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'Occupy' protests give birth to new catchphrase

Occupy Wall Street, meet Occupy the Bar.

The nearly 6-week-old social protest in Manhattan has inspired campaigns, headlines and spoofs that often have nothing to do with income inequality or challenging corporate overlords: Occupy the NBA and Occupy the Bathroom are just a couple.

Turns out that the same open-source nature of Occupy Wall Street that inspired Occupy London, Occupy Muncie and other protests worldwide makes it easy to co-opt the catchphrase for non-revolutionary aims.

That meets with mixed feelings from the occupiers camping out in Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan. Some protesters are concerned that frivolous uses could dilute their serious message — but others can take a joke.

"I think a little humor can't hurt. I mean, 'Occupy the Bar," it's funny!" said Zach Cheney, a 24-year-old from New Orleans.

"Occupy" is already being tossed around by the American Dialect Society for its "Word of the Year," chosen every year. The word could eventually join the recent winners "app" and "tweet."

Many Occupy "movements" live only on the Web, like Occupy the Bar, ("What do we want? An ice cold Guinness! When do we want it? Now!").

The online spoof "Occupy Sesame Street" features digitally altered pictures of Elmo, Grover and the gang being hauled off by New York City police along with the claim that "99% of the world's cookies are consumed by 1% of the monsters."

On Facebook, Occupy Lego Land features little Lego demonstrators.

The social network is also home to pages for Occupy Uranus and the Occupy My Couch Movement ("All this not protesting is wearing me out"). Twitter hashtags include: (hash)Occupymyfridge and (hash)Occupythebathroom.

Mainstream media headline writers are riffing on the phrase, too. The New York Times offered "Occupy the Classroom" in a column advocating the expansion of early childhood education. An Associated Press column on college's Bowl Championships Series included "Occupy the BCS!"

Even the Ivy League can't resist: Cornell University pitched a "sustainability summit" in New York City this weekend under the heading, "Occupy the environment."

Pro basketball's labor strife has inspired Occupy the NBA, and fans of radio host Dan Patrick who sneak in posters on ESPN's college football pregame show take part in "Occupy GameDay." Show host Kirk Herbstreit rates his own, separate movement, "Occupy Herbstreit."

One Long Island man filed Oct. 18 to trademark the name Occupy Wall Street, saying he wants to put the phrase on T-shirts handbags and glasses. While protesters decry his effort as an attempt to make money off a movement against economic injustice, Robert Maresca told Newsday he only wants to spread the word.

In New Mexico, a version of the movement changed its name to "(Un)occupy Albuquerque" after concerns were raised about the negative connotations of the word "occupy" in a city with a large Native American population. Some Native Americans say the word "occupy" recalls a past where European colonists tried to seize control of their land and pueblos, or towns.

The satires and controversies appear to be outnumbered by conventional protest names like Occupy Boston and Occupy Los Angeles — perhaps they're the 1 percent. Still, the whimsy is a far cry from the vision the Canadian anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters used to inspire the Wall Street protest.

"It makes it a common thing — a joke or a fun thing to do, like occupying is fun," said Clementine Allain, a 23-year-old student occupying Zuccotti Park.

Silly word play is not likely to harm the evolving worldwide movement, language mavens say. People are just playing with words the way they always have.

That word-play trait is why Watergate became the template for Nannygate, Troopergate, Spygate and other scandals. And it's why Saddam Hussein's overblown boast about "the mother of all battles" spawned months of groaners like "the mother of all parties."

David Barnhart of the Barnhart Dictionary Companion also notes the ubiquity of "flash," as in flash mob and flash crash.

"It doesn't even really matter if it trivializes or diminishes the overall occupy movement. As a matter of fact, it might even make it more of an establishment effort if this term 'occupy' and all the variants that have come up are so widely used," said Grant Barrett, who co-hosts "A Way With Words" on public radio. "It goes from being counterculture to being mainstream colloquial English."

Both men are involved with the American Dialect Society, which will choose its winning word in January. Win or lose, Occupy Wall Street protester Dylan Bozlee said people's preoccupation with occupation already counts as a victory.

"It's good," said the 19-year-old from Hawaii. "It's a sign of success."

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