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That *wouldn’t* make a good name for a band.

I reckon it’s time for a bit of linguistic analysis. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but almost any phrase taken out of context seems like it would make a good name for a band. “Any Phrase Taken out of Context” would make a good name for a band. That got me wondering if there were any phrases which wouldn’t make a good name for a band, because if not, then “would make a good name for a band” is an empty concept with no more meaning than saying “is a group of words.” Let’s wander around in the configuration space of English letters and see if we can put some together in such an order that they wouldn’t make a good name for a band.

Ghkkkkk. This is the sound of someone choking on a pencil or being strangled. I think I stole it from a “Calvin and Hobbes” cartoon. It seems like it wouldn’t make a good name for a band, but when you consider that there is a dance-punk band called !!! (most often pronounced chk-chk-chk), Ghkkkkk doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch.

Rubber-Legs and the Don’t Give a Fuck Brothers. This name has the distinction of turning up zero relevant Google hits, but that’s mainly because it’s barely a phrase at all. It’s a bunch of weird words that I strung together in an strange order. Which, paradoxically, probably would make it a good name for a band, especially one of those pretentious avant-garde bands.

Wouldn’t Make a Good Name for a Band. Funnily enough, this one sounds less like a band name than the other two. It would be a hard band to introduce. Imagine an emcee saying “Put your hands up for Wouldn’t Make a Good Name for a Band!” It’s hard to tell where the previous phrase stops and the band name starts. We’ll call this a partial success.

Trilobite Trilobite Trilobite Trilobite Trilobite Trilobite Trilobite Trilobite Trilobite Trilobite Trilobite Trilobite Trilobite Trilobite Trilobite Trilobite Trilobite Trilobite Trilobite Trilobite Trilobite Trilobite Trilobite Trilobite. This one definitely wouldn’t make a good name for a band, since the number of Trilobites is much larger than the human brain’s pattern-buffer capacity of seven plus or minus two. But this one feels like cheating somewhat, since it’s a bad band name, but it’s also a meaningless and poorly-formed construct from a grammatical point of view. If your friends are saying “Trilobite” twenty-four times in a row, the best thing to say is probably “Are you all right?” not “That would make a bad name for a band.”

The Number of Trilobites. This would make a good name for a band. I’m thinking Scandinavian metal.

Some Band You’ve Never Heard Of. Now we’re getting somewhere. If this was the name of your band, you would force all of your fans to sound like uncooperative hipsters whenever they talked about your music. Same goes for You’re Too Mainstream, which, much to my surprise, doesn’t seem to be the name of any actual bands.

You Will Be Gangbanged by Timber Wolves. I’m cheating again. I actually think this would make a good name for a band. The kind of band where you’d be afraid to go to the concert without a Bowie knife and a tetanus shot and the mosh pit is filled with blood instead of mud.

That That That That Woman Wrote Me. Technically, it should be “That ‘That’ that that woman wrote on my wall.” This is another one that’s technically grammatical, but you’re not likely to encounter often enough that you could reasonably hope, someday, to jump in and say “That would make a good name for a band” afterwards. Plus, you would be torturing any of your fans who happened to have a stutter.

The. If this was your band’s name, it would be impossible for anybody to talk about you without sounding like they were in a demented Abbot and Costello sketch. “Have you heard The’s new release? No, not these new release, The’s. The band The. Yes The’s. No, not these.” 

Fucking Cunt. I am actually surprised a Google search didn’t turn this up as a real band. It’d make a terrible band name because, for one thing, it’s a very nasty-sounding phrase, and for another thing, everybody’s going to try to stick asterisks in your band’s name, and you’re certainly going to have trouble getting on the iTunes charts. Incidentally, there is an actual song called, and I quote, “Nigga Nigga Nigga.” That YouTube video, however, suggests you purchase some other song called “Ni**a Ni**a Ni**a,” which reads like it’s full of exotic hard-to-pronounce consonants like tl and !.

 We Said [Clap]. This would be an interesting one, but the effect would be ruined by two things: One, all your fans would lose all their friends because they suddenly began clapping in the middle of sentences; and Two: People would inevitably transcriber your name as “And We Said Clap” or “And We Said [Clap].”

…. This one’s pretentious enough that, once again, I’m surprised nobody’s used it yet. You’re supposed to read that name as one second of silence. There are silences in ordinary conversation all the time. Basically, if this was the name of your band, people would constantly be talking about you. All conversations would pretty much start to sound like this: “…but I didn’t wanna be the kind of guy who takes an old woman’s seat, you know? Jefferson Starship Jefferson Starship Jefferson Starship.” “Yeah, I know what you mean. I know chivalry and stuff isn’t as popular as it used to be, but some habits Jefferson Starship some habits are just really hard to break Jefferson Starship Jefferson Starship.” There’d be more band names floating around than actual words. We’d have a John Cage 4’33” situation. 4’33” is actually the most-played song on both my computer and my clock radio. It is the only song that can be played equally well by iPods and pine trees. You are currently listening to a pirated copy of 4’33”. You spend most of your life listening to pirated copies of 4’33”. I don’t know whether to punch John Cage in the groin or call him a genius. (4’33”, in case you don’t know, is a song consisting of 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence. Which you can buy on iTunes for $0.99. There’s a thought for you.)

Starlight++. The name of this band must never be spoken, because every time you say it, you have to add another “Starlight” to the end.Yeah, I went to see Starlight at Hawkins Park. You’ve never heard of Starlight Starlight? What’s that? No, the band’s name is Starlight Starlight Starlight. That’s what I said: Starlight Starlight Starlight Starlight.” It would be interesting, though, to actually form Starlight++ and see how many of our fans we could get committed to psychiatric hospitals.

There is actually (kind of) a point to all this. Notice how several of these horrible, horrible band names are actually grammatically-valid (for example: Wouldn’t Make a Good Name for a Band, Some Band You’ve Never Heard Of, That That That That Woman Wrote Me, and Fucking Cunt). That actually tells you something interesting about humans and language: just because a phrase is grammatical doesn’t mean that it’s meaningful. And just because a phrase is meaningful doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. “That that that that woman wrote me” is perfectly grammatical, but it’s also confusing and really hard to parse. “Some band you’ve never heard of” is both grammatical and reasonably easy to parse, but because it sounds like it’s part of another phrase, it interferes with understanding and therefore probably wouldn’t count as a good phrase according to any speaker of English. “Fucking Cunt” is grammatical, meaningful, and also dead-easy to parse, but it’s not considered a “good phrase” in most circles (especially among, say, feminists or people who object to swearing).

Basically, the border between what would and wouldn’t make a good band name shows you that humans do more complicated things with their languages than just string words together according to a grammar: not every grammatical sentence is meaningful, and not every meaningful and grammatical sentence is acceptable (for one reason or another). It all depends on context, ease of parsing, and what is socially appropriate. 

Which is a really pretentious and academic way of saying yes, every phrase “would make a good name for a band.” So we should probably stop saying that. We should probably also stop saying things like “fucking cunt,” which, gender issues and offensiveness aside, is just fucking rude. 

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