Writing By the Seat Of My Pants

Michelle asks:

is your last name Zubon? or what… just wondering.

This is a fair question that I get every now and again. Why I am “Zubon” has a fairly random story, which appears after the break.

“Zubon” is Japanese for “trousers.” Okay, that is simple enough, but why am I pants? (The Brits are chuckling.)

I studied Japanese as an undergrad. A hobby was developing strange but technically correct sentences; this is a mixture of being silly and of making things memorable. Once you learn the correct way of saying “The library is full of tar,” for example, you will remember those words and that structure. Also, the mother on “Eek the Cat” was always practicing language tapes with helpful phrases like that library example.

In Spanish, by the way, that is “La biblioteca es repleta de brea.” This is useful if your library happens to be near tar pits in southern California. Note that since “brea” is “tar,” “The La Brea Tar Pits” literally means “The The Tar Tar Pits.”

Moving right along, the phrase of the day was once, “zubon ga nai toki ni nani o sureba ii deshou ka?” “What shall we do when we have no pants?” It is a phrase that has more uses than you might think, and it has served as an icebreaker upon occasion. (Literal translation: “In times when there are no trousers, what would it probably be good if we did?” I like my normal translation better.)

It will not help you to know that Japanese is a high-context language in which subjects are often dropped. It is only from the context in which you use the phrase that you can determine exactly who lacks pants and who is doing something in celebration thereof. In my normal use, it quickly becomes irrelevant whether I mean “I,” “you,” or “we,” but the phrase could also come up in training for bouncers, security guards, and librarians who need to know how to deal with unruly drunks and Girls Gone Wild situations.

While I was testing sensei’s patience, my friends were spending hours running across the wilds of Dereth in the beta for Asheron’s Call. Lacking interest and a computer capable of playing, I looked with amusement at their silly little game. Then I started playing for a few years.

I was encouraged to try it out, and I created a character on each of a couple friends’ accounts so that I could join the team while someone was out. The character I ended up playing the most was a female Aluvian mage. Since I had intended it to be a throwaway character, I picked the throwaway phrase that first came to mind and combined it with the letter restrictions and the naming conventions for Aluvian female characters. “Zubon Ganaimad” was born.

I still like the name. Yes, it literally means “Pants, Daughter of Has None,” but it sounds like a perfectly good fantasy name if you don’t try to translate it. Also, you get relatively few unsolicited /tells when someone must type “Zubon Ganaimad.”

Unfortunately, your friends threaten to stab you on a weekly basis because you have the most difficult name around to spell. If I want to talk to someone or be on a friends list, I am sending the first message.

Around this time was when I started using message boards as well, starting at the Vault Network. Most folks were using a character name, so I did. While in no way a celebrity, people did recognize me when I wandered by in-game, since the name was long and fairly distinctive.

Cue some transitional event, such as the overhaul of their boards or my starting to use other ones. “Zubon Ganaimad” is still a lot of name to type, that character fell by the wayside with time and new games, and nowhere outside of Dereth uses the “-mad” naming convention (and secretly, I discovered that most people in AC do not use the official naming conventions, either. Shh). So we shorten it.

I still use the name in-game in some places, although I am apparently not the only Zubon out there (someone Japanese is probably annoyed with me). Once a month, someone asks me if I know what my name means.

In Kingdom of Loathing, I have the “Pantsless!” trophy.

Bonus name explanation!

I have always loved tourist language guides that tell you how to ask questions but do not teach you enough to understand the answer. You can say, “¿Dondé está el cuarto de baño?” in your worst gringo accent, but you cannot even follow the response of “A la derecha.” Hopefully, someone will point. If you are really lucky, you will remember enough from high school Spanish not to order “zapato con queso” at the restaurant.

“Zapato con queso,” by the way, is a shoe with cheese. If you see that on the menu, do not order it. If you see someone flying around Pinnacle (City of Heroes) as Zapato Conqueso, however, that is me. *wave* More people know what that name means, anyway. “¿Qué es eso? ¡Eso es queso!” is also fun to say.

: Zubon

3 thoughts on “Writing By the Seat Of My Pants”

  1. Quite interesting. My favorite learn-to-speak-Spanish moment is the TV commercial where they tell you to spell out “socks”. Esso si que es, which if I recall correctly means “That’s what it is.” Anyway, since nobody asked, where did Ethic come from?

    I played a fixer in Anarchy Online. A Fixer is a hacker of sorts. It seemed completely hilarious and ironic (to me anyway) to name my hacker Ethic and so I did. My good bud Inhibit introduced me to the concept of using words as names and off I went. My doctor was named “Surgical”. I had a Bureaucrat named “Bankrupt”. My Nano-Technician was named “Intellect”. If I remember, my Enforcer was named “Liquify”. Anyway, Ethic kind of stuck with me since then. The joy of names.

  2. I used to hear that commercial on the radio. I interpreted it as: “¿Eso?” “¿Si, qué es?” So “This?” “Yes, what is it?”

  3. My mexican wife has a ton of spanish cliques I find hilarious. Of course, she finds my english ones just as strange. My favorite, which is apparently a local thing since other people from her hometown have also said it is “No es la queso, no mas de papa” as a response when you say “gracias” (thank you). This translates not as “you’re welcome”, but as “it’s not the cheese, it’s the potato”.


    Dunno what it means, but hey, it’s better than a sharp stick in the eye…

    (but…what isn’t?)

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