and Picky may refer to the brothers’ eating habits.

Early in Earthbound, the player can meet Pokey’s awful parents, Aloysius and Lardna Minch. It’s pointed out on this site that the name Aloyisus Minch sounds suspiciously like Atticus Finch, the father from To Kill a Mockingbird, though Mr. Minch is about as bad a father as Mr. Finch is a good one. I don’t know if I buy the connection, but I’ll put it here just so I can reference To Kill a Mockingbird twice in a series about video games. Never thought I’d be able to do that.

And then there’s the enigmatic entity big bad that presides over both Mother and Earthbound, a spaceman boogeyman called Giygas. Literally represented from the original Japanese as something like Gigu and referred in the unreleased text of the American translation of Mother as Giegue, the character would seem to take his name from a Greek word meaning “giant.” Thought the original name seems to hit more at the word geek, so little has been written about Giygas and his name that I can’t make heads or tails of where its creators wanted to go with it.

the most horrifying thing in video games — ever

As a side note that doesn’t seem totally out of place in a round-up post about words in games, the Earthbound incarnation of Giygas speaks in strange phrases that Itoi has described in interviews as coming from his memory of walking into a theater as a child and glimpsing a horrific rape scene. (During the climactic battle, it says horrific things like “I’m h... a... p... p... y...” and “...It hurts, hurts...” and “...go... b... a... c...k...” and “...I'm so sad....” Pretty damn horrifying.) Earthbound fans have since found the movie Itoi mentioned, The Military Policeman and the Dismembered Beauty, and found that it actually contains no rape scene. This does nothing to make the villain any less scary, at least in my opinion. The fact that some have compared Giygas’s form to that of a human fetus viewed through an ultrasound and the layer leading to him to the female reproductive organs make the situation all the more uncomfortable. It puts the Japanese title to the series, Mother, in a strange new context.

Earthbound/Mother, previously:

The whole “It’s a Secret to Everybody” series:

Friday, August 21, 2009

Rice Cracker Mountain

Consider this a follow-up of sorts to the “It’s a Secret to Everybody” post about video game name etymologies. This one, however, will be much shorter — because how could it now be? — and is drawn from the list of translations posted on the Mushroom Kingdom website’s “Mario in Japan” posts. Nothing too revelatory in this post, but some neat insight into the designers’ original intentions and the thought processes of those who translated the games.

First, the one for Super Mario World recently posted translations for the game’s stages. Among others, it notes that what we English-speakers call Cookie Mountain was originally Rice Cracker Mountain. Seems like a necessary switch, given the fact that American kids probably wouldn’t have known what a rice cracker was at the time. In keeping with the theme of food names, the level known to English-speakers simply as Sunken Ghost Ship is known to Japanese-speakers as Ramune Trench Sunken Ship. A footnote explains that Ramune is a “citrusy soft drink in Japan,” and therefore the name could be practically translated as Soft Drink Trench Sunken Ship. And this would be appropriate, given that the game’s other specially named underwater level in both English and Japanese versions is Soda Lake. Finally, the levels in Special World — the unlockable, super hard world — are also strange. In English, the eight levels all get names that smack of early 90s surfer and skater slang: in order, Gnarly, Tubular, Way Cool, Awesome, Groovy, Mondo, Outrageous, and Funky. The original version only has four names, each applying a pair of courses. The first two are Pleasure Course, the second Mario Staff Is Also Surprised Course, the third Specialist Course, and the final pair Champion Ship Course. Odd.

There’s a neat instance of censorship in the list of place name translations for Super Mario RPG. The coin-filled body of water that English Speakers know as Midas River is actually Nearby Wine River — a food name that didn’t make the cut. And the cloud kingdom English-speakers call Nimbus Land is Cloud Kingdom over in Japan. Why the food theme was dropped on this latter one, I have no idea.

As far as actual character names go, I thought it was worth pointing out a minor character named Bahamutt in the English version.

