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Taxing Last Names by the Syllable:

From my UCLA colleague Kendra Willson's Political Inflections: Grammar and the Icelandic Surname Debate, pp. 135-37:

Only some 15% of contemporary Icelanders bear surnames inherited in a fixed form. A person's first name remains his or her primary name, while the indication of whose son or daughter he or she is is viewed by Icelanders less as a name than as a secondary descriptive label. The fact that the Icelandic telephone catalogue is organized by given name is a source of wonder to foreigners and a locus of national pride for many Icelanders....

[S]urnames entered Modern Icelandic usage [starting with the 17th century].... Over the following two centuries, the assumption of surnames by members of the upper and upwardly mobile classes became more and more common....

The first official [but unsuccessful] attempt to stem the tide of surnames was a proposal presented to ... the Icelandic parliament, in 1881.... This law would have required Icelanders to obtain royal permission before adopting a surname, as well as exacting a fee of 500 crowns ... and an annual [tax] of 10 crowns per syllable of the last name.

Grigor:
How characteristically European. George Haraldsson anticipated this.

If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street;
If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat;
If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat;
If you change your name, I'll tax your [syllabic] feet.
10.22.2008 8:29pm
Cornellian (mail):
Whereas here in America we never use the tax code to incentivize anything.
10.22.2008 8:40pm
Grumpy Old Man (mail) (www):
There's an old joke about the days when the Austrians made the Jews take last names, and the officials required bribes for the less offensive ones.

One fellow came out, and his friends asked him what name he had been given. He replied, "Schweisshund."

"What a terrible name? Didn't you offer to bribe them?"

"What do you mean? A hundred gulden I paid for the 'w' alone!"
10.22.2008 8:49pm
arthur (mail):
This is one tax that is unlikely to be implemented during the Obama administration.
10.22.2008 8:54pm
ChrisIowa (mail):
in light of the current financial condition, a fellow I know who reads this blog e-mailed a couple days ago with the following:

Q. What's the capital of Iceland?

A. About $20.
10.22.2008 8:54pm
Fub:
Cornellian wrote at 10.22.2008 7:40pm:
Whereas here in America we never use the tax code to incentivize anything.
I would propose a confiscatory tax on the use of the "-ize" or "-ise" suffix to coin verbs from nouns, but nobody would sympathize.
10.22.2008 8:55pm
Malvolio:
Whereas here in America we never use the tax code to incentivize anything.
I would propose a confiscatory tax on the use of the "-ize" or "-ise" suffix to coin verbs from nouns, but nobody would sympathize.
You would prefer "incent"? Eek.

BTW, "verb" is now a verb -- meaning "to make a verb from".
10.22.2008 9:16pm
Oren:
In the words of William Safire: "DON'T VERB NOUNS."
10.22.2008 9:17pm
Brooks Lyman (mail):
Whereas here in America we never use the tax code to incentivize anything.

What do you think all those "loopholes" are?
10.22.2008 9:22pm
Calvin:
Verbing weirds language.
10.22.2008 9:23pm
Jay Levitt (mail) (www):
Focus, people. We may come from different ends of the spectrum, and we may hold opposing and deeply divisive positions on descriptive vs. prescriptive theories of semantics. But in a time like this, can we not all agree:

The English language, our language, is the only trait that separates us from the Alaskans?
10.22.2008 9:30pm
Brooks Lyman (mail):
But in a time like this, can we not all agree:

The English language, our language, is the only trait that separates us from the Alaskans?


Well, sure, but it also separates us from Texans and Mainers, to mention just a couple.
10.22.2008 9:36pm
Smokey:
This is one tax that is unlikely to be implemented during the Obama administration.
Which makes it the exception that proves the rule.
10.22.2008 10:04pm
Curt Fischer:


I would propose a confiscatory tax on the use of the "-ize" or "-ise" suffix to coin verbs from nouns, but nobody would sympathize.



You would prefer "incent"? Eek.



