My latest column for the Visual Thesaurus is about an ongoing fascination of mine: company and product names that end in -ly. Over the last several years I’ve pinned 256 examples of such names on a Pinterest board, from Adaptly and Amazely to Yarrly and Zaarly. But I’m not content with pointing in alarm; I want to know how and why one little suffix has assumed so much power—and, not for nothing, how it came to be a marker both for adjectives (friendly, lonely, writerly) and for adverbs (frankly, strikingly, immediately).
No paywall this time! Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite:
Some categories of words never, in normal English grammar, take the -ly suffix. Verbs are the most prominent example. But despite or perhaps in defiance of this proscription, many new businesses deliberately have chosen to create names by adding -ly to verbs: the roster includes Findly, Seekly, Sendly (not to be confused with Sently), Referly, Knowly, Embedly, Respondly, Optimizely, and Recurly. (Recurly has nothing to do with hair; it’s a service for recurring payments.) Sometimes it’s hard to know which part of speech is being -ly-ified: Founderly is a site for company founders, but you could just as easily read founder as the verb meaning “to sink” or “to fail.”
Even odder are the -ly names formed from neologisms (BucketListly, a way to keep track of your “bucket list”—things to do before you “kick the bucket,” i.e., die), portmanteaus (Volcally, from “volunteer locally”), and coined words with no evident meaning (Scubbly, an online marketplace; Rosingly, a daily-deal site; Vimbly, an activity finder). One such name was created—well, winkingly: Irregardless.ly is a crowdsourced style and usage guide whose name is a nod to a notorious “non-word”; the site’s founder, Charles Best—who also founded the philanthropic site Donors Choose—told me that when he couldn’t buy Irregardless.com “despite repeated attempts,” he chose the .ly extension, “consoling ourselves that we at least had an even funkier construction in ‘irregardlessly’.”
The Gyges effect takes its name from a story related in Plato’s Republic about the Ring of Gyges, which bestowed the power of invisibility on the wearer. Gyges was a historical king of Lydia, but the story centers on a mythical shepherd said to be Gyges’ ancestor; in the tale, the shepherd uses the cloak of invisibility to seduce the queen, murder the king, and seize the throne. In recounting the tale, Plato’s brother Glaucon asks “whether any man can be so virtuous that he could resist the temptation of being able to perform any act without being known or discovered,” and concludes that morality is a social construct.
The Ring of Gyges has taken on metaphorical significance in the Internet era. In an opinion piece about “the epidemic of facelessness” published in the New York Times on February 15, 2015, Stephen Marche writes about “the faceless communication social media creates, the linked distances between people, both provokes and mitigates the inherent capacity for monstrosity”:
The Gyges effect, the well-noted disinhibition created by communications over the distances of the Internet, in which all speech and image are muted and at arm’s reach, produces an inevitable reaction — the desire for impact at any cost, the desire to reach through the screen, to make somebody feel something, anything.
Cadillac a whipped underdog? That’s what I infer from the automaker’s new “Dare Greatly” campaign, from Publicis, which will kick off during Sunday’s Academy Awards broadcast. I caught the teaser ad at a Berkeley movie theater before a screening of the Best Foreign Film nominee Timbuktu, which is about the violent clash between cattle herders and religious extremists in Mali. (The dissonance between ad and movie was so thick it would have taken a cleaver to slice it. But I digress.)
Here’s the spot:
The script isn’t credited, but it’s lifted from “Citizenship in a Republic,” a 1910 speech given at the Sorbonne in Paris by Theodore Roosevelt, then one year out of the White House. The youthful-sounding female voiceover, the moody music, the slow-mo near-black-and-white imagery: they’re intended to make you think—no, not think, feel—that Something Important Is About to Happen. Something moving and portentous and great. But is that really what we’re being told?
The Seattle Seahawks lost the Super Bowl to the New England Patriots. Maybe they’d have fared better under one of the other names nominated in a 1975 naming contest, including the Rainbeams, the Lumberjacks, and the Needlers. (Mental Floss)
“Check the trademark early on,” “Avoid focus groups,” and other good advice about naming from professional name developers. (Communication Arts)
“People talk about expensive meals using sex metaphors; for noodle joints and cupcake counters, they resort to drug lingo.” A visit to a London pub with linguist Dan Jurafsky, author of The Language of Food. (The New Yorker)
The Daily Brute, The London Asswipe, The Quibbler, and other fictional newspaper names. (Wikipedia)
“Be specific—but not wordy” and other tips for naming a blog. Includes a nice shoutout for Strong Language, where I publish from time to time. (The Daily Post)
Would you spend $30,000 to find “a unique name for your unborn child? A wonderful first name that sounds so good that it just had to be invented? A brand-new name with an exciting derivation and unmistakable history? “ This Swiss firm—whose own name is tough to pronounce—is banking on it. (erfolgswelle® AG)
A drugroll—um, drumroll—for the 2015 drug name awards. It’s a tough, confusing field: Zerbaxa, Zontility, Vimizin, Zykadia… (Gary Martin)
Last week North Korea’s Workers’ Party released 310 exclamatory new slogans created to mark the country’s 70th anniversary, and Western news media have been having a glorious people’s field day with them. “Even allowing that they probably come off more melodious in their original Korean,” observed NPR, “some of the commandments are so awkward that it's hard to imagine them sounding right in any language.” Some are malodorous (“Let the strong wind of fish farming blow across the country!”), while others are creepy (“Let us turn ours into a country of mushrooms by making mushroom cultivation scientific, intensive and industrialized!”) and still others could have come from an overeager U.S. marketing department (“Go beyond the cutting edge!”). Here’s the complete list on KCNA Watch, an official English-language publication of the Korean Central News Agency.