In the big name post, I mentioned an “evil Yoshi” character from Super Mario RPG who actually follows a pattern established by Wario, whose name is a portmanteau of Mario and warui, the Japanese word for “evil.” The pattern isn’t apparent in the English version, as the character is just called Boshi, but it in original Japanese, he’s Washi — a shortening of what would more correctly be Waruishi, essentially “evil Yoshi.” It seems like Bahamutt was also conceived of as a Yoshi reference, as his Japanese name is Doshi. (“Dragon Yoshi”?) As you can see on the right, his character model is also pretty damn similar to Yoshi’s. As it stands now, Bahamutt is instead a reference to the recurring Final Fantasy dragon character Bahamut. Squaresoft, which makes Final Fantasy made Super Mario RPG jointly with Nintendo. One more small oddity: There actually exists another Mario character named Doshi — the friendly sea serpent character who’s shown up in a few games. In the U.S., she’s called Dorrie instead. Not sure why Nintendo seems keen on omitting references back to Yoshi.

Lastly, the list finally explained a Super Mario RPG villain whose name had confused me. In the game, many bosses are based on weapons. (And, indeed, the big bad is an evil weaponsmith.) Bowyer is a bow and arrow, Mack is a knife, etc. One that didn’t quite make sense is a late-in-the-game boss named Yaridovich. He’s obviously a spear, but what’s up with the name. The list laid it out: a yari is a type of Japanese spear. So there we go. But, again, it’s always weird to see what Japanese-specific elements get edited out and which ones leak through to the English product. In the Japanese version, his name is Yaridovihhi. I can only imagine that the -ovich ending got tacked on because, well, time was Americans were supposed to think Russians were evil. Right?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sex Crime Dinner Set

From Agent Prance Closer, evidence of the apparently heretofore unrecognized “erotic” period in the French decorative arts.

Just keep it all away from your kids.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Turncoats of Ancient Rome

Though I suppose most Romans generally wore togas a tunics, but turntunic and turntoga don’t really get the point across.
tergiversate (TER-ji-vers-ayt or ter-JI-vers-ayt or TER-gi-vers-ayt or ter-GI-vers-ayt) — verb: 1. to evade, to equivocate using subterfuge, or to deliberately obfuscate. 2. to change sides of affiliation.
It’s perhaps not the most obscure word, as it appears in the even regular, abridged version of Merriam-Webster, but I think it’s a good one to know, especially since I’d imagine smarter-than-thous would use it political articles and you don’t want to erroneously think it means something worse than it already does. That initial “ter” syllable sets it off on the wrong foot, I think, in the style of terse and even rather innocent words like turdiform and turbid.

Tergiversate comes to English from a Latin verb, tergiversari, “to show reluctance,” which in turn comes from tergum, “back,” and a variation of vertere, “to turn.” So regardless of which definition of the word you use, the etymology seems appropriate.

Previous words of the week:
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Monday, August 17, 2009

Encyclopedia Drew and the Mystery of the Unclaimed Canvases

The short version is this: I have these canvases and I’m not sure what I should do with them. They’re not mine, as far as most conceptions of ownership go, yet they’re all in my house.

In a sense, it’s not all that inappropriate that I should have anything of indeterminate origin in the house I live in now. As I’ve said before, my house is an odd showcase of stuff I didn’t buy but now have essentially come to own — furniture and photos and items of decor that came from some previous tenant and that remain here by virtue of the fact that this place hasn’t been completely vacated in years. Who bought these? I have to wonder. Amber? Lisa? Deirdre? Scott? Marion? Any of the other dozen or so names that still get mail here? But that’s beside the point. These canvases are more cause for concern than the furniture and photos and items of decor that people either didn’t want or simply forgot about.

On Sunday, I spied my one-house-over neighbor— a doddery old man who I’ve watched for years silently watering his garden — walk an armful of attempted paintings to the dumpster in my apartment complex. He’s not supposed to, I don’t think, and he knows this. I’ve even seen him walk a trash bag over to the dumpster, only to turn around and return to his home because he heard a voice from within the courtyard. I suppose he didn’t want to be caught, though I seriously doubt anyone would object to him infecting our garbage with his. After I watched him return to his home after he’d successfully disposed of his atypically artistic trash, I went down to the dumpster myself.