The other day I tried to use "incend" for this meaning. Later on after poring over the OED, I was torn between "incend" or "incede". I think I decided that "incede" would best match the Latin root of "incentive", but that since it hadn't been reported in use as a transient verb, we'd be stuck with sentences like "Government policy caused him to incede towards the desired behavior," instead of "The government inceded him to behave as desired".

"Incend" has been used transitively, but its root (L. cendere) relates back to lighting stuff on fire, as opposed to "incede"'s root (L. cedere), which means setting the tune or pace. Maybe we can post-facto rationalize an "incentive" as something which lights the way down a certain path.

I guess this is all a long-winded way of saying, yeah, "incentivize" is pretty bad, and I don't like "incent" either. Perfectly good verbs like "incede" and "incend" are available--they've been waiting for a chance to pick up some new defintions and come back into vogue for centuries! Can't we pick one of those?
10.22.2008 10:19pm
Lior:
I think "incend" should keep its "set aflame" meaning. However, since "cede" is in use in the sense "succumb to authority", perhaps "incede" should mean "cause to succumb to authority"?
10.22.2008 10:35pm
gwinje:
TJ Houshmandzadeh would be hosed, but at least they weren't charging by letter.
10.22.2008 10:47pm
Fedya (www):
Curt:

How long have "incend" and "incede" been out of date? Neither appears in the (North American) Scrabble Tournament Word List, which is a reasonably good indicator of whether something is not a real word (you wouldn't believe how many obscure/obsolete variant spellings there are that are valid words), as long as it's not hyphenated or uses an apostrophe.

(BEVOMIT? OUTYELP? MISUNION? All of them are valid words, according to the TWL -- but none of them are listed at dictionary.com as having any definitions)
10.22.2008 11:05pm
Fub:
Malvolio wrote at 10.22.2008 8:16pm:
You would prefer "incent"? Eek.
Uh oh. I think I have frightized you.
10.22.2008 11:50pm
Bama 1L:
This is a clearly a sumptuary law, right? It seems to have worked too well. Interesting.
10.22.2008 11:56pm
Curt Fischer:
Fedya: The OED quotes a use of "incede" from 1853:

1853 C. BRONTË Villette xxiii. (1863) 248 Even in the uttermost frenzy of energy is each mænad movement royally, imperially, incedingly upborne.


For "incend", the most recent quote is from 1872:

1872 J. G. MURPHY Comm. Lev. iv. 12 It signifies merely to destroy by fire; whereas the other means to incend, or consume as incense.


"Incede" is marked as "rare" by the OED, and "incend" is marked as "obsolete". I wonder how long it will be till Googling for either brings us to this page...c'mon, let's get this ball rolling! Let's incede toward the use of "incede".
10.23.2008 12:17am
Litigator-London:
Remember "My Fair Lady?":-

Higgins: An Englishman's way of speaking absolutely classifies him.
The moment he talks he makes some other Englishman despise him.
One common language I'm afraid we'll never get,
Oh, why can't the English learn to
set a good example to people whose
English is painful to your ears?
The Scots and the Irish leave you close to tears.
There even are places where English completely disappears.
In America, they haven't used it for years!


Why can't the English teach their children how to speak?
Norwegians learn Norwegian,
the Greeks are taught their Greek.
In France every Frenchman knows his language from "A" to "Zed"
The French never care what they do, actually, as long as they pronounce it properly.

Arabians learn Arabian with the speed of summer lightning,
The Hebrews learn it backwards,
which is absolutely frightening.
But use proper English and you're regarded as a freak.

Why can't the English,
Why can't the English,
Learn To Speak?
10.23.2008 12:59am
Freddy Hill:
ChrisIowa:


Q. What's the capital of Iceland?

A. About $20.


I fear your friend is an optimist.
10.23.2008 1:25am
Hey Skipper (mail) (www):
Whereas here in America we never use the tax code to incentivize anything.

I would propose a confiscatory tax on the use of the "-ize" or "-ise" suffix to coin verbs from nouns, but nobody would sympathize.


