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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Apple Corps to Beatlemania: the language of the Beatles

The month I turned 14 years old was the same month The Beatles began their first tour of the United States: January 1964. As a newish teenager, I immediately became a Beatlemaniac ... listening to them on KJR radio in Seattle, watching them on the Ed Sullivan Show, and buying (or getting my parents to buy) their first U.S. albums. 

I also bought Beatles cards (with gum), tacked photos of them to my bedroom walls, began brushing my hair over my forehead (and still do), began playing guitar, and filled a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about them; I still have that scrapbook! My younger brother and I saw them perform in Seattle later that year ... and a couple of years later as well.

I'm still a fan, and my sons (now in their 30s) "inherited" that trait. Though I'm also a fan of other older and newer popular music performers, The Beatles are still in my top 5. I figure they'll rank there until I stop listening to music.

So when I see headlines for new articles about The Beatles, I usually read them. I saw a headline today that intrigued me: Apple Corps to Beatlemania: the language of the Beatles, published by Oxford Dictionaries. Author Colin Thomas writes:

The Beatles are regarded by many – including me – as the greatest band of all time, and few would doubt the significance of their impact on popular music. Their impact on the lexicon is less clear, though, since using the word ‘na’ 217 times in the lyrics of Hey Jude really doesn't count. ...
The Beatles’ contribution to the English language goes further than that, thankfully. ...
Despite all of Thomas' words, though, the article revealed to me that the influence of The Beatles on English was nowhere near their influence on music, fashion and even lifestyles. I was surprised.

Here are the few words discussed in the article that get credit from The Beatles; some are obvious:
  • Beatlesque (“characteristic or reminiscent of The Beatles, their music, or their cultural impact”)
  • Beatlemania (“addiction to the Beatles and their characteristics; the frenzied behaviour of their admirers.”). 
  • Even Beatle itself has an entry (“applied attrib. to the hair-style or other characteristics of ‘The Beatles’ or of their imitators.”) ...
  • grotty, shortened from grotesque ...
  • moptop (“a rather shaggy hairstyle popularized by members of the British band the Beatles; a person with such a hairstyle”) ...
  • mod (“A young person belonging to a subculture preoccupied with smart, stylish dress, characteristically associated with riding motor scooters and listening to soul music. Freq. contrasted with rocker”) ....
As a lover of wordplay--and frequent maker of puns--I appreciated the article's references to puns used by The Beatles:
  • The names of two albums, Revolver ("the vinyl record revolves, geddit?") and Rubber Soul ( "derived from the phrase 'plastic soul' ... the first known use of plastic to mean artificial or superficial is currently dated to only two years earlier in an article by British newspaper The Daily Telegraph ...")
  • The company and record label they launched: Apple Corps.
I wonder if The Beatles' use of language--and least their use of wordplay--influenced my eventual interest in writing and punning. I know I was a fan of John Lennon's books, also filled with wordplay ... and mentioned in this article. 

The Thomas article is featured today, May 15, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

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