Sunday, September 27, 2009

It’s a Secret to Everybody, Part Fifteen: The Worst Names in Video Games

(This is a reposting of just one section of my overlong “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.)


And, to end this series on names in video games: the most wacked-out video game characters. Many of these I came across in researching the original post, and, often, I couldn’t fathom an explanation for why they exist. I just have to stand in awe of the their bizarre nature.

The Worst Names in Video Games
(with worst meaning poorly thought out, nonsensical,
whacked-out or just plain inappropriate)


Pizza Pasta
Punch Out!!

Some Nintendo staffer’s best effort at creating an Italian-themed boxer for the 1984 arcade installment of the Punch Out!! series: a Sylvester Stallone-looking cretin. Never appeared again. At least he fared better than the series’s representative of Russia, Vodka Drunkenski.


Caffeine Nicotine 
Samurai Shodown

His opponents may draw their names from historical personages and crude Japanese puns, but Caffeine Nicotine takes his fairly obviously from two addictive substances. I couldn’t tell you why, but his creators chose to drive the theme home with the back story that he hails from a temple known as Koka-in, or “Cocaine.” Which is cute. My best guess is that Caffeine Nicotine represents some distortion of the Capuchin Monks, but that wouldn’t take into account the nicotine element — unless you consider the fact that one of this grizzled, knee-high sensei’s attacks involves blowing tobacco smoke in his enemies faces. Bizarre, all around.


Dragon Quest II

Enix — a video game-developing company that has since married Squaresoft and created the entity now known as Square Enix — has a series that in its day rivaled Final Fantasy. In the U.S., it was initially called Dragon Warrior, but the longtime Japanese name, Dragon Quest, has now caught on worldwide. Early in the series, the American versions of the game made quite a few adjustments for non-Japanese audiences. Among them: the names of the cast of the second game. The singular heroine, known superficially as Princess of Moonbrooke, gets a proper handle when the player chooses it, and one of these possible default names is Purin. In subsequent appearances, unfortunately, she’s stuck not with Purin but with this Japanese word’s translation into English: Pudding. This is problematic for several reasons. First, while video games have a rich history of naming women after edible, nice-smelling or aesthetically pleasing objects, calling someone Pudding takes it too far. Second, the existence of the Japanese word purin makes it possible that the aforementioned female characters I tried to associate with the Jewish holiday Purim may actually be associated with pudding. And thirdly, Purin happens to be the Japanese name of the Pokémon character Jigglypuff. And that just sucks.


Devilotte de Satan III
Cyberbots: Fullmetal Madness

And then sometimes the pendulum swings too far in the other direction. Devilotte de Satan III — who’s sometimes known as Devilot and whose middle name, really, should be Subtlety — is a maniacal princess who appears as a playable character in the mech fighter Cyberbots and again in the Capcom crossover title Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo. As her name suggests, she’s pure evil — over-the-top evil, in fact. Well, at least her name’s not Pudding.


 Fire Emblem

Had Nintendo never taken the Fire Emblem series outside Japan, poor Prince Marth might not be on this list. But they did, and they shoved Marth into Smash Bros. Melee, exposing non-Japanese players to the franchise for the first time. For some inscrutable reason, the translators chose to interpret the Japanese name Marusu as Marth instead of Mars, even though the latter sounds a hundred times cooler and had already been used as the character’s English name in a dubbed version of a Fire Emblem anime. No luck for the video game version of the character. He became not Mars, but Marth — as in some back-formed masculine version of Martha. Doesn’t Nintendo realize that guys who wear headbands need the most masculine names they can get?


 Shadow of the Colossus

The hero’s names don’t go all femme-y only in the U.S., however. For English-speakers, Sony’s awesome adventure title Shadow of the Colossus centers on a man named Wander who darts across beautiful landscapes Legend of Zelda-style and then fights various towering monsters. In Japan, however, both the game and hero’s names are different: It’s Wanda and the Colossus and the heroic monster-fighter is Wanda, at least in how the Japanese characters representing this name would be translated. (It should be noted that commenter Josef points out that the Japanese release of the game includes English text that clearly states Wander, not Wanda.) A hero being named Wanda, even if only in specific contexts, amuses me. I guess that’s what you get for naming your character after a verb.


Rungo Iron

If a name like Devilotte de Satan III qualifies as less than subtle, consider that it takes at least one small mental leap to move from Devil and Satan to evil. With Rungo Iron — often represented even more obviously as Run-go Iron — there’s even less distance between the name and the thing the name refers to: “run,” “go,” and “iron.” The references are appropriate in that the stone club-wielding fighter is less like his blade-toting opponents than he is a freight train, hitting fast and hard. To make matters worse, Rungo is the sole American combatant in the original Toshinden — the Guile, in more ways than one — and none of the other characters throughout the entire series are nearly as dumbly named. I’m not sure whether this says more about video game developers or their attitudes toward Americans.


Tiny Kong
 Donkey Kong Country

In the beginning, Tiny Kong’s name made sense. After the first three Donkey Kong Country games, Rare saw fit to dispense with a lot of Donkey Kong’s hangers-on and replace them with new ones. The substitute for Dixie Kong was a character introduced as her kid sister: the beanie-wearing Tiny Kong, who had the magic power of being able to shrink down to a minuscule size — for fun and adventure! As time passed, Dixie proved more popular than Tiny, but Nintendo brought Tiny back years later… and did so in a way that made her name doubly irrelevant. She no longer could shrink, for one, and she now stands a head taller than her former big sister, for another. Tiny grew up in other ways, too: She also happened to now be a lanky, tube top-wearing teen whose form suggested an attempt at sexiness that simply should not be. Despite this anthropomorphic unpleasantness, Tiny Kong persists. Ew, Nintendo. Ew.


