Next month marks the 44th anniversary of the Woodstock festival — or "music & art fair," as it was originally called — and we're still hearing its echoes. It's not just the many anniversary concerts, oral histories, and websites that keep the flame alive. In fact, one of Woodstock's most enduring legacies is its influence on language. Wherever there's an "X-stock" festival, from Artstock in Oregon to Zoostock in Pennsylvania, from Rootstock in Santa Rosa, California, to Bloodstock in Derbyshire, UK, Woodstock lives on.

The original Woodstock festival took its name from the town of Woodstock, Ulster County, New York, which had been founded in 1787 and by the early 20th century had become a modest artists' colony. (In English place names, -stock denotes "farm" or "settlement." The word has its origins in Old English, where it meant "stump," "post," "tree trunk," or "stake.") The festival wasn't held there, because the town refused to grant the necessary permit; instead, the event was moved 43 miles away, to a farm in Bethel, near White Lake. Nevertheless, the only name that stuck was the forsaken one, Woodstock.

Conveniently enough, "Woodstock" is made up of two words, the second of which can be — and was — easily appended to other prefixes. Nothing in English etymology could have predicted it, but in these latter-day compounds "stock" functions as what linguist Arnold Zwicky has dubbed a libfix: a free-floating combining form with independent meaning. As "-gate" has come to signal "scandal," so "-stock" is shorthand for "celebratory gathering." Rock 'n' roll, or music of any kind, is often involved but not compulsory.

Last year, for example, Wesleyan University hosted Foodstock, "an all-day extravaganza devoted to cooks and books." (The poster depicted the late Jimi Hendrix, one of the stars of Woodstock, at table.) Since 2000, the Roman Catholic Church's World Youth Day, which draws as many as 2 million young people to Rome from around the world, has been known familiarly as Popestock. Winestock is a Washington, DC-area wine and music fest; Wordstock is a book festival in Portland, Oregon. Kidstock, in Los Angeles, is a "fun-filled family day of music and art" that raises money — much of it from celebrities — for a college-scholarship fund.  

I haven't been able to identify the very first post-Woodstock "stock," although it's possible that when cartoonist Charles Schulz, creator of "Peanuts," named a bird character "Woodstock" in June 1970, he opened the territory for exploration. (One early example: Wordstock word-processing software, introduced in 1984. But it's unrelated to the book fest.) Kidstock, whose trademark was registered in 1993, appears to be one of the oldest surviving festival X-stocks. That trademark's legal owner is Woodstock Ventures, a "lifestyle brand" that oversees the licensing and intellectual property related to the original Woodstock festival.

Certainly no other music-festival name comes close to Woodstock in terms of linguistic productivity: Bonnaroo and Coachella are sui generis, and only Lollapalooza, still trundling along after 20 years, has spawned copycat names. (See my blog post on Poleapalooza, Snooze-a-palooza, and other paloozas.)

Many X-stock names are puns on "Woodstock." In addition to Wordstock, there's WO-Stock, a music festival in Western Ontario, Canada, and Goodstock, organized in 2007 by one of the co-creators of the original Woodstock — simultaneously a pun and a reference to the Good Evening Ranch, where it was held. There are numerous Woofstocks, but only the one in Toronto claims to be "North America's largest outdoor festival for dogs." The San Diego festival called w00tstock—that's a lower-case W and two zeros—describes itself as "Geek Vaudeville. Nerd Church. The Variety Show for the Internet Set." (Read more about w00t, Merriam-Webster's word of the year for 2007, here.)

Some X-stocks are pious: Soulstock, Christ Stock, and Praisestock are Christian music festivals. Others are playful, like Cornstock (cornstalk?) in Michigan. Still others have prefixes drawn from musical genres (Bluestock, Jazzstock) or geography (Winstock, in Winsted, Minnesota; Bushstock, in Shepherds Bush, London). SteamStock, in the San Francisco Bay Area, blends "steampunk" with "-stock" to name a celebration of "Retro-Futurism in all of its amazing forms." 

The OED lists 59 meanings for the noun "stock," and a whole category of X-stocks is built on that polysemy. In addition to the old meaning of stump or post, "stock" can mean "supply" (stockroom, livestock), "sum of money" (stock market), "commonplace" (stock phrase), and "a post used for punishment" (stocks, whipping stock). "Laughingstock" — an object of ridicule — was formed sometime in the 16th century by analogy with "whipping stock." And sure enough, there's a LaughingStock comedy rock festival in Chicago. Since 1897, "stock" has also meant "cinematographic film," which gives Filmstock, a film festival founded in Arizona in 2009, a neat double meaning.

Another meaning of "stock" is "a broth made by boiling meat or vegetables," a definition that has given rise to several X-stock coinages. Fish Creek, Wisconsin, has its Fishstock; Shelton, Connecticut, has Soupstock; and Chicken, Alaska, has Chickenstock. (The story behind Chicken's name: When the town was incorporated, in 1902, residents wanted to name it Ptarmigan, after a native grouse that later became the state bird. But they couldn't agree on the correct spelling, and so compromised with "Chicken.")

Would a festival held in a town called Woodville or Woodfield or Woodminister have been as fruitful, naming-wise, as Woodstock? I doubt it. (Although it's interesting to imagine what might have happened if the town had been called Watergate.) "Stock" is simply richer in meaning and more fun to say: the sibilance of the S, the tongue action of the T, the click of the final K. And it's firmly rooted in the language of American entertainment. Yet another of the many definitions of "stock" is "a theater or theatrical company, especially outside of a main theatrical center." For decades before Woodstock there was the American tradition of "summer stock" — plays presented outdoors, or under tents, in a bucolic setting, and performed by young actors just starting their careers — not really all that different, when you think about it, from the Woodstock festival. One of the oldest summer-stock theaters in the country is the Berkshire Playhouse. Its setting? Stockbridge, Massachusetts.


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Nancy Friedman is the chief wordworker at verbal-branding consultancy Wordworking, and the author of a fine blog on naming, branding and more called Fritinancy. Nancy has named a venture-capital firm, a laser hair-removal device, a mobile-money service, and many other companies and products. A former journalist, she still writes or ghostwrites articles, speeches, white papers, and books. Click here to read more articles by Nancy Friedman.

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Comments from our users:

Friday July 26th 2013, 12:01 AM
Comment by: Joel M.
You should know that the town of Woodstock was never seriously considered as the venue for the festival, though the original idea for the event called for the profits from the festival going to build a recording studio and retreat in that town. The original site for the festival was Wallkill, about 40 miles south of Woodstock, in Orange County. About six weeks before the festival date, the town of Wallkill passed an ordinance that effectively banned the festival from taking place there. There was a mad scramble for a new venue, which led the promoters to Max Yasgur's dairy farm in White Lake, about 40 miles east of Wallkill, in Sullivan County.

The upshot of all this is that, but for a city ordinance, the Woodstock festival would have taken place in Wallkill. What might we have done with that name?
Saturday August 3rd 2013, 2:55 PM
Comment by: Mike P. (Seattle, WA)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
As a further exercise, the student might analyze the likelihood of various gatherings being named with -stock, -palooza, -fest/Festival, -con, -jam/Jam, -Aid, -Fair, etc. The student should take into account semantic connotation, phonological mellifluousness, and other factors.

:-)

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