You see, I’ve had all this cursed free time in the past two weeks. I need the free time. I need to get away. However, when faced with the fact that said free time is the only advantage of my current situation, I feel the need to constantly take advantage of it — writing, reading, watching movies, playing video games, contemplating pop culture minutiae, following one man’s quest to conquer the Encyclopedia Britannica, thrilling at Hal Jordan’s induction into that famous space corps, seeing little Palom all grown up, and whatever else happens to seem like something I’d enjoy doing. This new master rules me with such a hard hand that if I’m at any moment not taking advantage of my free time, I feel like a slacker who’s indulging his own laziness at the expense of his overall happiness.

At some point, I decided to paint, which I haven’t done in more than a year. The canvas — which originally sported had a pine tree crudely spray painted on it in an effort to further deck the apartment’s halls for a Christmas party years ago — first became a Tequila Sunrise, with a red-to-yellow fade piled on thickly to cover up the bumps indicating the evergreen beneath. Then I ruined it all and re-slathered the canvas with green and blue without any intention of what I’d do with it. This topography dried and eventually became the background to an abstract — that is, as I use the word, just a little sloppy and lacking in much detail — landscape depicting only a tree. I don’t know why. I don’t know where it came from. I suspect that it may be a manifestation of my mental state.

This is what it looks like:

It may develop further, but I can’t imagine how. I’m happy to never touch it again, yet I don’t feel like I want it hanging up in the house. I may slap on even more paint. I may stick it in the closet and continue with a new canvas. Whatever, right? It’s my free time. Why not act on whatever whim I feel at a given moment?

Canvases, however, cost money, and I don’t have enough of that at the moment. This monetary deficit — which, apparently, I can’t solve by selling my spare free time — sparked my interest in Old Neighbor Man’s trash paintings. I picked through them, ignoring the ones made only on stiff paper and taking the actual canvases. I brought them up to my room. I figured I could gesso over them later and make them my own.

Then, on the way to lunch, I noticed a sign tacked to a phone pole just cattycorner from my place: “TAKEN — PAINTINGS THAT WERE SITTING BEHIND MY CARE. THESE WERE NOT TRASH! HAVE YOU SEEN THEM? CALL (XXX) XXX-XXXX.” (The real sign had a phone number. You knew that, of course, but this is a true story and I don’t want be accused of embellishing.) So I called the number. No answer. I left a message, explaining that I was pretty sure I found the missing paintings and that whoever it was that I was leaving a message for should call me back. Figuring they’d probably want all their paintings, I went back and picked up the ones I left next to the trash.

That was Sunday afternoon. I have heard nothing. This morning, I called the number again. It didn’t even go through to voicemail. I suppose I could have tried again and perhaps even should have tried again, but I didn’t. It occurred to me that I could have punched the number into my phone incorrectly, so I went to the same phone pole. The sign was gone.

Now I must make a decision. I could just paint over the canvases and go on with my life, though I suppose the original paintings could emerge through what I’d painted — a pentimento Tell-Tale Heart that would eventually drive me insane. If it’s any consolation, this is what the “good” paintings look like:

Not to be a dick about it, but covering them up with my original artwork wouldn’t exactly deprive the world of some museum-quality work. (Then again, who am I to talk, little Mr. Smear Tree?)

I could also embellish the better ones — the female nude in particular — and turn them into some combined thing, representative both of the original artist’s intent and my desire to fill up my empty hours. That, however, wouldn’t solve the problem of the remaining pieces, which are of lesser quality and aren’t even worth the trouble it would take to repaint them. They look like this:

I could ask Old Neighbor Man if he can tell me where these came from, but that might be awkward. I don’t think he speaks English and I’ve lived next to him for about three years without ever so much with a pleasant exchange, even though I imagine it would be harmless enough to tell him that I appreciate all the work he does to keep his garden looking nice.

