In 2009 I did a post whose title — “Excuse Me While I Kiss this Guy” — was an homage to the great modern institution of mangled popular song lyrics. That particular neurological “take” on Jimi Hendrix’s wailed request in “Purple Haze” is so prevalent that an entire website dedicated to misheard song lyrics is actually called “Kiss This Guy,” and beat me to the punch by three years. Who knew?
Knowing, it seems, is the key. That “kiss this guy” mistake is probably based as much on the cognitive dissonance implicated in the brain’s processing of the real lyric, “Excuse me while I kiss the sky,” as any failure to enunciate by the late, great stoned Englishman Hendrix. ”Kiss the sky” is just not in our neural “type-ahead” cache, and while you might not think “kiss this guy” actually is, well, turns out it is. Oddly enough.
Same thing with names. Pattern recognition and familiarity are all. Everyone, after all, knows what “a Louis Vuitton” is, and wants one — real or not. The result has been years of fun and, for many of those I love, profit.
Even I had my moments on that score, and when, as a much younger man, I was tasked to hop on an Amtrak and sue a trademark counterfeiter on LVMH’s behalf in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, I was happy to do it. (The “LV” is for Louis Vuitton; the M is not for Malletier, in fact — the “MH” is for MoÃ«t Hennessy. Together, they’re a “group.”) The resulting decision, Malletier v. Veit, was kind of important for about ten minutes.
But who is that plaintiff? Who is this Malletier guy?
The plaintiff in my case, of course — and in Malletier v. Dooney & Bourke, and a whole bunch of other cases — was not a guy named Louis V. Malletier. Of course. You knew that. It is, rather, the firm called Louis Vuitton Malletier — and as you also knew, a “malletier is, in French, literally a trunk-maker, or manufacturer of luggage and suitcases.” It comes from the French word malle, which means trunk but related, as is readily evident, to the word “mallet” for hammer.
But, of course: Louie the Trunk-Maker. Indeed you might well think his last name were Malletier, just as people have last names such as Baker, Carpenter and Farmer, except that those names go quite a ways back to well before surnames got nailed down in Europe. There are lots of malletiÃ¨res in France, some named Louis, some named other things (some more and some less Internet friendly!) and even a hotel named for the trade itself.
But, you know, our friends in the court clerk’s offices… not in France, so much. And they have a job to do. And in comes a complaint for filing, and their job is to file it and input it into the system, and it says right on the JS44 Civil Cover Sheet, I. (a) PLAINTIFF – LOUIS VUITTON MALLETIER.
Got it. Malletier, Louis V, plaintiff.
And we, the lawyers, are often busy doing what we do, and in the case of the lawyers for this particularly plaintiff frequently seeking some sort of injunction, and by the time we realize the case went in as “Malletier,” perhaps it takes us a while to kind of realize it, and then you have to probably make a motion to change the caption because we can’t just fix clerical errors of that magnitude with a note or an email or a phone call because, well, this is court.
And we do have our proprieties.
So M. Vuitton, meet your jurisprudential offspring, M. Malletier — a fine stand-in the courts by whom you have done quite well, and who will live on at least as long as you, your trunks and whatever you keep in them.