Thursday, July 15, 2010

Wherein We Name the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Disaster, and About Time

This oil spill thing needs a name.  Consider:
  • Chernobyl.
  • Katrina.
  • Exxon Valdez.
  • 9/11.
  • Three-Mile Island.
  • Love Canal.
  • Pearl Harbor
  • Mt. St. Helens.
  • Amoco Cadiz
  • Hiroshima.
  • Krakatoa.
  • Pompeii
Each of those words or phrases succinctly calls forth from memory a recognizable event -- a disastrous event -- and all of its associations.  At present we have nothing similarly dramatic for – what are we calling it? “The BP Oil Spill.” “The Gulf Oil Disaster.” I haven’t heard anything that I would consider either memorable enough, specific enough, dramatic enough, or short enough to serve as a repeated reference to what has happened.

"Gulf Oil Spill" seems to have gained some currency.  I don't like it or any of its variations, mainly because what has happened is not a spill.  Spills go from higher places to lower places -- gravity is what makes a spill a spill.  This effluvia does just the opposite, shooting upward.  "Spills" are also singular events, bounded in time and volume.  This one -- no.   "Gulf Oil Spill" also fails to remind us of the villain here (there are many, I know, but one over-villain).  And what about when we have an actual spill in the Gulf of Mexico, or some other Gulf? 

Comparing the present disaster  to those in my list, we can see that this particular event is not associated with a uniquely named spot on the globe. Oceanographic cartographers may have a name for that location, but I can’t seem to find one.

How about the name of the rig itself?  The Exxon Valdez and Amoco Cadiz were oil disasters associated with the name of the ships.  Here, "Deepwater Horizon," the name of the rig that asploded, has a nice ring to it.  But it's too late to adopt that as a name for this event.  Too hard to sell.

I propose one that is short, alliterative, descriptive, colorful, and memorable:

  The BP Blowout

“Blowout” is a great violent word, almost onomatopoetic, calling up images of both the explosion itself and of the crude billowing out of the ruined pipe.  “BP” gives it instant context.

So henceforth, that’s what I’m going to call it. 

In the nick of time, I might add.

The Cool Hot Center grants you a worldwide perpetual royalty-free right and license to use the phrase as well.  When you do, people will know instantly what you're talking about, and you'll sound very much more hip than people who are still calling it the dreary old "Gulf Oil Spill."
And pass it along to all your friends and news directors and copy editors of your acquaintance.  Let's get this thing rolling, people.


  1. Gotta say, I'm leaning toward 'Tar Ball'. Two syllables and a plosive. Also a nice metaphor for the whole, sordid mess.

  2. Hmm, evocative but perhaps a bit jocular for the evening news. Thanks for checking in, Jared.

  3. I like, "The Ronald Reagan Legacy Well." I think it's time that the full impact of the deregulation and the incompetent regulation of business gets its due.

  4. Hey, Steve, just a little joke dating back to the good ole days.

  5. I figgered, Eric. Although . . . I kind of liked the alliteration. Wasn't Carter president during those G.O.D.?

  6. "The BP Blowout" has a nice ring but is actually one syllable longer than "The Gulf Oil Spill." Also, the best nicknames are those that arise spontaneously or organically, then take on lives of their own. This fails that test. If we're going to force a name on it, then I like "Obama's Katrina." The Big Apple

  7. I tried to like BP Blowout but couldn't. I think it's because the blowout started the process, but now it's about leakage and ever-spreading uncontained oil.

    How about something from the horror movie genre: Leakzilla?

  8. Apple: I agree that I'm trying to force a new name that did not arise organically. This was necessary because the current names for it are so generic. I see my article has inspired some humorous suggestions, none of which have any chance of popular adoption. A friend emailed me to say that he heard Fox News refer to it as "BP's Blowout." So we're making some progress. I shoulda copyrighted the darned thing.