Ex–Talking Head David Byrne blogged last month about his maiden voyage to IKEA:
Why does everything have weird names? Every container, shelf, cabinet or appliance had some odd name, as if people from Planet Sweden anthropomorphized these objects, naming each one they encountered as best they could:
It turns out, Byrne writes, that the Wikipedians had already cracked the code:
Upholstered furniture, coffee tables, rattan furniture, bookshelves, media storage, doorknobs: Swedish placenames (for example: Klippan)
Beds, wardrobes, hall furniture: Norwegian place names
Dining tables and chairs: Finnish place names
Bookcase ranges: Occupations
Bathroom articles: Scandinavian lakes, rivers and bays
Kitchens: grammatical terms, sometimes also other names
Chairs, desks: men's names
Materials, curtains: women's names
Garden furniture: Swedish islands
Carpets: Danish place names
Lighting: terms from music, chemistry, meteorology, measures, weights, seasons, months, days, boats, nautical terms
Bedlinen, bed covers, pillows/cushions: flowers, plants, precious stones; words related to sleep, comfort, and cuddling [cuddling?]
Children's items: mammals, birds, adjectives
Curtain accessories: mathematical and geometrical terms
Kitchen utensils: foreign words, spices, herbs, fish, mushrooms, fruits or berries, functional descriptions
Boxes, wall decoration, pictures and frames, clocks: colloquial expressions, also Swedish placenames
I love discovering a nomenclature's inner structure; it's so satisfying to know that someone has taken the time and care to think creatively about the work that names do.
Still, the IKEA taxonomy is no less enigmatic for having been described. I'm sure there are several PhD theses waiting to be written about it. Music, chemistry, and nautical terms for lighting? Feminine names for curtains, masculine names for chairs and desks? And what subtle intra-Scandinavian tensions or harmonies are revealed by the assignment of Danish, Norwegian, and Finnish words to certain categories but not others? Is there some national stereotype about the Finns (for example) setting an especially attractive table? Or, more perversely, not?
The Wikipedia article continues:
Because IKEA is a world-wide company working in several countries with several different languages, sometimes the Nordic naming leads to problems where the word means something completely different to the product. A well known example was the bed frame GUTVIK. As the word can be pronounced Gootfick it invites German-speaking people to understand it like gut fick which is somewhat close to "good fuck" in German.
Then there's this tidbit:
Company founder Ingvar Kamprad, who is dyslexic, found that naming the furniture with proper names and words, rather than a product code, made the names easier to remember.
Take heed, O ye makers of automobiles and techno gizmos!
The name IKEA, by the way, is an acronym. IK stands for Ingvar Kamprad; the E stands for Elmtaryd, the farm where Kamprad grew up, and the A is for Agunnaryd, Kamprad's home village.
(Hat tip to Andy Sernowitz.)