Oh, for pete's sake. Using the proper word works wonders:

Whereas here in America we never use the tax code to encourage anything.
10.23.2008 1:38am
theobromophile (www):
Verbing weirds language.

As opposed to this business of participling every possible word?
10.23.2008 2:24am
roadwarrior (mail):
Are we thinking the liberal illuminati are going to do something as random as tax by last name syllables? How insane is it that anybody does something like this, even iceland, which i hear is actually really green. if it happens i am changing my last / sir name to a symbol, kind like the guy formally know as prince. Problem solve, tax free!
10.23.2008 2:30am
Hoosier:
Taxing by syllable would discourage hyphenation of last names. This would be anti-feminist. So I think we're safe.

Not that this is a good thing. I lived next door to the 'Scott-Linds'. For five long years I couldn't bring myself to introduce them to visitors.
10.23.2008 8:56am
MayorOmalleySuxs (mail):

What do you think all those "loopholes" are?


Laws with "loopholes" are either poorly written laws or written with intentional exceptions to the law. If the authors of the law did not want the "loopholes" to exist, then they should not have written the law that way. Nobody is abusing the law by following the law to the letter.
10.23.2008 9:21am
JosephSlater (mail):
Hoosier:

Were the Scott-Linds brave?
10.23.2008 9:33am
arthur:
A similar proposal for this country was vetoed by President Eisenhower. President Ford tried to revive it, but Senator Hayakawa led a filibuster.
10.23.2008 10:21am
Virginian:

Taxing by syllable would discourage hyphenation of last names. This would be anti-feminist. So I think we're safe.

Not that this is a good thing. I lived next door to the 'Scott-Linds'. For five long years I couldn't bring myself to introduce them to visitors.


I had a friend who told his future wife that she was welcome to hyphenate her name...just not with his!
10.23.2008 12:00pm
Fub:
JosephSlater wrote at 10.23.2008 8:33am:
Were the Scott-Linds brave?
If this is a sneaky legal maneuver to impose a bagpipe tax, I'm all for it.
10.23.2008 12:35pm
Mhoram:
But ... I LIKE bagpipes
10.23.2008 2:11pm
Curt Fischer:
Hey Skipper: Encourage? I don't like that option either. Compare me saying these two things to you.

1. Skipper, it'd be swell if you paid your taxes on time.

2. Skipper, if you pay your taxes on time I'll give you a free house, $100,000 in cash, and a trip to Tahiti. If you don't, I'll put you in jail.

The problem is that both #1 and #2 encourage you to pay your taxes on time. But only #2 incentivizes or incedes you to do so.
10.23.2008 2:33pm
JosephSlater (mail):
True fact: I play the bagpipes (or used to, when I was younger).
10.23.2008 4:49pm
spider:
If using "verb" as a verb is bad, how about the phenomenon of "friending" your acquaintances on Facebook.com ?

What's wrong with "befriend" ?
10.23.2008 7:33pm
Fub:
JosephSlater wrote at 10.23.2008 3:49pm:
True fact: I play the bagpipes (or used to, when I was younger).
True fact: A few years ago I got stuck in a small studio manning the mixer for a war pipes and bodhrán performance.

I can't tell whether I've been the same since, or not. But I sure don't believe any claims about the isolation characteristics of closed headphones anymore.
10.23.2008 9:03pm
Evelyn Marie Blaine (mail):
spider wrote:
If using "verb" as a verb is bad, how about the phenomenon of "friending" your acquaintances on Facebook.com ?

What's wrong with "befriend" ?

I find this coinage rather useful in eliminating ambiguity. One often friends those whom one would not, in real life, have any motivation to befriend.
10.23.2008 9:20pm
Hoosier:
Were the Scott-Linds brave?

Not especially, from what I could tell.

What's just perfect about them, however, was that they were both of English stock. And yet they were incredibly "thrifty." Just a coincidence? Or cause-and-effect? (A test: Does anyone perchance know a married couple named 'Poe-Lind'? And are they uncommonly fearful of Germans? Now I simply must know!)
10.24.2008 12:51am