Wednesday, August 1, 2012

What’s in a name?

Even with casual observation, I’m astonished how often I come across the word “queen” or stumble upon a word or phrase that suggests a Queen connotation.

Case in point, I used to drive a Mercury Topaz.

Did I imagine I was motoring around town in Freddie’s car? No. In fact, it didn’t even occur to me that I had owned a car with Freddie’s adopted namesake because the automobile brand was strong enough to supersede any thoughts of Freddie or Queen at the time I owned it.

Only after I donated the car to the local Kidney Foundation did I realize that a Queen fan like myself had just spent ten years driving a Mercury Topaz. It was an interesting and appropriate coincidence, but one that went unnoticed for years. The polysemic nature of the word “mercury” was now evident although I now tend to be reminded of Freddie whenever I see the word mercury in any context.

So did Freddie choose a name that was overused? How many other concepts has the “mercury” label already been applied to? Off the top of my head, the obvious ones come to mind: the planet, the winged messenger god, the earthly element, the outboard motor, Ford’s car division, the NASA project, and of course, the singer.

Wikipedia has a significantly longer list . . . more than 100 items are on their disambiguation page for “mercury.” 

What about when I see the word “queen” in my travels? Do I automatically think of the band? Yes. I can’t help not to — the hard “k” sound of the letter Q and the double “ee” in the name imbue it with a memorable quality that’s both phonetic and visual. And since the band uses it in isolation — there’s no “The” or “Elizabeth” or “beauty” or “bee” used either before or after it, the single word itself becomes the identifier. This works in their favour because when you see the word amongst other words, it is easy to disregard the surrounding text and focus just on that one word. 

Does this result in peripheral support of the Queen brand in some way? Perhaps. The word itself is used in so many respects — popular culture, history, fantasy, card playing, chess, bed sizing, etc. While not as unwieldly as their “mercury” list, Wikipedia lists about 45 uses of the term “queen.” Like it or not, we’re confronted with it everywhere we turn. Just watch the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics as a current example.

So, with a few weeks of casual observation under my belt, here’s what I mean by encountering random, everyday Queen references:

As a parallel, I suppose that in a utopian, Happy Jack world, we’d automatically think of Daltrey and Townshend whenever we saw the word “who.” Or all television commercials for Ford or Audi cars would use songs by The Cars. Or Rolling Stone magazine covered only news about The Rolling Stones. 

And I’m sure brand connoisseur Gene Simmons would dutifully undergo a thousand facelifts if everyone who gave or received a kiss in this world automatically went and bought a Kiss collectible. (How perfect would that top-of-mind be?) 

The reality is, though, most words are multimodal with complex meanings. Even beyond the word “queen,” I find myself seeing snippets of text strings that remind me of Queen songs, as this random collection of TV programming shows: 

I wonder if there is anything in the literature that might suggest if Mercury the Roman messenger god was gay? Maybe Freddie understood something about the Mercury god that went beyond the winged messenger identity he was adopting.

Postscript (August 19, 2012) — Found another one at the mall today:


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