Litigation Nation: Ellen DeGeneres sued for what?

This column is no great fan of Ellen DeGeneres, but neither do we have much patience for frivolous lawsuits. According to New York’s Daily News, the popular lesbian TV host was hit with one.

The 58-year-old DeGeneres was doing an evidently recurring gag titled “What’s Wrong With These Ads … and These Signs.” It’s a comedic bit that goes back at least as far as onetime “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno.

Judging from the content of DeGeneres’s variation on this theme, she adds an element of sophomoric sexuality, remarking for example in this edition on a sign that read “Nipple Convalescent Home.” Ooh, nasty, nasty: She said the (other) N-word!”

Where the skit crossed the line, according to the plaintiff, whose name is Titi Pierce, was when DeGeneres read her name aloud on air, pronouncing her first name as “Titty” and quipping:

Titty Pierce, sounds like she might have spent some time in that nipple home, I don’t know.

It’s the sort of comedy that would go over huge among early adolescents, but Pierce, a realtor, was not amused.

If she has one legitimate grievance, it’s that DeGeneres’s staff carelessly neglected to blur out her phone number, which appeared on a lawn sign on screen, since redacted:

Image: YouTube screen grab (via Ellen!)
Image: YouTube screen grab (via Ellen!)

As a result, Pierce submits, she was the recipient of prank calls from garden variety “Ellen!” fans, who left messages like this:

Bahhh, your name is titty Pierce, bahhh, bahhh, titty, bahhh, Ellen DeGeneres told me to call you.

But that’s not the only basis on which Pierce is suing for an undisclosed amount. The plaintiff’s brief, filed in a Georgia court, last week specifies:

Prior to defendant’s misdeeds, Ms. Pierce has been called only by her name ‘Titi,’ which, as grammar dictates, is pronounced ‘TEE TEE.’

She is thus claiming emotional distress.

With all due respect to her legal representatives, grammar has nothing to do with the pronunciation of her name or of any word. Grammar concerns itself exclusively with syntax (the way words are arranged to form phrases and sentences) and grammatical relations (such as subject and predicate). Pronunciation of a written word or expression is a matter of phonographemics, which is far more open to interpretation.

Which is another way of saying it’s hard to imagine that no one has ever pronounced the name Titi (which, the court document helpfully explains is Nigerian for “flower”) as “titty.”

Here, should you care to watch it, is the bit for which DeGeneres and her producers, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., are being hauled to court.

Ben Bowles

Ben Bowles

Ben Bowles is a freelance writer.


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