Or I can find another something to exist in place of all the nothing and just ignore the paintings until I grow sick of them and stick them in the attic, likely forgetting about them and rendering them some mystery for a future tenant of this apartment to ponder. When I’m a ghost in the mailbox like Amber and Lisa and Deirdre and Scott and Marion, some Encyclopedia Whoever can stumble on these and imagine that they have more history in this house than they actually do.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

It’s a Secret to Everybody, Part Eight: Name Origins for Castlevania

(This is a reposting of just one section of my rather lengthy “It’s a Secret to Everybody” post on video game etymologies. Click the link to see the whole shebang. Links to other sections are at the bottom of this post.)


Translation issues have consistently made the long-running Castlevania series more interesting. I can recall a few instances in which the name of the Belmonts — the central family that gets stuck with the unenviable task of killing Dracula every hundred years or so — was rendered as Belmondo or Beaumont, neither of which are all that far off from the proper name. In fact, as commenter Josef points out, the family name has always been Belmondo in Japan. Most recently, materials for Castlevania: Judgment, which acted like a sort of retrospective for the series, stated the name of the original Castlevania protagonist Simon Belmont as Shimon Belmondo.

is “shimon” pouting because his name was screwed up?

Less fortunate is the name of another clan that tends to pop up often: the Belnades family, whose women often help out the Belmont men in their quest to stake bloodsuckers. However, do to a massively different interpretation of the name, it might not be apparent to casual players that the characters known as Sypha Belnades and Yoko Belnades are supposed to be directly related to those called Carrie Fernandez and Camilla Fernandez. It’s hard to catch; in addition to an “R”/“L” switch, there’s also “B”/“F” switch, which I feel is rare, even though “B,” “F,” “P,” and “V” tend to get swapped around quite a bit when translating between one language and the next. In certain Castlevania: Judgment materials, Sypha’s name is also incorrectly rendered as Sypha Velnandes.

magic powers can’t protect the spelling of her name

The series spans hundreds and hundreds of years, meaning that the heroes themselves rarely appear more than a few times. The vampire villains, however, are longer-lived, with three in particular rising again and again to cause trouble: Dracula, Alucard and Camilla. The game’s version of Dracula happens to also be a version of Vlad Tepes, also known as Vlad the Impaler and the real-life prince of Wallachia known for his propensity for bloodletting. Ol’ Vlad was also likely a major inspiration for Bram Stoker in writing the novel Dracula, so the amalgamation of the bloodsucker and the impaler is nothing new.

the castlevania big bad, shown above in non-bat forms

In or out of the context of Castlevania, the name Dracula comes from Vlad’s surname, Drăculea, “son of the dragon,” which in turn arose the fact that his father was known as Vlad II Dracul. The word dracul means “devil” in modern Romanian but formerly meant just dragon. Ţepeş, literally “impaler,” became attached to Vlad after his death and was never part of his actual name, though it’s treated as Dracula’s last name in Castlevania and is shared by Dracula’s son, Alucard.

alucard, the stereotypical son who declined to inherit the family business

Apparently having originated in the 1943 film Son of Dracula, the name Alucard is Dracula spelled backwards, which makes sense in the games in that Alucard frequently fights on the side of the good guys despite his batty tendencies. In Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, the heroes encounter an enigmatic man named Genya Arikado, who, of course, turns out to be Alucard himself, his name barely disguised through its representation in Japanese. Some games offer Alucard’s real, full name as Adrian Fahrenheit Tepes, but I have no idea where these originated.

even bad girls can appreciate the value of multiple wardrobe changes

In true vampire fashion, Camilla, whose in-game name is sometimes offered as Carmilla over the course of the series, rose from minor character status to close enough to big bad status that she was a playable character in Castlevania: Judgment. Her name apparently is taken from Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 novel Carmilla, a vampire story that predates Dracula by twenty-five years. In the book, Carmilla attempts to seduce the protagonist, Laura. The connection between Le Fanu’s Carmilla and Castlevania’s Camilla seems to be supported by the existence of a minor enemy named Laura who appears alongside Camilla in Castlevania: Rondo of Blood and Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin. Furthermore, the novel has Carmilla hunting prey at masquerade balls, while the games associate Camilla with mask imagery.

