Tag Archives: language

What’s in a Name?

August 23, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare wrote: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.” Gertrude Stein continued, “A rose is a rose is a rose” in her poem “Sacred Emily.” NBC’s Craig Calcaterra concluded, “Pete Rose is a cheater.”

In my opinion, it is important what we name things. Take the “rose” in the above statements. Change “rose” to “salamander.” Juliet’s take on the scent of a salamander would not be quite so romantic. Stein’s poetic reflection on identity would lose its meter. And Pete Salamander would be in the Hall of Fame. Names are important.

When I was a precocious toddler on the verge of verbal proficiency, my family went to the beach. My young eyes took in all the new, heretofore unimagined, sights around me. The surf rushed in around my knees when suddenly, I saw it, and, in a flash, I knew what to say: “Clam!” I pointed at the new thing. I was naming the unnamed. The human need to understand drives us to categorize things in order to organize the universe in our minds. Naming things is an essential part of that process.

“Clam!” I said again.

“It’s a seagull,” said my father patiently. “Sea-gull.”

“Clam!” I liked the sound of my word better. What did I know? I was only a 1-year-old. I was transfixed as I watched the clam spread its wings and take to the sky, heading out over the waves towards the far horizon.

What I’m trying to say is, it is good to name things, but it is also a good idea to do it correctly.

When I was a somewhat older kid, I fell in love with baseball. I would take every opportunity to head down Brooklyn Avenue in Kansas City to watch my beloved Athletics at Municipal Stadium. Yes, the field was called “municipal” because it was a municipal building, that is, it was owned by the city. Cleveland had a Municipal Stadium, too. No one was confused. The name made sense. Here in Omaha the baseball park was named after Johnny Rosenblatt. That made sense because Johnny was a good guy and there would not ever have been such a stadium had it not been for his efforts.

The Bears play at Soldier Field. The Bills used to play at War Memorial. The Yankees played at Yankee Stadium—where else? Now some fields had names like Wrigley, but that was because Mr. Wrigley actually owned the stadium. He built it with his own money. Wrigley Field as a name makes sense.

But…here comes the old codger part…now we have this thing called “naming rights.”  Companies pay money to have their logos stamped above the entrances and scoreboards. It’s getting ridiculous.

If not for “naming rights,” whoever would have thought of Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Talking Stick Arena in Phoenix, or the Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento? And the latest worst and most terrible, stupid, regrettable stadium name of all time is…wait for it…

ENRON Field in Houston. Ouch. The perils of selling naming rights.

Here in Omaha we have a beautiful downtown venue. It was called the Qwest Center, then the CenturyLink Center, and now it is tagged as the CHI Health Center. We could have done worse, I guess, but I still wonder, when I hear the name, should I take an Uber to the concert or an ambulance?

I hope to hit a Powerball someday. I’ll buy the naming rights and proudly watch the letters go up on…wait for it…Municipal Arena. Wouldn’t that be nice?


Otis Twelve hosts the radio program Early Morning Classics with Otis Twelve on 90.7 KVNO, weekday mornings from 5-9 a.m. Visit kvno.org for more information.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Design Needs Language Needs Design

May 20, 2017 by

In 2009, filmmaker Doug Pray released Art & Copy, a feature-length documentary that, according to IMDb, aimed to reveal “the work and wisdom of some of the most influential advertising creatives of our time.” Having watched the film on multiple occasions over the years (it pops up periodically on Netflix), I can endorse that description. Even if the names Lee Clow, George Lois, Mary Wells, Dan Wieden, or Hal Riney (to cite a few) mean nothing to you, their stories of turning insights into ideas and ideas into brand- and pop-culture-defining work should be required viewing for anyone involved in marketing. But of all the interesting nuggets one can glean from this movie, one of the most important is hiding in plain sight in the title. I’m speaking, naturally, of the ampersand.

The phrase “art & copy” is not unique to this film’s title. It’s been applied to the two main components of the creative side of advertising for decades: the art (what you see) and the copy (what you read or hear). It also refers to the duos charged with creating all of those hopefully persuasive messages—the teams of copywriters and art directors that first became standard operating procedure at Doyle, Dane, Bernbach in the 1960s. The importance of the ampersand lies in its brief, blunt affirmation that it takes both design and language to create an effective ad. It is not “art or copy,” “art over copy,” or “art instead of copy.”

