The Snowquester: An Etymological Debate
Jonathan L. Fischer: Lots of people seem to be taking umbrage with the Washington Post's unilateral naming of this week's potential snowstorm. These people are wrong. Although I tend to oppose premature declarations of memes, this time the Post's Capital Weather Gang is on the right track: If there is massive snowfall this week, it will definitely be a Snowquester.
Mike Madden: The nice thing about a name like "Snowquester," though, is that it could also be the term used to describe a snowstorm that leaves D.C. with less snow than the rest of the places the storm passes through. And as a general rule, if a name could work for both the scenario you're trying to name and the exact opposite of that scenario, it's time to find a new name.
That's not even the only problem with this "Snowquester" business, though. Besides the fact that it's premature to name a snowstorm three days before the first flake falls, it's also a terrible name! It's just a mash-up of two things that are both happening at the same time. That worked when we had a tropical storm days after an earthquake—"HURRIQUAKE!!!"—but now it just seems forced.
Fischer: Most everything you just said is wrong, and here is why.
For starters, while it is true that not a single flake has fallen, that just might be Snowquester's genius: Like its fiscal inspiration, the Snowquester could devastate the local economy...or it could prove to be no big deal.
As for the etymological argument: That's in Snowquester's favor, too. In fact, I'd say awkward punning is a requirement of the snowstorm-naming genre. "Snowpocalypse," "Snowmaggedon," and "SnOMG" wouldn't pass muster in, say, the Post's Style Invitational, yet Washingtonians embraced them nevertheless.
And "Snowquester" makes sense psychically, too: If indeed they have the most extreme predicted effect, the sequester and the snowstorm will alter daily life in Washington at least in the short term. Or if that's overstating it, they'll at least inspire plenty of day-drinking.
Which is just another problem with this name: It subsumes what should be an occasion of its own—a big, late winter snowstorm, the only one we've had all year—into the federal crisis du jour.
Snow brings its own pleasures and hassles to D.C.—maybe the Metro will stop running! Maybe a bunch of myopic little twit types will organize a snowball fight over social media, and maybe a cop will show up with a gun! But this time around, instead of being able to savor the weird quiet that a blanket of snow dumps on otherwise busy streets, Capital Weather Gang's decree will mean everyone's wondering if John Boehner has the votes in the House to call the whole storm off. I'm not saying we should do like the Weather Channel is doing and call it "Saturn," but it is worth pointing out that everyone ridiculed them for rolling out winter storm names ahead of time.
Fischer: I will say this: "Snowmageddon" and "Snowpocalypse" worked because, as anyone who grew up in the D.C. area knows, far more reliable than actual snow is the propensity of locals (and their municipal governments and school systems) to freak out over its possibility. Even though it shut down the city for a week, the Snowpocalypse was not an actual apocalypse. The term was a tongue-in-cheek way of saying, "OK, there is a lot of snow, but I really didn't need to buy 500 rolls of toilet paper at Safeway last week, and since my office is closed, I am going to make s'mores on my stove and drink lots of whiskey." The closest thing we have to a joke apocalypse these days is the sequester. Also, "Snownihiliation" and "Catastrosnow" are just awkward.
Madden: Those names came about a little more organically, though. I mean, yes, chances are, Twitter would have rallied behind "Snowquester" or something like it around the second round of drinks Wednesday midmorning, anyway. It would have still been kind of annoying, but at least it would have felt less AstroTurf-y than naming the storm in advance. Besides, you and I have important branding considerations to think of here. Can we really, in good conscience, just let the Washington Post name a snowstorm for us? What next, we go along with their name for the Washington Pigskins?
I'll grant you that "Catastrosnow" would be horrible, though.
Fischer: While I'm not especially eager to cede to the Post on any matters of naming things wittily, I must concede they nailed this one. But tell me: What would you call this thing?
Madden: Considering we had no snow all season and that the last few years have been the warmest on record, there's a chance this could be the last snowstorm ever in D.C. (OK,not a very good chance, but at least a chance). And it'll definitely be the last storm this winter, regardless. So I'd go with something like "The Final Snowdown," in a tribute to Europe. (I will admit that's not very catchy or clever.) Or alternately, you could name it for Wendy Rieger, who proved during the last big weather story that she's at least as entertaining as Pat Collins. It's not really a name, but do recall Wendy's description of Sandy last fall, and imagine how apt it could be for a snowstorm: "This thing is, like, pounding us from behind!"
Fischer: I am open to the possibility of the Snowquester being renamed Supersnow Wendy...but that's on both the snowstorm and Wendy Rieger.
But! This reminds me of Rieger's best one-liner (and there were so many) from her Sandy coverage: " And it starts lookin’ like nothin’ much. Kinda like my datin’ life.” Is anything better for one's datin' life than being Snowquestered with the one you've got your eye on? It could happen.
Madden: OK, at last, here's some common ground: We may not agree on "Snowquester," but at least we can preemptively declare that when the Post attempts, sometime in December, to declare that there's a snowstorm-caused baby boom in D.C., they'll be full of crap. No matter how many people get sequestered at home on Wednesday with the ones they love.
Fischer: I think that would be one of those examples where there's no way of proving it's the case, but we should all wish it's so. With that said: Happy Snowquester, everyone!
Madden: No point fighting the name any more than fighting the snow, I guess. But may our snowfall totals not be reduced by an arbitrary 8.2 percent!
Photo by Darrow Montgomery