Who doesn’t love Q? Designers are drawn to that sinuous little tongue. Elitists like to drop qua and qui vive into their discourse. Journalists depend on Qs (and, of course, As) for their livelihood. Q stands for quality and quantity, quiz and quintessence, quarter and quip.
Q is the letter of distinction in many great brand names, too, from Quaker to Quonset to Q-Tip. I myself have bestowed Q-names—one a real word, one coined—on a couple of companies.
But it’s easy to overdo Q—to torture that poor letter into positions it was never meant to assume.
Exhibit A: Qriocity.
It’s Sony’s on-demand music and video platform, which launched in February of this year—note the misspelling in the Engadget URL—and which by the end of the year will include a cloud-based music service similar to iTunes. Qriocity is pronounced “curiosity,” according to Fast Company, which adds, parenthetically, “Who knew?”
Who indeed? My first hesitant guess had been closer to “kreeocity.” Frankly, any name that looks that difficult doesn’t bode well for the service or product under the hood.
(To further confuse matters, there’s a Qriosity.com, unrelated to Sony, “where people find videos, pictures and news on the hottest topics.” It hasn’t been updated in almost a year, so maybe it’s on its way out.)
Exhibit B: Qiagen.
This company (invariably spelled in ALL CAPS on the website) makes scientific instruments for sampling and testing. Founded in Germany in 1984, it has more than 35 offices around the world. But you have to get more than a minute into a corporate video before you hear “Qiagen” pronounced.
Want to hazard a guess?
Nope, it isn’t KEE-a-gen or (following my hunch about a possible Chinese etymology) CHEE-a-gen. It’s KY-a-gen. The first syllable rhymes with “sky” or “the sweetheart of Sigma Chi.”
I haven’t found a story that explains the origin of this puzzling name.
Here’s the funny part: I learned about Qiagen from a client of mine; his company is in a related field and does business with Qiagen. And yet he stumbled over both the pronunciation and the spelling of the name. (“Uh … Kwee-a-gen?”) He did know that Qiagen has a consistent nomenclature; its products include QIAcube, QIAsymphony, and QIAlab. That’s good branding. But the name itself is more confusing than it needs to be.
Moral: Make sure your Q provides clear cues about pronunciation. Is it an independent phoneme (“cue”)? Then help your audience with typography (e.g., QLogic) or punctuation (Q-layer). Is it substituting for /K/? Then make the association transparent by inserting it into familiar words (e.g., Qlock or Qloud).
But please, please, don’t make native English speakers and readers feel as though we’ve stumbled upon the lost language of the Qckoos.
In related Q-news, see my 2009 post about Qliance.
Hat tip for the Qriocity story: NextMoon.
Photo from Fast Company.