Final Fantasy V

I suppose you can’t expect much from an anthropomorphic tree — and Exdeath is just that, a tree so possessed by evil that it gained sentience, took a vaguely human form and attempted to conquer the world — but for a character who serves as Final Fantasy V’s big bad, his name sucks. Exdeath. What is that? The official spelling is at least better than what’s offered in the fan-translated version of the game, released before the real deal hit U.S. shores: X-Death. Literally, it could be taken to mean “out of death,” but that doesn’t even make sense, especially considering that “out of tree” would have been more appropriate. Even worse: Many have posited that his name should have actually been Exodus, which still doesn’t work all that well but at least could be taken to refer to his trek out of the forest and into to the realm of villainy. Really, I don’t blame Exdeath for having a bad temperament. In addition to coping with the realization at some point that he, despite sentience, was only a tree, he has a stupid name. And life is rough for those with stupid names.


Wario: Master of Disguise

For reasons I’ll never understand, the universe of the Wario games is oddly more populated with female characters than is that of the Mario games, from which the Wario ones spun off. Consequently, Wario has faced off against a lot of female big bads. Among these is Tiaramisu, a character who initially appears in the form of a tubby, masked woman in a red dress and who ultimately reveals her true form as a evil, bloated Princess Peach clone. Furthermore, as a big bad, she’s known as Terrormisu, which stretches the pun in the original name far enough to break it. Tiramisu is a thing. Tiaramisu is an attempt to make tiramisu more “princessy.” Terrormisu is just stupid. Other characters introduced in Wario: Master of Disguise — and likely to never be seen again, given the game’s unpopularity — include chaps named Carpaccio and Cannoli, so clearly Nintendo had Italian food on the brain when making this game. But the theme falls by the wayside with this one, who just has a little much going on in her name. Sometimes puns just go too far.

Trevor Pearlharbor

I’ll admit right now that I’ve never actually played the Capcom-produced, multiple personality-themed shooter Killer7. I’ll also say that I’m not an excessively politically correct person. However, the fact that a character with the last named Pearlhabor exists in a video game does stretch the limits of good taste. If anyone can provide any elucidation as to why his name should not be considered inappropriate, I’d be happy to hear it.


Princess Yoyo
 Bahamut Lagoon

She’s not just the heroine of a Squaresoft-developed Super Nintendo game that never made it out of Japan, she’s also another great example of what can go wrong with the trend of naming female characters after objects. Perhaps it’s best that Bahamut Lagoon never officially made it out of Japan, where the word yoyo can refer to the toy but can also just mean “idiot.”


Ax Battler
Golden Axe

Where to begin? Ax Battler is one of the three playable characters in Sega’s sword-slinging beat-’em-up Golden Axe, the other two being Red Sonja rip-off Tyris Flare and feisty dwarf Gillius Thunderhead, the latter of which himself has a pretty terrific name. Upon hearing the name Ax Battler, you might think the name is actually a description of the character. It’s not. You might also think he’d be the one of the three characters who fights with an axe — if not the very axe referenced in the game’s title. Nope again. Mr. Battler carries a sword; it’s Mr. Thunderhead who carries the axe. Finally, there’s the strangeness in the fact that the game officially spells the character’s name Ax — that is, without the “E” at the end. Now ax is an acceptable spelling of the word more commonly represented as axe, but the fact that both would feature in the game so prominently is just stupid. Matters got even worse when a later spin-off that focused specifically on Ax awkwardly included both spellings in the same title: Ax Battler: A Legend of Golden Axe. Fortunately, this title is now remembered as little more than a rip-off of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, even down to the structure of the title. Sequels Golden Axe: Revenge of Death Adder and Golden Axe III replace Ax with clones with equally awkward names: Stern Blade and Kain Grinder, respectively.

Yoko Harmageddon
Street Fighter Alpha 3

An extremely minor character appearing only in certain scenes involving a marginally less minor character, included here only because the name Yoko Harmegeddon needs to be recorded for the ages. Yoko is the frowsy manager and trainer of R. Mika, an impossibly buxom, blonde-haired Japanese woman and professional wrestler who appears as a playable character in Street Fighter Alpha 3 and who looks like a cross between Baby Spice and Bubbles from Powerpuff Girls. As far as I know, Yoko only appears in R. Mika’s win poses and does so riding a golf cart. Amazing.


Geese Howard
Fatal Fury

Most write-ups of Fatal Fury big bad Geese Howard note that he has an ill-fittingly comical name considering the extent of villainy. He’s like James Bond villain evil, to the point that most of the crime that drives the plotlines of the early Fatal Fury games — and in one existence, bad goings-on in the sister series, Art of Fighting as well — can be traced back to him. I haven’t got a clue why his name is Geese, however, or even why it would be the plural instead of the singular. The matter is further complicated by the existence of another Fatal Fury character, a lunatic in raver pants named Duck King. Drugs can account for that name; I can only surmise that Geese is a mistranslation of something, though I’m at a loss for what. The name irks me to the point that I’m actually focusing on it for this concluding list of bad, inexplicable names rather than that of another Fatal Fury fighter: a guy named Marco Rodriguez in the Japanese release but changed for English-speaking territories to be Khushnood Butt — literally cush, nude and butt — for literally no good reason that I can think off. A good result of Geese’s odd name is that it makes for accidentally funny related merchandise. For example, one of his theme songs is titled “Geese ni Kissu,” or, in English, “A Kiss for Geese.” And a manga centered on the character bears the title Geese in the Dark, which is misleading if you aren’t familiar with Fatal Fury.


