A cockatrice of language


If you have social media or any connection to the writing world, you would have read about #cockygate. I have little interest in romance writing, and no skin in the game of American trademark laws (although I have stories published in the US). But I do have some thoughts.

Cock of the talk?

The author in question trademarked the word Cocky for romance fiction. She did this because in her words, she wanted to ‘protect’ her readers who read her e-book series from accidentally buying books with similar titles from other authors. This is what I’ve learned from life: you can’t protect people. You can’t really protect your kids from the world, you can’t protect readers, you can’t protect yourself from all the bad and inconvenient things that happen in life. Accidentally buying the wrong book, in the scheme of things, is not bad. It’s not even very inconvenient. I have bought ‘wrong’ books and have benefited from these happy accidents. It’s part of the risk and reward of being a reader and a writer too. Thus, this author should be more honest, she used cease and desist letters to kick out published authors out of what she decided was her self-created patch of the market. It’s about protecting a revenue stream while establishing a brand. It was profoundly negative. She’s damaged her brand. I’d never heard of this author until this, but this new knowing won’t help. I’m now less interested in reading her work than I would have been had I accidentally stumbled across any of it. The word she tried to own has ended up owning her.

You never know when a writing career is dead, but there are always indicators.

Cock-a-hoop about language

Authors create worlds word by word, but we are but custodians of these for a little while. We send them out for others to enjoy. Sometimes this enjoyment means imitation, pastiche, and homage; that is, fanfic. Other times it could mean film rights or a play, or an audio version. Hopefully, there is remuneration for the copyright owner in these cases. The lesson is no author should attempt to close off language to others, especially how this author has. Words and a love of language are what we share. Kind, encouraging and generous gets you further in life than mean-spirited.

Cocky is a cracker?

As an Australian cocky has several meanings, including over-confident. Cocky is slang for cockatoo, which is any one of  a number of bird species. I think of Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos, Major Mitchell Cockatoos, and Galahs. At my Nan’s house at night, when I shone a torch up into the towering eucalypts, I could wake hundreds.

Cocky in the wild.

Cocky of the land

In Australia and New Zealand cocky is a term for farmer. It could be from when early farmers lived near water holes (like the birds), or because flocks of birds ate the grain so it looked like farmers grew cockatoos, or because farmers scratched in the dirt like the birds did. Macquarie Dictionary says it came from convicts on Cockatoo Island who later settled elsewhere.

Grain not eaten by cockatoos.

Personally, and perhaps mistakenly, I’ve only heard wealthy absent landlord type farm owners described as cockies (since they fly in and out). Then again the ABC says small property holders are the cocky farmers so who knows? It’s language. Some of us may try to own it, and we may try to shape it to our own ends, but it grows and changes beyond our ken, because it can.

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