In a piece of work’s final form, the split between art & copy is, of course, rarely 50-50. That’s natural. Some campaigns rely more on clever wordplay or provocative statements, while others let the design and art direction carry more weight. In the industry at large, the fondness for one over the other tends to be cyclical. Some decades see a renaissance of the written word, only to be followed by a resurgence of the visual.

We find ourselves in an image-driven era. Partly due to the cycle described above, and partly due to the rise of mobile platforms and their associated apps such as Instagram, Snapchat, and whatever has taken the lead in livestreaming. Which is all well and good up to a point. As long as we don’t forget that ampersand. Enticing visuals without narrative—whether in literal copy/dialogue or in a piece’s underlying narrative structure—tend to lack weight. Their impact is alluring for the moment, but their message is forgotten the moment someone swipes “next,” turns the page, or clicks “skip ad.”

We live in a world where good design is all around us, and great design isn’t difficult to find. Not just in marketing, but also in products, publishing, architecture, and even food. (There’s still plenty of hideous design, by the way, so let us not grow complacent in fighting the proliferation of mediocrity.) But how much of that design is just proverbial lipstick on a pig instead of an indication of substance? Once your eye moves beyond the well-composed, shallow-depth-of-field shot to the accompanying text, is the message enhanced, the brand uplifted, and your curiosity piqued? Or do you wonder why it incongruently sounds like a Buzzfeed listicle only less clever? If so, it’s because the design is either dancing alone, or with an oaf of a partner.

It is not enough to merely look good. Because as soon as you, as a brand, open your pretty mouth, you will sound dumb, boring, or indistinguishable from the herd—akin to saying, “just do something” instead of “just do it.” Nor is it enough to merely sound smart (well, aside from radio), as few want to pay initial attention to the visually cluttered or cliché. No. It takes both design & language—rooted in truth, expressed in interesting, relevant ways—to create advertising worthy of its purpose.

No ifs. No buts. Yet always with an &.

Jason Fox is a freelance creative director and writer. He can be found at jasonfox.net and adsavior.com.

This column was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of B2B.

The Matriarch Behind the Scenes

October 12, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The bright flavors and colors of Hidalgo, Mexico, pop at family-owned and operated Maria Bonita Mexican Cuisine. Matriarch and head chef Miriam Lopez authentically re-creates the food she recalls from her native land.

Tropical floral motifs by Omaha artist Mike Giron decorate the 5132 L St. restaurant, as well as the family’s two food trucks.

“The colors not only inspire us and make us remember where we come from but also transmit some of our culture and the way we envision life, which is colorful and positive,” eldest daughter Itzel Lopez says. “Our culture is really within us.”

She and her two sisters help mom continue a proud legacy of strong, accomplished Latinas.

Miriam and husband Miguel opened the eatery in 2011 at 20th Street and Missouri Avenue. Business boomed before Miguel fell ill.

“He was our backbone,” Itzel says. “For us, family’s always been more important than business, so we said, ‘Let’s take a break and get our dad where he needs
to be.'”

miriamlopez1Maria Bonita closed; however, the customers refused to leave. Itzel says, “Our customers really didn’t let us go, but the only way we could continue what we’d started was to go on wheels. So, we acquired our first food truck right in 2011, and in 2014 we acquired our second food truck.”

A new brick and mortar was sought to serve sit-down diners and to prep-host catering gigs. Thus, the former Sizzler site became the new Maria Bonita in 2015.

“Same food, same concept, just bigger,” says Itzel.

They opened it with help from the Nebraska Enterprise Fund. With Miguel recuperating in Mexico, Miriam wants it to be like coming to the Lopez casa for “a home-cooked family meal,” adding, “The kitchen is the home of the home.”

“These are dishes my mom will cook at home,” Itzel says. “Everything my mom does she makes with love. Mom wants to see tables full of families enjoying a good dinner. That’s something we grew up with. Every Sunday after church we come and enjoy our own food here.”

Miriam says she doesn’t use “complicated recipes, processes, and ingredients,” adding, “This is very different—this is simple food the way I remember when I was a kid. My memories are all about food—about my mom all the time cooking for everybody.”

