Near indecency

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Last updated on July 13th, 2017 at 01:33 pm

The New York Times on cars, January 3, 1899:

There is something uncanny about these newfangled vehicles. They are unutterably ugly and never a one of them has been provided with a good or even an endurable name. The French, who are usually orthodox in their etymology, if in nothing else, have evolved “automobile,” which being half Greek and half Latin is so near indecent that we print it with hesitation.

That quote also appears in Sonia Shah’s Crude: The Story of Oil. Hopefully the Times is happier with modern vehicle names, such as Mazda Bongo Friendee Turbo.

Posted by Tim B. on 12/02/2007 at 10:48 AM
    1. It’s an ipsemobile.

      Posted by rhhardin on 2007 12 02 at 10:58 AM • permalink


    1. Wonder what The New York Times of 1899 would have made of Honda, Toyota, Suzuki, Hyundai, Kia, etc.

      Posted by RebeccaH on 2007 12 02 at 11:10 AM • permalink


    1. I wonder what the New York Times of 1899 would have made of the New York Times of 2007.

      Posted by The_Real_JeffS on 2007 12 02 at 11:41 AM • permalink


    1. TRJS—During the Civil War draft riots, the publisher of the NY Times purchased cannon and rifles and had staffers fortify the ground floor.  Any more questions?

      Posted by richard mcenroe on 2007 12 02 at 12:47 PM • permalink


    1. And let’s recall the NYT’s brilliant takedown of Professor Robert Goddard and his crackbrained schemes to shoot “rockets” into “outer space.”  As they so astutely pointed out these “rocket” thingies would not work in “space” because in a vaccum there is nothing to push against.  Also I believe that no one can hear you scream.

      Ha ha, stoopid Professor Goddard!  Whadda maroon!

      Posted by Steve Skubinna on 2007 12 02 at 02:02 PM • permalink


    1. #2 Rebeccah, I never understood why they name a car company Killed In Action.

      Posted by Wimpy Canadian on 2007 12 02 at 04:48 PM • permalink


    1. #5 Skubina, do you have a reference for that, I’d like to follow it up. There’s a collection of dumb comments such as “No future for the telephone” and “World market for computers is about 5” and “Who would want a computer at home”

      Posted by Wimpy Canadian on 2007 12 02 at 04:52 PM • permalink


    1. Well, ‘automobile’ only took on in the USA, 4 syllables instead of one ‘car’, an old shorter form for carriage.

      I suggest ‘electroflat’ for electric cars.
      It describes their acceleration, climbing ability and endurance in one.

      ‘Let’s go for a spin in my new flat.’

      Posted by Barrie on 2007 12 02 at 04:55 PM • permalink


    1. #6 Wimpy, have you heard the variations on Pakistan Airlines [PIA]?

      Panic In the Air
      Please Inform Allah
      Perhaps I’ll Arrive.

      Posted by Barrie on 2007 12 02 at 04:58 PM • permalink


    1. Considering the NYT’s track record, they’re just about due to print a retraction.

      Posted by Jim Treacher on 2007 12 02 at 06:17 PM • permalink


    1. That’s a good name for that Mazda but it is unutterably ugly.

      Posted by dean martin on 2007 12 02 at 06:19 PM • permalink


    1. German vehicle names are better than French or Japanese ones. There’s nothing like showing off your new
      Panzer Selbstfahrlafette 1a 5cm PaK38 auf Gepanzerte Munitionsschlepper

      Posted by Evil Pundit on 2007 12 02 at 07:00 PM • permalink


    1. The Mitsubishi ‘Mum 500 Shall We Join Us?’ is pretty special

      Posted by eeniemeenie on 2007 12 02 at 07:23 PM • permalink


    1. Suzuki ‘Every Joy Pop Turbo’ is an indecently good name for any vehicle

      Posted by eeniemeenie on 2007 12 02 at 07:36 PM • permalink


    1. #7 wc, here’s a pretty good concise bit on the story, including citations:

      Posted by Steve Skubinna on 2007 12 02 at 08:00 PM • permalink


    1. My windows 95 desktop has a button labelled Turbo next to the power button.

      Posted by rhhardin on 2007 12 02 at 09:18 PM • permalink


    1. Stay away from that button, rh!  It activates either the oscillation overthruster or the flux capacitor, I forget which.

      Or maybe it’s for the Passive Algorithm Computational Organizer.

      Anyway, the consequences of pushing it are always worse than not.

      Posted by Steve Skubinna on 2007 12 02 at 11:41 PM • permalink


    1. “It’s an ipsemobile.”

      Or an autokinematicon?

      “Television” has the same problem because “telescope” was already taken, . Teleopticon? Transvision? Proculvision?

      Posted by JimC on 2007 12 03 at 12:45 AM • permalink


    1. I wonder what the Times folk from 1899 would think if they saw a top fuel car eat up the quarter in four and a half seconds?

      Better yet get ‘em to stand next to the headers on the line…

      Posted by The_Wizard_of_WOZ on 2007 12 03 at 03:31 AM • permalink


    1. Mazda clearly needs to take some styling cues from the bleeding edge of automotive design.
      (The alumni of the Habib School of Constructive Criticism provide hours of entertainment.)

      Posted by lotocoti on 2007 12 03 at 04:26 AM • permalink


    1. Television? The word is half Greek, half Latin. No good can come of it.
      —C. P. Scott.

      Posted by localharbor on 2007 12 03 at 05:34 AM • permalink


    1. I must admit to a decided fondness for hansom cabs drawn by a collection of shackled morlocks and apprentice chimneysweeps for the purposes of my main interest, monkey smuggling.
      I’ve tried out the automobile, but it lacks a certain something. Possibly the extra monkey room in the back.

      Posted by Simon Darkshade on 2007 12 03 at 06:11 AM • permalink


  1. OT but inspired by the ‘near indecency’ title.
    Bill Kristol chooses his words rather badly in a recent article:‘Has Bill Clinton lost his touch? In the old days, when he didn’t want to take a clear position, he was the master of the straddle’.

    Posted by Barrie on 2007 12 03 at 06:12 PM • permalink