Art of Fighting

The short version: Despite what you might expect, King is a girl. The long version: If SNK’s Fatal Fury games are that company’s attempt at an answer to Capcom’s Street Fighter, then SNK’s Art of Fighting games are another attempt at an answer, if maybe you didn’t like the first one. The first Art of Fighting game features only one female character: a kickboxing bouncer named King. The character is initially depicted as fairly butch but has gradually been feminized in later appearances to the point that no one would mistake her for a man at this point. And that just makes her name more of a head-scratcher. She has never been given a last name, as far as I know, and I’m fairly certain she shouldn’t have been born with the name King. (This anonymous commenter points out that drag kings might have some bearing on the character, her name and her style of dress.) To confuse matter more, one of her motives behind entering fighting competitions is to win enough money to pay for an operation for her younger brother, who, in keeping with what could be a family tradition of bucking gender traditions, is named Jan.


Pretty much everyone in Saturday Night Slam Masters

A nearly forgotten Capcom fighter known as Muscle Bomber in Japan, Saturday Night Slam Masters and its cast has mostly fallen by the wayside. Save for Mike Haggar from Final Fight, none of the characters have appeared in other Capcom fighters. And that’s a shame, really, because if quality were determined by the strangeness of their names, then these guys would be regulars. Often, the Japanese names are loonier. Take, for instance, the character known in the U.S. as Alexander the Grater — that’s right: Grater and not Greater. In Japan, he’s Sheep the Royal. The guy the English version of the game calls King Rasta Mon is known in Japan as Missing IQ Gomes. That’s not to say that some of the American appellations aren’t uniformly better. The series protagonist, known in Japan as Aleksey Zalazof got saddled with the name Biff Slamkovich in the U.S. Similarly, the rotund Kimala the Bouncer was renamed Jumbo the Flapjack, which is evocative, if nothing else.

And that’s it. I honestly never would have expected that this article would have grown to such an unwieldy length, but it did — and now I can say that it represents literally everything I can think of to say about words in video games. I’m sure there’s stuff I’m missing, and I fully expect the kind of people who will read this thing through to tell me what significant bits I missed. Please do. I hope that, other than proving that this much can be written on the subject of video games and etymology, I’ve demonstrated that video games are just as wired into every other facet of culture as any other medium. They may not be held in as high regard as literature or film or music, but they draw on the same sources, even though you might not expect them to do so.

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

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Lavender’s Blue, and Green May Also Be Red

It’s odd to say, but it wasn’t until after college — after I’d stopped taking linguistics classes — that I realized that educated guesses don’t necessarily turn out to be correct, no matter how likely they seem. A great theory firmly rooted in etymological evidence may easily turn out to be wrong. And sometimes, all signs may point to yes but a definitive answer may still be elusive.
zinnober (ZIN-no-ber) — noun: 1. a chrome green color. 2. the German word for cinnabar, a red mercuric sulfide used as a pigment or simply a deep, vivid red.
I’ll admit right now that this word is pretty damn hard to research, since it simply doesn’t get used very often. It appears on this list of obscure color terms as meaning “a chrome green color” but otherwise is only cited as being the German take on the English word cinnabar, which refers to red minerals, pigments or colors. So what gives? Why should it be both red and green?

For those of you who have been following this blog for a while, this discrepancy should sound familiar. A previous word of the week — the inexplicable sinople — can also refer to either red or green, depending on the context. And those of you who might remember my post on “R”/“L” switches beyond those that happen with translation between English and Asian languages should recall that it’s not all that uncommon for an “L” to become an “R.” With these in mind, it seemed pretty reasonable that zinnober and sinople could simply be variants of sinople, especially since “B” and “P” are also often interchangeable. (The sounds these letters represent are voiced and unvoiced variations on the same sound. If this doesn’t make sense, make the sounds right now and pay attention to what your mouth needs to do to make either. The motion is exactly the same, only with “B” utilizing the vocal chords, and therefore something that could easily get switched up between one language and another.) Really, how else could two different words come to mean the same pair of opposite colors?

From what I’ve found so far, it may be the case that zinnober and sinople are one and the same. I can’t say for sure. According to Merriam-Webster, cinnabar comes from the Middle English cynabare, which goes back further to the Anglo-French sinopre, the Latin cinnabaris, the Greek kinnabari, and finally to something non-Indo-European. And it’s related to the Arabic zinjafr, “cinnabar.” Though it didn’t come up when I wrote about sinople before, at least one site explicitly states that Sinop — the Turkish city that gave us the term sinople — also gave us cinnabar. Admittedly, isn’t the most trustworthy site out there. I’d like to offer something better, but a Google search for “sinople cinnabar” didn’t turn up much else.

