For some reason I’ve been giving some thought to this brief report that, come Fall, the struggling television networks UPN (owned by CBS) and the WB (owned by Warner Bros., natch) will merge to form a new network “whose name, CW, is meant to be a combination of CBS and Warner”. Is it just me, or does “CW” (or “the CW”, like “the WB” is more widely known) just sound like a stupid name for a television network?
I ended up discussing this last night with a non-linguist friend, who shares my intuition, and we entertained the following hypotheses about why this new network name doesn’t work for us.
First of all, as my friend pointed out, the big three (ABC, CBS, <a href=”NBC) set the standard for three-letter names. This is undoubtedly why FOX works, even though it’s an abbreviation but not an acronym, and UPN also has this advantage. The WB, though, loses on this score, and yet it’s clearly superior to CW as a network name.
I suggested that this distinction between WB and CW has to do with the rhythm of the name when pronounced — a kind of textsetting effect. Basically, all of the major network names (with the notable exception of FOX) fit a rhythmic template like the following. (For those not familiar with this grid notation: higher columns of x’s indicate greater degrees of stress; the bottom row of x’s counts out beats. Counting just the non-bottom rows, this template can be summarized as secondary-tertiary-primary.)
|(δə)||dʌ||bl̩||ju||bi||= (the) WB|
It’s just not possible to fit “(the) CW” onto this template without badly disrupting the inherent primary-(unstressed)-secondary stress pattern of “W” [ˈdʌbl̩ˌju]: the primary initial syllable is mapped to the tertiary column of the template, and the secondary final syllable to the primary column:
|(δə)||si||dʌ||bl̩||ju||= (the) CW|
My friend and I wondered why the folks involved didn’t think about this problem. Then again, we thought, maybe they did give it some thought, but were under the following overriding constraints: there must be a C (for CBS) and a W (for Warner), and they didn’t want their new network to be associated with a toilet.