Opening the kimono

Ray Keener opened his kimono
and left Steve Frothingham with his pants down.

Steve Frothingham is taking a pounding at Bicycle Retailer and Industry News after bike-biz poobah Ray Keener employed the business idiom “open the kimono” in a guest editorial headlined “Is the number of shops shrinking?”

That it was the April Fool’s Day issue is strictly coincidental.

I took note of the expression while reading Ray’s commentary online (it has since been scrubbed from that piece after howls of outrage from various nooks and crannies of The Trade). As a copy editor emeritus I found it odd, but I find a lot of corpo-speak puzzling and/or irksome and gave it no further thought because I’m not paid to copy-edit BRAIN.

After the phrase blew up in Steve’s face I went hunting for source material, but couldn’t really find a single definitive reference. It’s intended to convey disclosure, though of what remains unclear. A lack of weaponry? One’s naughty bits?

It has appeared in “The Office” and “Mad Men,” made a Forbes list of “Most Annoying Business Jargon,” and was added to the Macmillan Open Dictionary about eight years ago. If you need a soundtrack, The Embryos have recorded a disc with that title.

Steve Haruch went to work on the phrase for NPR in 2014, examining its ethnic and gendered dimensions, and noted, “Whatever decade it comes from, plenty of people wish it had stayed there.”

True dat.

More than a few folks think Steve screwed the pooch here, and are saying so loudly, on Twatter and Facebutt. Or so I’m told (I restrict myself to antisocial media these days). And it goes without saying that he was compelled to apologize. It’s always the editor’s turn in the barrel when something goes sideways.

But lemme just open this ol’ kimono for you here. …

Steve is the last man standing at BRAIN. Yes, a middle-aged white man, to be sure, but in any case the last editorial employee, period, end of story. It took five full-time editorial types and a handful of contractors like Your Humble Narrator to put out the April 1 issue 10 years ago. But the magazine has suffered alongside the business it covers.

BRAIN was recently sold to another bunch of middle-aged white men and moved from Laguna Hills, Calif., to the People’s Republic of Boulder. I’m told by a reliable source that the editorial staff is expected to double. So now that carbon-fiber barrel will be a two-holer. Huzzah, etc.

Here’s the long and the short of it: You can’t write and edit a magazine and website mostly solo without someone’s bête noire tiptoeing past you and into print.  Especially when contributors yank hairy bits of lingo out of their kimonos while you’re trying to wrap a magazine issue plus the Sea Otter Guide while keeping a website on life support and hiring a managing editor between jaunts from Denver to Taiwan to Denver to Monterey.

So please, give the middle-aged white man a break. There is not some vast racist, sexist, ageist conspiracy to be exposed and snuffed out here. Dude was pedaling through a tight corner and cartwheeled into the spectators. Further beatings will not improve morale, no matter what you’ve seen on the Internet.

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22 Responses to “Opening the kimono”

  1. khal spencer Says:

    JFC. Having eaten more than my share of crap while riding in rainy day pacelines, when, may I ask, did bicyclists get this fragile? Last place I expected to find a bunch of fuckin’ snowflackes.

    Steve should retract his apology and tell these clowns to go ride tricycles on a bike path.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I used to have a T-shirt that bore the legend “Eschew Obfuscation,” with each letter in a different font/style/size. Classic deskman’s gag, right up there with “Omit needless words,” from “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White.

      The business world is awful in this regard. More code words than a six-pack of James Bond movies. And it’s not just dudes trotting them out.

      Over at Forbes, Tina Brown, who really should know better, was shooting them from the hip the other day, deploying “empowerment,” a “lean-in situation,” a “needle moving,” “community” out the ying-yang, and my personal fave, “Newsstand has been essentially holed out.” What the fuck is that when it’s at home?

      • khal spencer Says:

        Nice article here about corporate lexicon.

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        “Ask.” Ooo, I hate that one. I always wondered where it came from.

        Whenever I think of meaningless jargon, bullshit, false promises, and exaggerated claims, I think of George Carlin’s bit, “Advertising.”

      • Pat O'Brien Says:

        I suspect most of these talking heads don’t own a copy of “The Elements of Style.” “Use figures of speech sparingly. Use definite, specific concrete language. Do not affect a breezy manner.” They do not observe any of these basic rules.

        My pet peeve is the “ization” craze sweeping writing for the last 20 years. I a just waiting for the dumpster’s mouthpiece, Huckabee, to say about his next lie that it was a misvocalization.

        • khal spencer Says:

          Or, one might surmise, the bullshitization of popular culture.

        • Patrick O'Grady Says:

          H.L. Mencken hated the ize-ation of everything, according to John Bremner in “Words on Words.” Upon seeing “obituarized” in the London Times, Mencken wrote: “Seeing a monster so suggestive of American barbarism in the Times affected me like seeing an archbishop wink at a loose woman.”

          Theodore M. Bernstein, author of “The Careful Writer,” said that when new examples arise, we should be skeptical of their utility, taking “a kind of damn-your-ize attitude.”