The whole “It’s a Secret to Everybody” series:

Friday, August 14, 2009

It’s a Secret to Everybody, Part Seven: Name Origins for Metroid and Kid Icarus

(This is a reposting of just one section of my rather long “It’s a Secret to Everybody” post on video game etymologies. Click the link to see the whole shebang. Links to other sections are at the bottom of this post.)


One of the more curious names in video games, in my opinion, is that of the protagonist of the Metroid games, Samus Aran. In the first Metroid, the fact that Samus is a woman is kept secret until the end — and only then if the player meets certain conditions. Thus, I’d assumed that Nintendo purposely gave her a manly-sounding name to throw players off. How else would the surprise be preserved until the end? While Samus may not sound feminine, it is, I was surprised to learn: It’s the female form of the name male Celtic Séamus, which itself is a form of the name James.

samus, armored and not: retro on the left, the current look on the right

There’s not much written on Samus’s name, but I did find one site that puts forth a nice theory. In short, some sources claims James — and, by extension, Séamus and Samus — means “one who supplants.” If Aran is taken to be a reference to the Aran Islands, which lie of the coast of Ireland, then Samus Aran could be interpreted to mean “one who supplants an island” or “one who overthrows an isolated area by force.” A stretch, yes, but a nonetheless fitting interpretation given that Samus has become famous for venturing off into deep reaches of space and blowing bad guys to smithereens. The originator of this theory even admits that it’s just as plausible that Samus’s creator, Makoto Kano, could have just selected whatever name sounded good. Still, it’s as much sense as anyone’s made of the name, so I’m willing to mark it down as the best guess so far.

There’s a second name associated with Samus, if only in the first Metroid game: Justin Bailey. Entering this name at the password screen allows the player to control an armor-free version of Samus — essentially the cat-suited heroine that in Metroid: Zero Mission and Super Smash Bros. Brawl was dubbed Zero Suit Samus. (Taken literally, shouldn’t that mean “naked Samus”?) Many players wondered who the hell Justin Bailey was. No such person helped create Metroid and, contrary to popular folk etymology, Justin Bailey was not a play on “just in bailey,” with bailey purported to be a British term for a bathing suit. (See, because Samus “just in bailey” was down to her skivvies, even if that undersuit looked more like a leotard than something she’d wear to the beach.) However, bailey doesn’t mean “bathing suit” anywhere, except possibly in Metroid fanatic circles. The name, however, has in recent years been purported to be a coincidental combination of letters that someone, somewhere plugged in to find that it yielded a good result. (I’m willing to bet this person’s name might have been Justin Bailey.) Apparently other names that include the proper number of spaces can have equally impressive effects.

In trying to research where Samus came from, I saw article after article that explained how her creators looked to that other badass, planet-trotting space heroine, Ellen Ripley from the Alien movies, as an inspiration. I’d guess then that the recurring Metroid villain Ridley derives his name from Ridley Scott, director of the first Alien movie and the only one that had been released when Metroid would have been in development. But that’s just my guess.

Kid Icarus — once considered a sort of sister series to Metroid, now having fallen by the wayside — stars a protagonist who like Samus suffers from a seemingly inexplicable name: Pit. If it weren’t for Pit’s recent appearance in Smash Bros. Brawl, most casual Nintendo players would probably still think his name is actually Kid Icarus, as it was in the cartoon Captain N: The Game Master. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a fine name, certainly good enough to appear in my blog’s URL. I’ve never heard anything conclusive about Pit’s name, though the best guesses so far suggest it and its representation in Japanese, Pitto, could have some relation to the worth Pythian — perhaps most often attached to the Pythian Games, forerunner to the Olympics — or the pythia, the priestess who presides over the oracle at Delphi. Either one seems appropriately classical for the sandals-and-togas world of Kid Icarus, though apparent connections seem to end there. (Commenter Laird pionts out the similarity between Pit and the last syllable of the named Cupid, whom Pit resembles. I felt it was enough of a good point to merit an inclusion in the article.)

wingman and green-hair, then and now

More interesting is Palutena, the character who gets to be both the game’s damsel-in-distress as well as its presiding deity. As I’ve written about in a previous post, Palutena’s name seems to be a corruption of Parthenos, or something thereabouts, which was an appellation of the goddess Athena that emphasized her virginity.