She inherited her mom’s cooking talent, and her folks paid for culinary training. She worked as a line cook in Mexico and America. “All the time I was learning—I learned a lot.” Even though the hours are long, she finds joy. “All the time people ask me, why you work so hard? But I don’t feel like I’m working. It’s special—that’s the difference. They think it’s for the money, but it’s not for the money. It’s passion. I love this. It’s my dream.”

Miriam’s college-educated daughters have jobs and lives of their own, and she wants them to be successful.

“It’s my faith for them. Happiness is everything.”

“We move by faith in our family,” says Itzel. “We’re just hard working women. All we have to do is just follow that.”

Itzel says she admires her mother’s “consistency and perseverance” and how “she molds the family to the same mission.”

“We’re a good team, each with different roles and strengths, all of us guided by Mom and her passion for food.”

Mother and daughter are “proud” their family of “Mexican transplants and language learners” has come so far here.

A rotating traditional Mexican buffet is served daily from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Visit mariabonitaonline.com for more information. Sixty-Plus in Omaha

Marisa Miakonda Cummings

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

I would like to begin by introducing myself. My English name is Marisa Cummings. My Omaha or Umoⁿhoⁿ name is Miakonda or Moon Power. I was given my Buffalo Tail Clan name by my great-grandmother, Edith Walker Springer. My father is the late Michael Cummings, or Stampeding Buffalo. My father’s mother is Eunice Walker Mohn, or Buffalo Tail Clan Woman. My grandmother’s parents are the late Charles Amos Walker, or White Chest, and the late Ida Springer Walker, or New Moon. I am an Omaha woman. I am a Buffalo Tail Clan woman of the Sky people. I am the oldest child of eight children. I am the mother of four children.

As I wrote the paragraph to introduce myself, I was mentally translating from Umoⁿhoⁿ to English. The Umoⁿhoⁿ language is a beautiful conduit of culture. Self introductions are very important in our community. One must know who they are to know where they are going in this life. Language allows us to express ourselves to one another as human beings, to talk to the Creator, and express ourselves through song and ceremony. As language is a conduit for expressing thoughts and feelings, and relaying cultural knowledge, it is essential that our Umoⁿhoⁿ language is revered and preserved for our future generations. We must preserve our language to talk to our Creator through our ceremonies as we were instructed to do in our language.

Marisa3My grandmother grew up hearing Umoⁿhoⁿ spoken as the primary language at home; it was her first language. She has told me about her parents waking well before sunrise and praying in Umoⁿhoⁿ in the kitchen. Her father, Charles Walker or Mongaska, was taken to Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Carlisle was a military-style school founded in 1879 by Capt. Richard Pratt under the authority of the U.S. government with the founding principle that Native Americans were a vanishing race and their only hope for survival was assimilation to white mainstream culture. The first thing done was to cut off the children’s sacred hair. The second step was to make them stop speaking their traditional language and converse in English. My great-grandfather came back to the reservation after his stay at Carlisle and remained fluent in both Umoⁿhoⁿ and English. He served on our tribal council for over 25 years. My grandmother’s mother, Ida or Metexi, was sent to Genoa Indian Industrial School in Genoa, Nebraska. She also returned to the reservation and spoke fluent Umoⁿhoⁿ. Both of my great-grandparents survived assimilation and Indian boarding schools and retained their Umoⁿhoⁿ language in daily practice in and outside of their home.

Tragedy struck when my grandmother was 10 years old. Her mother passed away and left eight orphaned children. Her father decided to send her, at age 14, to Haskell Indian School in Lawrence, Kansas. There was no more playing in the timber, no more collecting wild plums and gooseberries. She was alone. She said that she often wondered what she did wrong. Was her father angry with her? Why would he send her away? My grandmother graduated from Haskell and moved to Sioux City, Iowa, with the courage to start a life for herself.

My father was born in 1955. He was considered a “half-breed,” as his father was a white man. However, his grandfather, Charlie Walker, took pity on him and gave him the Umoⁿhoⁿ Buffalo Tail Clan name Te-Nuga-Na-Tide. My father was an incredible man. He received his master’s degree from Iowa State University and went to work for the corporate world. He always instilled in me the power of education and the importance of coming back to help the people with the education I received. I was raised to be of service and make a difference. My father also raised me like a first-born son. He made me tough, taught me to always speak up and use my voice, to be courageous and strategic. He told me that women have a strong place in leadership and that Native women will be at the front of the movement to bring back language and culture. He was very proud when I graduated with a degree from the University of Iowa.