There also seems to be some argument that zinnober and cinnabar actually have no connection whatsoever. Thomas Kerth’s notes to Lanzelet, one of the oldest versions of the Lancelot story, conjectures that “a similarity of sense led to an unfortunate confusion with cinnabar, a word of Oriental origin which has no connection with sinople.” Not solving the problem one way or another is a line from Alexander Del Mar’s A History of Precious Metals:
The Portuguese name of Minho and the Spanish name Minio are from the Latin minium, or cinnabar, a red ore, from which is extracted the vermillion of the toilet table and the mercury and quicksilver of the sluicebox. Technically, it is the red sulpheret of mercury, to which the Phoenicians or the Venetians gave the name sinople, sinoper, or sinopite, from Sinope, in Pontus, near which place they evidently found depsoits of this ore. This word has survived to present time as a synonym for red. The river Minho was evidently given its name either because its waters were of a reddish colour, or else because deposits of cinnabar were found in the districts which it drained, both of which circumstances characterized the Minho.
The end result: I feel like zinnabar is probably the same as sinople, etymologically speaking. But without any authoritative source that I have access to telling me that this is, in fact, the case, I just have to wonder — about whether these etymological paths converge and why English should have two terms that can mean either one color or its opposite.

Previous words of the week:
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Friday, September 25, 2009

That Spider Ain’t No Lady

Perhaps you remember the Golden Silk Orb Spider, the horrifying creature that I met in Australia. In case you don’t recall, it looked like this:

If my photo alone doesn’t give you nightmares, know that this spider — or at least the one I saw, anyway — has literally as big as my hand when the fingers are all outstretched, as if I’m waving hello to the thing that wants to kill me. The spider made a repeat appearance on my blog, after an article in the Telegraph noted that a certain member of this species — the same one I saw? quite possibly? and I’m a hero now? — caught and killed a bird. A bird. A BIRD. An organism that was even bigger than it and that has mastered the power of flight.

Now the most horrifying spider ever gets a third appearance here on Back of the Cereal Box, as a result of some stellar detective work done by Dina, who had the initiative to look the thing’s genus up on Wikipedia. Dina found that the genus Nephila, according Japanese folklore, is associated with a the jorogumo, a monstrous arachnid that can take on the appearance of a beautiful woman. The word jorogumo can also refer to actual Nephila spiders — that is, the things people might see hanging from trees, in their non-seductress form — and that’s all fine and good except for the fact that jorogumo literally means either “binding lady” or “whore spider,” depending on how it’s written. And guess which one I find more interesting.

There you have it: another reason to hate this particular spider. In addition to striking terror into the hearts of mammals everywhere and also being far bigger than arachnids have any good reason to be, it also has loose morals. Whore spider. Ha.

Spiders, previously:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Someone Should Help That Poor Dog

Seriously, with his long legs and all those fragile wineglasses?

It’s not going to end well. Even worse: This is an advertisement, perhaps for something cruel and terrible.

Dogs, previously:

It All Began With Ponyo

Well, if we’re being technical about it, it all began with Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Spencer pointed out that the ink-on-paper work Big Fish Eat Little Fish reminded him of Ponyo, which I made him watch and which was actually pretty good. Didn’t see it? A one-sentence summary: fish and other oceanic things being bigger than you’re used to seeing, all through the lens of childlike fantasy. Plus Tina Fey, Betty White and Cloris Leachman are there. I don’t know why I doubt Miyazaki. Yes, it’s Japanese animation, but it’s not the robots-fighting-tentacle-monsters variety, and anyone I spend time with is smart enough to appreciate his movies for what they are and not what the uninitiated think they might be.

This is what looked like Ponyo:

Spencer’s right. Something about the literally visceral aspect of anything spilling from a slit in some dead thing’s belly — even if it’s whole, apparently undigested fish instead of entrails — coupled with the general cartoonishness and fantastic elements, like the strange airborne creatures and the bipedal fishman, add up to Miyazaki-esque. It’s totally a Ponyo.

This strange little scene ultimately led to another work by P.B. the E.: an oil-on-oak panel painting known variously as Netherlandish Proverbs, The Topsy Turvy World and The Blue Cloak. The work should be familiar to anyone who even remotely follows indie music, as a section of it served as the album art to the Fleet Foxes’ debut studio album.

This is what the painting looks like:

More than just a busy, well-populated Where’s Waldo? predecessor, Netherlandish Proverbs literalizes a whole host of old-timey sayings from viking country. (Really, it is more of a forerunner to that digital collage that literalized band names and challenged us all to see how many we can find.) Wikipedia lists all the proverbs and even offers a detail of the portion of the painting that refers to whichever proverb. And it’s in these bits of iterated and reiterated wisdom that I found most amusing along this Wikipedia garden path. The proverbs don’t make any less sense than the ones I grew up with — “To each his own, said the farmer’s wife upon kissing the cow” — but they make me laugh nonetheless by virtue of how inscrutable they are.