The first comment I got on the original post was from someone calling himself Professor Hazard, who noted that Palutena could just as easily have come from Pallas Athena, a more common form of the goddess’s name. He could well be right. Either Parthenos or Pallas Athena necessitate the elimination of an “S,” either in the middle or at the end of the name, in order to turn into Palutena, and I’m not sure which one would be more likely to be the source.

Incidentally, reinforcing the bonds that the Kid Icarus and Metroid series once shared, the first Kid Icarus game includes a minor enemy called Komayto, which looks a lot like the jellyfish-like generic Metroids who give their name to the series.

komayto on the left, the real deal metroid on the right

The ko in Komayto would seem to be the Japanese word part meaning “small,” will the mayto is probably the first two syllables of the Japanese pronunciation of Metroid: me-to-ro-i-do. (Not may-to-roi-du, as I originally said, which was corrected by this commenter.) The Kid Icarus instruction manual seems to tease their origin outside the series, noting “Nobody knows where it came from. One theory is that it came from a planet other than Earth.”

The whole “It’s a Secret to Everybody” series:

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Further Shame for Rosebud

The below image is an actual postcard that people at one point could send to their relatives.


It depicts what today is known as the Annenberg Community Beach House but at one point was simply the house William Randolph Hearst built for Marion Davies, whom may be familiar to some as the “singer” from Citizen Kane. But ignore all that for a moment, because I feel a deep-down need to discuss this image.

First off: Her pose. If that indeed is Marion herself sprawled on the sand in front of her home — and the postcard states this to be the case — then one has to wonder what photographer and postcard company director she pissed off to the point that this was the image of her that was selected to be the one mailed cross-country and, possibly, across the world as well. She either looks like she’s forcing a smile after being kicked in the gut while exercising or she just plain fell mid-workout and is inexplicably trying to reach for a medicine ball to regain her balance. And sure, the fact that she has thrust one leg into the air might be deliberate, but the reminder that she’s only famous because she had an affair probably isn’t.

And then there’s the color. This looks to me like a monochromatic photo that was given the gift of color through after-the-fact painting, hence Marion’s blonde hair but curiously pallid face. It’s very nice, overall, save for the screwed-up American flag, which was probably not even part of the original photo. Why the hell would the touch-up artist bother to make enough white dots to suggest the appropriate number of stars and not bother to paint in the white stripes? The flag has none, just red stripes flapping against the sky. It looks like a steampunk Photoshop fuck up.

All in all, a bit perplexing. Of course, I’ve already given it more thought than I do most postcards I’ve actually received in the mail and held in my hand, so I guess it’s not a complete failure.

Previous assertions of my alleged visual literacy:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Not an Adequate Substitute for Macaroons

The word of the week: tardy but nonetheless worthwhile, provided you plan on trolling for unnerving arachnids in the planet’s tropical and subtropical regions.
vinegeroon (vin-ə-gə-ROON) — noun: a member of the arachnid order Thelyphonida, known for its whiplike tail and ability to emit a vinegar-like odor when attacked.
An admission: I like macaroons, and I also happen to like vinegar. Disappointed though I was to learn that vinegaroon is not, in fact, some wonderful cookie that manages to incorporate vinegar, I nonetheless was happy that this word existed. I learned about in on Languagehat, which in turn picked it up on a post about the animals of the American Southwest. The animal’s name comes descends from the Spanish word for “vinegar.”

totally not a cookie

The species previously belonged to the apparently now-defunct order Uropygi, the name of which survives today in an alternate name of the species uropygid, which literally means “tail rump.” They’re not actual scorpions and they’re not poisonous. And despite their propensity for excreting their foul-smelling substance, some people apparently keep them as pets, as this website suggests. Some even let them closer to their person than most of us would be comfortable with. Which is fine for some, but I would rather keep looking for the vinegar cookies.

Previous words of the week:
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