Marisa1As a young woman, I was always interested in our language. I would ask my grandma and great-grandma to tell me stories. I would sit at their feet or at the kitchen table in my grandma’s trailer while I asked one question after another. I think she got tired of me at times. I still am always asking questions of my grandmother. How do I say this? Do you remember this? She is the matriarch of our family. I am blessed that my children can be close to her and experience her unconditional love and knowledge.

In 1978, the Indian Religious Freedoms Act was passed. Our ceremonies, songs, and dances were no longer illegal. We could legally pray in the manner the Creator intended for us to pray. Yet, so many of the songs, ceremonies, and teachings were no longer practiced. In my life journey, I have rediscovered my love of ceremony. I enjoy collecting and preparing medicine. I love that I have the ability to be a lifelong learner of culture and ceremony, but in order to make that true connection, I must relearn a language that is rooted in my DNA. I believe that we can relearn our sense of true self and heal both individually and collectively.

My children have been born in a generation where our ceremonies are being revived and practiced. My children have been exposed to ceremonies, songs, dance, and love of our way of life. As I embrace our ceremonies and language, I know that I am also healing those who went before me. As I heal, I give reverence to ancestors whose hearts broke when they saw English replace Umoⁿhoⁿ in their homes, those who watched alcohol replace ceremony, and those who witnessed government commodities replace our sacred foods. As we revive our sacred way of life, we renew and honor all of those who went before us.

Visit omaha-nsn.gov for more information. Omaha Magazine

Breaking Down the Language Barrier

July 9, 2014 by

Learning a second language is a hobby that many—okay, some—people enjoy. For Susan Mayberger with Omaha Public Schools, learning Spanish as a second language has been integral to a fascinating life and career journey.

“After teaching for three years I had an opportunity to take a year off and learn Spanish as a second language,” Mayberger says. “I did this in Spain after having taken two years of high school Spanish. I thought I was oh so smart. I go there and I couldn’t even ask, ‘Where is the bathroom?’”
That experience may have turned off some on the idea of learning another language. It only fueled Susan’s fire.  “In the situation of being college educated but feeling like I wasn’t very successful, I think that’s what started my empathy for people who are coming to the United States and learning English as their second language,” Mayberger says.

After graduating, the Omaha native moved to New York in 1980 and earned her Masters in ESL. After spending about 12 years in New York in both the private and public sectors, Mayberger and her husband moved back to Nebraska in 1996. In 1998, she secured her current position with OPS as the Coordinator of the ESL Migrant and Refugee Program. “Originally we were just working with ESL students, and then more of our students qualified for the migrant and refugee program,” she relates.

In the Omaha Public School system, 109 different languages are spoken. When Mayberger first returned to OPS in 1996, there were only 29 different languages being spoken.  Students are not divided into various classes based upon their primary language. “As we teach in English, we learn special strategies to teach. We use a lot of pictures. Acting out or role-playing and video clips are all methods we use to help our students understand what we’re teaching them as they learn English,” Mayberger tells.

In addition to her position with OPS, Mayberger is the representative for the Nebraska Migrant Education Program’s Bi-national Program.  The program exists as an agreement between Mexico and the state of Nebraska, working towards the education of students that cross the border and come into OPS schools.

“We have an opportunity in the summer to bring up teachers from Mexico,” Mayberger says. “We invite teachers to come work in our state with our students for the summer. As a school district we are so challenged in finding enough teachers to teach in our dual language program. It’s my hope that this partnership will help us in filling the need that we have for excellent bi-lingual teachers.”
The children, however, are not the only students that Mayberger is invested in teaching. “I support a lot of work with parents,” she says. “In order for our students to be successful and cultured
well into the United States, you have to help to bring the parents along.”

A program offered through OPS at the Yates Community Center off of 32nd and Davenport offers learning programs for adults. “Every day, Monday through Friday, we have about 180 to 200 parents taking classes and learning English,” Mayberger says. “They also learn about being parents in the United States. We teach them about our educational system. Sometimes it can help parents get jobs or improve their jobs, which gives them the ability to help their families.”