The top twelve:
  1. “The sow pulls the bung,” meaning “Negligence will be rewarded with disaster.”
  2. “To bell the cat,” meaning “to be indiscreet about plans that should be secret.”
  3. “To marry under the broomstick,” meaning “to live together without marrying.”
  4. “To have the roof tiled with tarts,” meaning “to be very wealthy.”
  5. “The herring hangs by its own gills,” meaning “You must accept responsibility for your own actions.”
  6. “The die is cast,” meaning, of course, “The decision is made” — apparently indicating that this one proverb either made the jump into English or that it’s common enough to exist in multiple languages.
  7. “To find the dog in the pot,” meaning “to arrive too late to prevent trouble.”
  8. “To shit on the world,” meaning “to despise everything.”
  9. “They both shit through the same hole,” meaning “They are in agreement.”
  10. “To shave the fool without lather,” meaning “to trick somebody.”
  11. “To be as patient as a lamb,” meaning “to be very patient” — for no apparent reason, I might add, as I’ve spent considerable time around lambs and know that there’s very little about them that would suggest they have more patients than any other dumb, four-legged animal.
  12. And “to be a pillar-biter,” which, despite what it sounds like, means “to be a religious hypocrite.”
One of the work’s alternate titles, by the way, is inspired by yet another proverb, “She puts the blue cloak on her husband,” which means “She deceives him.” Curiously, “Big fish eat little fish” is listed, but without any explanation. Perhaps because it’s self-explanatory?

Monday, September 21, 2009

This Super Mario Land Is Your Land

This is one for the Nintendo nuts.

Before he took on a World or a Galaxy or a City-State or a Census-Designated Place, Super Mario took on a Land back in 1989 — in the creamed spinach color, Game Boy era. I remember the game well. And I remember why it was strange: All the game’s incidental characters appear with Japanese names, inexplicably. The thing that looks like a Goomba is a Chibibo — that is, chibi, the Japanese word for little mashed with the Japanese name for the ambulatory mushroom baddie, Kuribo. The Koopa Troopa stand-in is Nokobon — the Japanese name for the turtle baddie, Nokonoko, “unconcernedly,” plus the English word bomb, which is what the creature turns into when stomped.

mario is so super that he can run, drive a submarine and fly a plane simultaneously

Super Mario Land shares a great deal with the original Super Mario Bros. In addition to floaty play control, the game shares the structural aspect of each world including four levels. But whereas Super Mario Bros. offers only numerically named worlds — World One, World Two, World Three, etc. — Super Mario Land has actual exotic-sounding names for its groups of four: Birabuto Kingdom, Muda Kingdom, Easton Kingdom, and Chai Kingdom. These four places make up Sarasaland, the game’s overall setting, which is ruled by the kidnapped Princess Daisy. (Also, the monarch in charge is a princess, so instead of kingdoms they should be queendoms? princessipalities? census designated places?) They’re fairly dissimilar, and perhaps that explains why the sarasa in Sarasaland happens to mean calico, a mix-and-match feline aesthetic if there ever was one.

As a result of a fairly wonderful rundown of the differences between the American and Japanese versions of Super Mario Land, I now understand that all four of the kingdom names now correspond to real-life, geographical locations. Two were a given: Easton Kingdom — noted for its bald, nosey stone statues — takes its name from Easter Island. And Chai Kingdom — steeped in Chinese imagery — takes its name from China. I had never really given the other two much thought I guess, but the article explains the seemingly Egyptian-themed one and the generically aquatically themed, island-dotted one. The former comes from piraputa, the Japanese word for pyramid and perhaps a transliteration of that word, hence the pointy buildings and sphinxes in the background, while the latter supposedly comes from Bermuda, since the world’s Japanese name, Myūda and the second two syllables of Bermuda are pronounced similarly.

So that’s that: One Mario game with real-world implications, at least geographically. And long before Mario Is Missing taught children nationwide to hate edutainment, no less.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

How My Career as a Wine Taster Ended

Not just one word of the week but two, thanks to Back of the Cereal Box reader Professor Hazard. They go together well enough, since it seems like one would necessitate the other.
ageusia (ah-GYOO-zee-a) — noun: 1. the absence of the sense of taste. 2. the partial loss of the sense of taste.
A little research shows that the second definition might cause some confusion, as hypogeusia can also mean the reduced ability to perceive sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Just so you know, for when you’re batting tongue-related terminology around the dinner table, perhaps to mock any present diners who suffer from this particular affliction. The word comes from Greek, with the prefix a- meaning “not” or “without” — as in, for example, anonymous — and the root geusis, meaning “taste.” I can’t say for sure, since the AHD continues to hide from me, but it seems very likely that the word shares a history with words like gusto and disgust and gustatory, which all fundamentally relate to taste.

Since the sense of taste is so closely linked with that of smell, it makes sense then that the other half of this week’s twofer would be…
anosmia (an-OHZ-mee-a) — noun: 1. the absence of the sense of smell. 2. the partial loss of the sense of smell.
Stands to reason, right? The term, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, comes from the same prefix, meaning “without,” plus the Greek osme, meaning “smell.” (Osme shares a history with odor.) Try not to confuse anosmia with parosmia (distorted sense of smell,
often resulting in phantom, non-existent, and mostly unpleasant, smells), hyposmia (reduced ability to smell), dysosmia (a distorted sense of smell that incorrectly reads pleasant odors as nasty), and hypernosmia (increased sense of smell — a superpower possessed by the migraine-stricken and the LSD-affected). Fun fact: the diagnosis of the condition often involves scratch-n-sniff ptaches. Fun! Incidentally, the Wikipedia page for anosmia offers a list of famous anosmiacs. Here, then, is that list of these bad-smelling individuals, though reordered by me to put the actual famous people at the top and ones I’d never heard of:
And yes, it’s that Dewey Cox — the fictional character from Walk Hard. And Ben Cohen is probably better known to the world as half the ice cream-making duo Ben & Jerry. So there’s some cruel irony there. No such list exists on the Wikipedia page for ageusia.

