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Defining 'manhood,' translating 'latte'

Posted by Jan Freeman, keep until April  November 19, 2006 03:02 PM

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The History Channel's three-hour treatment of the Mayflower voyage, "Desperate Crossing" (which airs tonight and repeats all week) may turn out to be terrific. But the tagline for the print ads is a headscratcher:

It was a True Test of Manhood
Even for the Women and Children

Since the traits most in demand for Pilgrims seem to have been disease resistance, endurance, and luck – virtues not especially "manly" in anyone's dictionary -- "manhood" seems like an odd word to choose. And the verbal paradox -- manhood for women! -- adds an incongruously joky note to the otherwise solemn ad. What were they thinking? (Seriously: What were they thinking?)

The jokiness is entirely intentional, on the other hand, in the current Dunkin' Donuts ad mocking Starbucks' menu language. "Is it French? Or is it Italian?" sings the chorus of customers. "Maybe Fritalian?"

The punchline: "Delicious lattes from Dunkin' Donuts. You order them in English, not Fritalian."

Wait -- you order "lattes" in English?

OK, "latte" is English, in a sense; it's in our dictionaries, defined as the short form of Italian caffe latte. But it's not fully assimilated English, like "ghetto" and "casino." We cook fettuccine al dente, but we don't brush our "dente" with Colgate. And we order lattes, but we don't call the milk in the fridge "latte." So DD gets points for humor -- but it loses a few for its fuzzy linguistic logic.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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