Move over Santa Claus, there’s a new empty(ish) name in town! I’ve just learned that the name ‘Betty Crocker’ was originally invented for a fictional character who would answer letters written to General Mills, and who later wrote cookbooks. So, straightforward empty name? Well, I wonder. If I spend my whole working life writing letters and books under the name ‘Betty Crocker’, wouldn’t ‘Betty Crocker’ just be a pseudonym for me, as ‘Mark Twain’ was for Sam Clemens? Yes, I think– so it wouldn’t be empty (and there would be lots of fab substitution puzzles in the offing). But actually lots of different people wrote letters and books under the name ‘Betty Crocker’. Are they collectively Betty Crocker? Is each one of them, sequentially, Betty Crocker for a short time? If so, what happens if two are simultaneously writing letters and books as Betty Crocker? A further complication comes from the various people who have posed for Betty Crocker portraits over the years! And if we do start writing about The Betty Crocker Puzzle, does she become a woman in philosophy? OK, I guess the category’s a bit of a stretch. But the puzzle is fun. (Thanks, S!)
13 thoughts on “The Betty Crocker Puzzle”
Another interesting case like this one is the tech columnist “Robert X. Cringely”. A succession of people filled Cringely’s role at InfoWorld until the last one left the magazine & still used the name. He was sued by the magazine but was able to keep using the name–provided he didn’t write for competing tech magazines. You have to wonder whether InfoWorld could still have a columnist named Cringely who wasn’t this Cringely, however.
More information can be found on Wikipedia.
Hmmmm. “Betty Crocker” starts to look (to me anyway) like the title that goes with a position, but one that gets rotated a lot.
Large state universities, as mine is, can have a huge turnover in minor administrative positions. I might suggest we start using something that looks more like a human name for, e.g., student advisor. ‘Just get Shirley to sign it,’ we could say through the years.
I suppose we could change the pictures for Shirley as the position fillers change, but having a model pose seems to be a bit deceptive.
It also looks like Betty Crocker doesn’t age…so she can’t be human!
Which perhaps makes it even more problematic that she is said to have been the second most famous woman in America at one time (after Eleanor Roosevelt). I like JJ’s idea, and her proposal for post naming. But it’s not just a matter of a rotating post, as with posts (generally) one knows that one is dealing with the term for a post rather than a name. It’s an important disanalogy that in this case the overwhelmingly majority of speakers think they’re dealing with a name. (Until they survey the images over time, perhaps.) Though I’m not sure yet what that comes to.
Yes, you are right. I realized when I read your comment that if, as in my case, the students though “Shirley” was the name of the current position holder, then that would mean they were using it as a proper name.
And I now am less sure what you think will be a successful way of resolving the puzzle. Should we try to make as many people’s beliefs true as possible?
Let me try to get a little ways by suggesting there are two ways – and maybe more I haven’t seen yet – for ddescribing the students’ use of “Shirley” or the public’s use of “Betty Crocker”:
1. We could say they are wrong and we’re responsible for their error because we are deceiving them.
2. We could say there are two different but connected uses for “Shirley.”
Is there a third? I really like the idea of giving the deception a role in the account.
I work at a NursIng home and one of the people i take care of was a Betty Crocker Model and did betty crocker commercials in the past. shes about 80 now and cant speak but i dont know when she did the ads but i thought it was pretty cool.
It really breaks my heart that betty’s not real
Who’s to say there is not a “Benny Crocker”?
I am going through my Great Aunt Ber’s Recipes,(She was Hot Point’s first home economist) and found a “Betty Crocker” from the forties that doesn’t look like any B.C. in the above sequence of images…however, I noticed they all have greying temples (to show wisdom in the kitchen, I assume) until the latest, who, of course, dyes her hair to eliminate any signs of aging. What hogwash!
I thought Betty Crocker was a real person untill I read this section. I looked up Betty Crocker on Google images and all I got was her cook books.
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