Previous words of the week:
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Friday, September 18, 2009

It’s a Secret to Everybody, Part Fourteen: Odds and Ends

(This is a reposting of just one section of my rather extensive “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.)


As I’ve mentioned before in this series, music names such as those in Mega Man aren’t exactly rare. The Guilty Gear fighting game series, for example, went crazy with them, though grasping all of them on your own would require a command of rock bands as wide-ranging as Judas Priest, Led Zeppelin, Helloween, Testament and Metallica. Some are obvious: guitar-toting witch I-No namechecks Brian Eno. Others, of course, are more obscure, either intentionally or accidentally. As this site notes, for example, the nod that the name Millia Rage makes is only clear if you have any notion that there exists a heavy metal band called Meliah Rage. When translation mucks up the spelling, spotting the allusion gets twice as hard: Even if you knew of the Swedish pop band Cloudberry Jam, you might not suspect that the fighter named Kuradoberi Jam was a reference to it. Now, the latter beats out the former in terms of Google hits. And the fact that the series protagonist Sol Badguy references Queen only becomes apparent when you learn that Mr. Bad Guy was the name of Freddie Mercury 1985 solo album.

Queen’s work pops up in other games. Notably, the Ogre Battle series of strategy games is itself a reference to Queen’s 1974 song by the same name. (And yes, now that you think about it, it does seem strange that the games featured relatively few ogres.) The first game bore the subtitle March of the Black Queen, and indeed that too is one of the band’s songs. A sequel, Ogre Battle: Let Us Cling Together, also borrows from a Queen song, though the track is more commonly known as “Teo Torriatte.” This song also happens to feature two verses sung in Japanese. The games also feature a geographical area known as the Rhyan Seas, which references yet another Queen song, “Seven Seas of Rhye.”

So while some games traffic in allusions to some segment of popular culture, others aim for something more highbrow. Doesn’t mean they don’t make a mess of things, referencing this and that and ending up referencing all over themselves. Take Samurai Shodown, for example. (And while you’re taking it, if it strikes you as odd that the second word of the series title is missing a “W,” know that I have a post explaining that apparent mistake. It’s somewhat intentional.) Generally speaking, characters in these games tend to have real-life historical counterparts. Some directly influenced the game, while some loosely inspired it. For example, one of its recurring characters is Hanzo Hattori — a name that should be familiar at least from the Kill Bill character if not other manifestations of Japanese culture. The man was real. The historical Hanzo Hattori may not exactly resemble his representations in movies and video games, but the fact that his legacy continues to inspire writers and game creators today shows that he probably registered fairly high on the badass scale.

hanzo, jubei and charlotte — revived to duel for our pleasure

Among the other characters directly inspired by historical personages:
  • Jubei Yagyu is a 17th-century samurai based on the 17th-century samurai Jubei Yagyu Mitsuyoshi, who is arguably the most famous figures to emerge from Japan’s feudal era.
  • And Shiro Tokisada Amakusa, depicted in the game as a kind of satanic wizard, is based on Amakusa Shiro, a leader of the largely Christian Shimbara Rebellion of the mid-17th-century. (The fact that a Christian revolutionary would be demonized as as an effeminate villain is fairly telling as to how Japanese history has chosen to remember this particular person. In the games, the character is so unmanly in his mannerisms that a person could easily mistake him for a woman. And the American dub of the Samurai Shodown skirted the gender confusion altogether by just depicting the character as a woman.)
  • The American fighter Andrew, who first shows up in Samurai Shodown VI, seems to be based on Andrew Jackson, Mr. Twenty Dollar Bill himself. I’ve put up a previous post on this blog that focuses on this strangeness and how the game seems to use Andrew to rag on American military policy. Worth a look.
  • And then there’s my absolute favorite of all the characters based on real-life: Charlotte, the French fencer. Her full name is given as Charlotte Christine de Colde — an odd-seeming surname for a Frenchwoman. In fact, it’s a likely mistranslation of the name of the woman she’s based on, Charlotte Corday, the celebrated assassin of revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat.
Other characters have historical ties, but more to the point of this post is that fact that others yet have names that mean something, even out of historical contexts. The first name of the very dark, very Crow-esque Kubikiri Basara, for example, literally translates as “throat-cutting.” The later games also feature a towering cannibal named Gedo Kusaregedo, whose name, I’m told, translates to “rotten bastard.” And Samurai Shodown 2 features a Prussian fighter whose name, Neinhalt Seiger, is a very bad approximation of the German for “nonstop victory” or “nonstop winner” — the German version of Engrish, maybe?

“Period piece” fighters such as Samurai Shodown aren’t the only ones who can feature characters whose names actually mean something, of course: My astonishment that such-and-such Japanese character has a name that doubles as a meaningful chunk of syntax is pretty silly, when I think about how many American names mean something that would be obvious to an English-speaker. On the flipside, I can’t help but be amused, for example, that Kyo Kusanagi, hero of the long-running King of Fighters series, has a last name that means “grass-cutter.” My association? The decidedly unheroic literal translations lawnmower, even after I’ve read that the name Kusanagi has certain significance to Japanese folklore.

Other characters’ Japanese roots are less pronounced, though no more apparent to the casual English-speaking video game player.

inky, pinky, blinky and... miru?