  2. larryatcycleitalia Says:

    It was a dumb phrase for sure. Can we move on or must we tar and feather the guy while the resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave is the pussy-grabber-in-chief?
    The story-line was kind of interesting – the idea that retail bike shops are not going the way of the dodo. NYT reports today about general retail brick-and-mortar closings – the numbers are not good so why should the bike biz be any different?
    One thing they briefly touched upon was the mobile operations and fit-studio setups. So while the overall numbers might not be shrinking as fast, nobody should be stupid enough to think these new outlets will ever be able to move the number of units that the average LBS was capable of shoving out the door each day.
    Did anyone else notice the Big-S has decided (though of course plenty of us knew this all along) that there’s no need for “women-specific” bicycles now? Forget their “shrink it and pink it” marketing BS wrapped in a fuzzy glow of feminist pandering, they’ve now “discovered” there’s more difference between men than between men and women when it comes to bike fit and dimensions. Whooda thunk it?

    • Herb from Michigan Says:

      Long live the mixte. Do you still see them in Europe Larry? I sold and tuned many a French, Dutch and Japanese version back in the day. Some were veritable works of art. While here in the USA they were ridden almost exclusively by women, they make total sense now that I have to pole vault onto my 58 cm men’s frames. POB informed me that Soma still makes em.

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        Ayuh, Soma does the Buena Vista, which in Colorado one pronounces “Beyoona Vista.” It’s a $599 disc-only steel frameset. And Grant P. still offers the Cheviot at a very reasonable price. The Clem L is likewise a step-through, and even more of a bargain, but out of stock.

      • larryatcycleitalia Says:

        We’re in Italy where you don’t see a lot of women riding bicycles at all, though e-bikes are perhaps changing that?
        Most of those here in Napoli are the folding kind so there’s no top tube to step over anyway. They’re fat, folding, electric and I guess BAD?
        Outside of Napoli there are still plenty of housewives around Italy pedaling off to the butcher, baker, etc. though I wouldn’t call their bikes “mixte” which to me is a higher end bike with small diameter, seriously sloping twin top tubes that continue as seat stays. Those I see only in museums these days.

      • Pat O'Brien Says:

        That Buena Vista caught my eye the first time I went to the Soma web site to buy my Saga. That purchase was entirely Patrick’s fault by the way. If I was building up a city, errand, do it all bike, I’ll let you folks invent a catagory for that, it would be a mixte. Sandy wanted a Terry mixte years ago after seeing one being repaired at the LBS. By the time she was ready to order one, they quit makinng it. There really are no “girls” bikes as I understand it. It was just murican sexist marketing bullshit, right?

    • khal spencer Says:

      People are making much ado about little. Minority view, but I like a little color in otherwise boring government or industry tomes and that phrase is a pretty apt metaphor for not hiding anything, so to speak, in the corporate books.

      So what ever happened to mixtes, Herb? First two bikes my first wife and I bought were a white Peugeot UO8 Mixte and a silver Motobecane Mirage (you can find that Mirage on my 60th birthday post). That purchase was in 1979. I finally sold the Mirage to a graduate student at the U of Hawaii after finding a really nice and barely ridden Univega Specialissima in the back of someone’s garage . Not sure what became of Robin’s Peugeot but I think it traveled to NC with her.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      The hard parts, as usual, will be (a) finding new customers and (2) serving those customers.

      Are they women? People of color? Genderqueer? Knowledgeable enough to buy online with no/minimal assistance? Off-the-rack types or aesthetes who want to linger in a bespoke brick-and-mortar shop?

      Is the e-bike The Next Big Thing® or just another blip in the balance sheet? How long before e-bikers decide they want a more “authentic” experience? (See the hipster fascination with turntables, typewriters, “dumb” phones, etc.)

      • Pat O'Brien Says:

        Here are my thoughts based on my own experience. Bikes, like guitars, are things that many times are bought but never really used. But, if the buyer really uses them and is inspired to learn more, the brick and mortar shop becomes a magical place run by friends more than employees. That’s the way I treat my LBS, and I am leaning that way, heavily, towards a guitar shop in Tucson.

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        Guitars, like bikes, are often bought in multiples by old white guys (like us). I have two, you have … three?

        It helps that we can play them indoors, or on the patio, where we are unlikely to get run over. That’s the biggest difference between guitars and bikes.

        Where’s the safe spot to play your bike? When we find one, we’ll start selling more of them.

        • khal spencer Says:

          Only other difference is I can ride a bike but have yet to learn to play the gee-tar.

          I tried learning the saxophone once. Meena told me to pipe down as someone was going to call Fish and Game and report an elk in distress down in the canyon.

        • larryatcycleitalia Says:

          I don’t really see safety as an issue. These folks do and get everything via a smart phone including transportation, whether it’s the unregulated taxi industry, bike, e-bike, e-scooter and gawd-knows-what-else sharing. I just don’t see them buying much of anything that doesn’t have a video screen on it and things you can plug into your ears. But I’m certainly not a successful marketing-maven these days, so who knows?

        • Pat O'Brien Says:

          Only two buddy! And it will stay that way. Acoustics only, but I want good quality that inpsires you to pick it up and show it to other players. So, that Taylor A12e might magically turn into a Martin 000-15M on Wednesday.

        • Patrick O'Grady Says:

          That looks like a nice git-box. They have one down to the Guitar Center here in ’Burque. I may have to pop round and pound on it. Made in the U-nited States of America by U-nited States of America Americans out of Honduran mahogany? Sah-weet. With my mad guitar skillz it would be like handing a bassoon to a baboon.

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