Monday, October 30, 2017

Andy Borowitz and Ms. Tracy Klugian

Back in 2011, I wrote about satirist Andy Borowitz and his habit of recycling the names of the imaginary people he quotes. The names that had caught my eye were Tracy Klugian, Harland Dorrinson (or Harlan Dorinson) and Davis Logsdon. I also observed that the pronoun "she" was a rarity among Borowitz' fictional characters. He had no choice but to use "she" when he wrote about an actual female, but even his oft-quoted Tracy Klugian, despite having a first name that is common for girls as well as boys, was always "he."

Today I noticed that Borowitz used "she" for Tracy Klugian. How refreshing! I then did a quick search on The New Yorker's website and found that so far in 2017 Tracy was "she" once - on July 31, 2017, "he" once - on Sept. 21, 2017, and without pronoun 4 times - on Jan. 22, Apr. 24, May 2 and May 4. By the way, on May 2, Tracy was a schoolkid as was Zach Dorrinson, no doubt the son of the fictional Harland. Zach was also quoted. Wonder why young Dorrinson wasn't Zelda or, to continue with unisex names and gender ambiguity, Pat, Leslie or Kim?

It was time to investigate the M/F data for Tracy. A 2007 yahoo best answer to the question whether Tracy is a boy's name or a girl's identified 7 famous people named Tracy, 4 male and 3 female. The site's list of celebrity and celebrated Tracy Somethings included pictures for at least the first 12. The score there was 4 to 8, men to women.

The US Census publishes good data on names, too. On this page , you can scroll down to 'Popularity by Name' and enter a name, select male or female, and then choose how far back you want to go. The search automatically goes through 2016. I chose to start in the 1900s and got a bar chart showing all the years when the chosen name was among the top 1000. I looked at Tracy, both female and male. For most of the years between 1942 and 2004, Tracy was in the top 1000 names for girls, but it did not make the top 1000 before 1942 nor after 2004 when it was ranked 951 . In 1970, its high point, the rank was 10. Among boys, Tracy had a longer run but was overall much less popular. It was in the top 1000 for many of the years between 1900 and 1999 and in that last year it ranked 808th. Its high point was 1967 with a rank of 98. The question is close but on balance Tracy Klugian's preferred pronoun should really be "she."

In 2014 I added Carol Foyler to my personal list of favorite recycled names. I had discovered Carol when I revisited Borowitz' naming habits in response to a comment posted to my 2011 piece. (That writer had wondered about Borowitz' preference for the University of Minnesota.) Of course, Carol can also be a man's name but I haven't noticed Borowitz ever call Fowler "he." Carol is not in today's piece but was, sans pronoun, there with Tracy (gender M) on Sept. 21. A few days ago on Oct. 28, Carol had a husband but chose to leave him to have surgery alone in order to come to Washington and join the hopeful crowd outside Mueller's office after Friday's news. How big was that crowd? Andy writes that a policeman (a man not an officer whose pronoun was "he") thought it could reach a million, and added "We definitely didn’t see anything like this at the Inauguration.” Borowitz does seem to live in a man's (or mostly men, anyway) world, whether real or imaginary, but he does have a way with words.

If you haven't yet seen today's Borowitz piece, rest assured that it includes your old guy friends Dorrinson and Logsdon, this time a clinical psychologist at, yes, the University of Minnesota.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Thinking Outside the Box

Today I got another chance to quote myself on the subject of the tech world's lack of diversity.
The rest of us think outside the box because we've never been allowed inside the box.
Here's why the quote sprang to mind. Once again, a Windows 10 update messed up Microsoft's Edge. I looked to Microsoft Answers Forums and someone recommended uninstalling and reinstalling IBM's Trusteer software. Yes, I thought, that has solved previous Windows 10 problems. Perhaps Microsoft includes this annoyance to get people to abandon Trusteer and move to a Microsoft product. But simple incompetence could be the cause, such as Microsoft only hiring 20-something males to write and test software.

As far as I know, I'm the inventor of the quote and variants but other people may have had similar ideas. Here's one of my variants:
Outsiders routinely think outside the box. Duh.
This past spring the concept was the basis of my 10-minute play, My Contribution. It was produced in a staged reading by Playwrights' Center of San Francisco as part of PlayOffs - Round 2. The characters are a young ~20-something man and an old woman, ~50-99. The setting is the young man's office at a company called Goober.* The play ends soon after the woman beats the man at the Hamlet's Soliloquy game, another product of my invention. The play is under revision but one thing that will stay until Google, Microsoft, etc. open their boxes, is that the Old Woman will identify "True thinking outside the box" as what she'd contribute to the company, and she'll explain why.

* Old Woman: I haven't been keeping up with the news. When did you merge with Uber? Young Man: We didn't merge with Uber. The B is for Face*B*ook and the ER is for the end of Twitter. Old Woman: Should be BS for FaceBook, and I'd love to see the end of Twitter.