A while back, Destructoid put up a good post on the meaning of the names of the Pac-Man ghosts — that is, both the real names and their nicknames that the game’s attract mode displays. Far from being meaningless, they actually help explain why Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Clyde behave the way they do, though it’s a bit clearer in Japanese. I have my own post on the ghosts and their names, and I also talk about some of the other ghosts, which exist apparently. Also-rans like Miru and Yum-Yum deserve their fair share of shout-outs, I say. As for Pac-Man himself, it’s pretty well-established that his name comes from the paku-paku-paku noise he makes as he gobbles dots. And it’s an often-told and pretty self-explanatory story about why his creators eventually opted not to go with their first choice for his name, Puck Man, for the character’s American debut. I have a post on these Pac-matters here.

Another early inhabitant of the arcades is Mappy — not a clone of Pac-Man but instead a wholly different title by Pac-Man’s developer, Namco. Mappy perhaps doesn’t stir up as much nostalgia as other Namco titles, but it’s a solid one. Billed as a literal cat and mouse game, players control a policeman mouse in environments crawling with feline cat burglars. About five seconds into the first quarter and any sane person would realize the game has fairly little to do with maps. The odd title comes from the Japanese slang term mappo, meaning “police officer.” The online dictionaries of Japanese slang that I found didn’t include mappo, but I’m inclined to believe the term means what it’s purported to mean and that the etymology for Mappy is true. An otherwise unrelated police robot named Mappo appears in two Nintendo releases, GiFTPiA and Captain Rainbow.

it’s not about maps

In the Japanese version of the game, one of Mappy’s villainous cat characters goes by the name Nyamco — a cross between the name the developer, Namco, and the Japanese onomatopoeia for the noise a cat makes.

master higgins, master higgins, and master higgins’s japanese namesake

In an interesting marketing move, Hudson Soft — the developer and publisher behind the vaguely Mario-like Adventure Island games — at least twice rebranded the series protagonist for release in different language territories. American players know the grass-skirted, pot-bellied hero as Master Higgins, but in Japan, he’s Takahashi Meijin (“Master Takahashi”), which also happens to be the nickname of Toshiyuki Takahashi, real-life executive at Hudson Soft. (It wasn’t his idea, but he nonetheless went with the suggestion that he — then only the company’s vice-president and someone famous for video game-playing prowess — should be the character featured in the game, though he’s later admitted that being the protagonist in a notoriously difficult title was disconcerting because it was he would be was repeatedly dying. The name Master Higgins didn’t cut it Mexico, however, and, according to Wikipedia, when the game hit that market, the protagonist was unofficially redubbed Capulinita, in honor of the Mexican comedian Capulina, whom Higgins apparently resembles.

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

Thursday, September 17, 2009

It’s a Secret to Everybody, Part Thirteen: Name Origins for Miscellaneous Nintendo Series

(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.)


I’m pretty sure Nintendo has never said anything official on the subject, but it would seem very likely that they got the name for their character Kirby — a puffball whose main source of attack involves inhaling anything and everything, much in the manner a wind-powered carpet-cleaner might — would come from the Kirby Company, whose chief products are vacuum cleaners. Commenter awa64 points out another theory: that the name of Kirby the sucking entity could also come from the name of attorney John Kirby, who defended Nintendo in a lawsuit by Universal Studios alleging that Donkey Kong was illegally inspired by King Kong. Kirby and Nintendo won. Kirby’s creator, Masahiro Sakurai, now apparently claims to “not remember” where he got the name.

kirby as croquet: colored balls and one guy with a mallet

Longtime gamers should take a some interest in the fact that the Kirby games contain a subtle reference to another series that has long since fallen by the wayside. The games feature a recurring antagonist in the form of King Dedede, a mallet-toting penguin. Matching his three-syllable name pattern are two minor underlings, Lololo and Lalala — respectively blue and red block-pushing thingamajigs who bear a striking resemblance to the protagonists of the series known in the U.S. as Adventures of Lolo and in Japan as the Eggerland games. Both the Lolo-starring series of puzzle games and the Kirby games were developed by HAL Laboratory. In the older series, Lolo and Lala are heroes, who advance from one level to the next by pushing blocks much as Lololo and Lalala do. I have no idea why the addition of an extra syllable should follow their transformation into villains, but it’s an interesting development nonetheless.

pikmin’s olimar and louie, plumbers in space

Another Nintendo series, Pikmin, stars Olimar, a sprout-tossing, round-nosed spaceman, and his sidekick, Louie. The pair’s appearance plus Louie’s name should be tip-off enough that Nintendo wanted to reference its big mascots, the Mario Brothers, but, as this post notes, Olimar’s name is more subtle: It’s the three characters that spell Mario’s name — mah-ri-oh — reversed and then anglicized in a way that makes the connection hard to spot.

Though this series may put my geek credentials over the top, I have to make an admission: I know next to nothing about Pokémon. The series does gangbusters, so good on it, but it has for the most part escaped my attention. That doesn’t mean I don’t know who Pikachu is. He may well now be a more famous rodent than Mickey Mouse.

The Pokémon games, as I understand them, are a fertile breeding ground for puns, but I’m sure there’s someone else out there with the passion and free time to collect them all. World, have at it. I have read, however, that Pikachu’s name comes from a combination of two Japanese onomatopoeia: pika pika, which represents the sound of sparkling electricity, and chuc hu, the noise mice make. Given the mascot’s status as an electric mouse, this makes sense, so I have to assume the name’s resemblance to that of a certain species of rodent-like lagomorph — the pika, whose name may come from the Russian pikat, “to squeak” — may be entirely coincidental.

