Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Basically, I would like you all to take a moment to make sure you understand exactly what you're talking about before you say anything at all.

I've voiced my frustration about people's ignorance surrounding this before, but why do so few people know why "John Hancock" is slang for a signature?* And why so many insist on saying "John Henry"?

Let me quote Paul Brian:
John Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence so flamboyantly that his name became a synonym for “signature.” Don’t mix him up with John Henry, who was a steel-drivin’ man.
And while I'm at it, this is an excerpt from an article in the latest issue of Blender about the October shooting of rapper Cam'ron as he sat in his Lamborgini (a crime initially thought to have been a failed carjacking but more likely to have been the act of an enraged copy editor driven into a murderous frenzy over the flagrant apostrophe misuse in the Harlem MC's name):
"Nobody's going to take a quarter-million-dollar car from me, let alone a five-cent piece of gum," said Cam'ron (born (Cameron Giles) a week after the shooting.
Uh, other way around, right, Cam'ron? Unless you really like gum.


* Note to Kitty: I'm just talking about those of us in the colonies. Brits like you are exempted from trying to figure out what we're on about.

14 Comments:

Blogger Steve Ely said...

Huh. Interesting. Your disclaimer for Brits reminds me that I take for granted in the U.S. your John Hancock points, but I didn't know the same applied up in Canada.

12/14/2005 04:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm proud to say I knew what the term meant. Sometimes I use it when I ask people to sign their credit card slip.

I want to tell you that Candy Cane ice cream reminds me of you.

Marlene

12/14/2005 05:53:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Lynn said...

Marlene: I found candy cane ice cream in the store a couple of weeks ago! It made me so very happy.

Steve: The disclaimer is there specifically because I've had this discussion with my favorite English bird Katherine, and she didn't know who John Hancock was. But why should she? They're way over there, and we're way over here. The British aren't on a steady forced diet of all things American as much as we Canadians are. Not yet, anyway.

12/14/2005 07:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Matt said...

This one time, my friend Rob asked a guy to fill out a form and put his John Thomas on the dotted line.

12/15/2005 12:40:00 PM  
Anonymous tom said...

I don't think a dude who puts an apostrophe in his name to give himself more street cred is worried about failing to observe to the rules of grammar.

Don't argue sentence structure with a guy who can bust a cap in yo' ass.

12/15/2005 12:42:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Lynn said...

Matt: Did it fit?

Tom: I might have mentioned before that my least favorite example of gratuitous apostrophe use among the urban celebrity set is that of queen-sized comedienne Mo'nique. Eventually I decided it could legitimately stand for "More Monique". So I'm actually kind of okay with it now.

12/15/2005 01:36:00 PM  
Blogger SamuraiFrog said...

Sometimes when I read the grammar posts, the mistakes seem so elementary and ridiculously avoidable to me that I can almost feel the gears popping in my head...

Jesus, is the John Hancock reference really so little-known these days? And does anyone even remember that, while Paul Bunyan was the creation of ad copywriters, John Henry was an actual person?

12/15/2005 01:44:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Lynn said...

Was he? Can you tell me more? As far as I can tell from John Henry's Wikipedia entry, he basically falls into that King Arthur kind of territory, where he might be real, but maybe not. As for Paul Bunyan, Wikipedia claims he's French-Canadian in origin. I figured him for a Minnesotan. Either way, he missed out on a hockey career.

12/15/2005 04:22:00 PM  
Blogger JPW said...

I used to say "John Doe", and everybody would correct me. Now I just say "Gimme your oompty-doompty", because that's what I call ostentatious loops in signatures. Alternatively, "Can I please have your signature?" has a quite charming, old-fashioned ring to it.

12/16/2005 05:24:00 PM  
Blogger SamuraiFrog said...

The research into John Henry is ongoing, but there is a lot of scholarly study that indicates the legend is based on a real person (though probably the contest never took place). Paul Robeson did a stage play about John Henry with the aim of proving that Henry was a real man. (Incidentally, Uncle Sam and Johnny Appleseed were also real, something I just educated Becca about.)

In his book "Legends, Lies & Cherished Myths of American History," Richard Shenkman flat-out states: "The story which made Bunyan famous, in fact, was created by an advertising man, W.B. Laughead, in the 1920s for the purpose of selling products for the Red Lumber Company. As such, Paul is about as authentic a folk hero as Mr. Clean or the Jolly Green Giant..."

12/16/2005 06:25:00 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

So is John Henry at all related to Big Bad John? You know, the one hell of a man at the bottom of the mine.

12/16/2005 08:29:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Lynn said...

Scott, you need to steal the "oompty-doompty" thing. It's so moopy-poopy-coopy.

12/16/2005 11:41:00 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

Have you ever seen Freddie Bigsteak sign his name? He really gi's the shit out of it.

Is it okay to put that apostrophe in there? It's not using it the way it's supposed to be used by any rules that I know of but "gis" is definitely wrong. I think it's the same problem as what to do with CD. CDs? CD's? CD~s? CD·s? CD±s?

12/17/2005 10:36:00 AM  
Blogger Peter Lynn said...

I don't recall ever seeing that. As for the apostrophe, it seems permissible. But with CDs, the first two letters are capitalized, so there's less ambiguity so long as the s is lowercase. I've encountered a similiar situation at work, when we send out trade posters that promise retailers higher PMs. Whatever a PM is, I know I don't want to give anyone PMS.

12/17/2005 10:44:00 AM  

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