The single other Pokémon I have any awareness of is a lesser critter — known in the U.S. and Kadabra and in Japan as Yungerer or Yun-Gellar — simply because supposed psychic Uri Gellar unsuccessfully attempted to sue Nintendo on grounds that the character infringed on his trademark spoon-bending and, in its Japanese form, his name as well. And although I may not know much about Pokémon, any video game that can enrage Uri Gellar is okay in my book.

What I know quite a bit better, however, is Animal Crossing, which offers puns and wordplay in spades. Some of them are rather simple. There’s a sheep named Baabara, for example. That’s not clever. Though since I’ve brought her up, it bears mentioning that this particular sheep is now known more for her inappropriately racist language than for her dumb pun name. (The game allows players to “teach” characters new words, and a promotional copy of Animal Crossing sent to reviewers had Baabara using the “N” word. Bad ewe.)

two kinds of salty language: baabara and kapp’n

Other instances are more complex. Some requires a basic familiarity with Japanese culture. Like I said earlier about the kappa, Animal Crossing features a character named Kapp’n. Understanding the connection to Japanese mythology helps to make sense of the pun in his name — in addition to being a kappa, he’s also a sea captain who talks like a pirate. But if if you didn’t know what a kappa was, you’d probably just assume he was some kind of turtle and his abnormal penchant for cucumbers would go unexplained.

nook, a tanuki scrotum attack; and super mario bros. 3’s tanooki mario

A similar case is that of Tom Nook — a raccoon-looking shopkeep who serves as the game’s de facto villain. He’s actually a tanuki — either the real-life Japanese Raccoon Dog or its mythological counterpart, the latter of which is known for trickery and a giant ball sack. (Seeing as how Nook first appears sporting a strategically crotch-blocking apron, I’m inclined to guess he’s the latter.) When Nintendo debuted the first Animal Crossing and introduced Nook to American audiences, I remember some muttering about the character also having racist implications. (If you wanted, you could associate his first name with Uncle Tom. As some even pointed out, his last name pronounced backwards also happens to sound like the word coon, which is both a shortening of the word raccoon and a racist term for a black person. The slur may or may not actually have an etymological connection to raccoon.) I remember reading some of this online years ago, but Baabara’s dropping of the N-bomb seems to have pushed discussion any other racist Animal Crossing interpretations to the other reaches of the online world.

The name that took me the longest to get was the one attached to a certain lady pig who sells turnips that the player can then sell at either a profit or a loss, depending on the given day’s going rate. This system’s resemblance to the stock market now makes it seem obvious that Sow Joan’s name is a pun on the Dow Jones Industrial Average, but I didn’t get that until years after I initially wondered why she had the name she did. And when I finally did, I wrote a post about it, of course.

In all, the game has more than a hundred characters, so I won’t bother to list them all, but I will say that I appreciate the humor in naming some of Animal Crossing’s anthropomorphic villagers after the things their real-life counterparts would be slaughtered for: an alligator named Boots, a pig named Rasher, a frog named Jambette, a duck named Pate, a cow named Chuck. And extra bonus points for a cross-dressing dog named Butch — yes, again, its own post here — and anteaters named Cyrano and Nosegay.

don’t shoot: mr. peepers and not-the-hogan

Two Nintendo light gun-related bits: The spiteful, laughing dog from Duck Hunt has a name, apparently: Mr. Peepers. (You, however, should feel free to call him “That Goddamn Dog.”) And in case you ever wondered where Hogan’s Alley, Nintendo’s shooting gallery simulator, got its name — you may have have noticed that it features no character named Hogan — know that the matter is complicated: There exists an FBI training facility by the same name, but it didn’t exist until after the video game Hogan’s Alley debuted in Japan. Both the game and the FBI location take their names from the titular crime-ridden slum from the late-19th-century comic strip of the same name. I explain it in somewhat greater detail here.

Early in the days of the Nintendo 64, Nintendo released a now mostly forgotten title, Pilotwings 64, which itself was a sequel to the first Pilotwings, released early in the days of the Super Nintendo. The later game features six selectable characters, each named after birds: Goose, Hawk, Lark, Ibis, Kiwi and Robin. The last of these is notable in that she’s known differently in Japan: as Hooter, which is both another bird name — if you consider Hooter close enough to Owl — and a reference to the character’s enormous breasts.

lark and robin, nester, nester and hester

Lark, the smallest of the male characters, is himself notable in that he’s the former Nintendo Power magazine mascot Nester, renamed to merit his flocking with the Pilotwings crew. Nintendo Power admitted that Lark and Nester were one and the same, though the character appeared later in another title, Nester’s Funky Bowling, which featured him with his original name and also paired him with a look-alike sister, Hester. Nester, like Ninten in Mother, takes his name from the first-generation Nintendo console.

nintendo’s aquatic he-she

Back in the eight-bit days, Nintendo released a very Pac-Man-like title called Clu Clu Land, the protagonist of which has suffered from some gender confusion issues. In some regions, the character’s name is Bubbles and seems to be female, while in others the character is called Gloopy and seems to be male. Essentially, he/she is Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man rolled up into one. Eat your heart out, Birdo. I have a previous post on this strangeness, if you’re interested.

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