Hard can be the opposite of easy or the opposite of soft; we can solve hard problemswhile listening to hard rock. Or we can think long and hard about two new ad campaigns that use hard in a specific, modern way.
My latest column for the Visual Thesaurus takes a look at how nouns become verbs – and vice versa – in the language of commerce and elsewhere. If you’ve seen ads inviting you to beauty, to movie, or to pumpkin, you’ll know what I mean. But what about to gift, to share, and to contact? All began their lives as nouns before being undergoing the process known as functional shift or anthimeria (and not without controversy, in some cases).
Access to the column is open to all this month! Here’s an excerpt:
Although the examples I’ve cited here are recent, the phenomenon is not. “Flaubert me no Flauberts. Bovary me no Bovarys. Zola me no Zolas,” the novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1937. “And exuberance me no exuberances. Leave this stuff for those who huckster in it...” Facebook may have popularized to friend (the verb has been in widespread use since about 2005), but friend had occasionally been used as a verb since the 1200s, according to the OED. Four and a half centuries before there were mobile text messages, to text meant “to write in text letters” – the large writing used by clerks in the body of a manuscript. (The past-tense form of text still stymies many people. For the record, it’s texted. As linguist Arnold Zwicky pointed out in 2008, “Verbing has always weirded [not weird] language.”)
I’m marching to the beat of the Strong Language drummer, with a new post about naughty-sounding brand names with innocent meanings. It may be the only post you’ll read today that has the tags appliances, beverages, pee, and smegma.
Also: March 4 is National Grammar Day, an occasion for remembering what grammar is and is not. (It’s not spelling and punctuation, for starters.) Here are some good places to start:
“Do not aspire to be a grammar Nazi, and don’t indulge people who use the term. Nazis are not funny unless you are Jerry Seinfeld or Mel Brooks. You are not Jerry Seinfeld or Mel Brooks.” – John McIntyre, “Prepare Yourself for National Grammar Day”
Under the capable leadership of Mark Allen, ace copy editor, I was one of the judges in this year’s National Grammar Day Tweeted Haiku Contest. (The job was my reward/penance for having won the contest last year.) I am pleased to report that we have selected our winners. Congratulations to first-place poet Adriana Cloudand all the other contestants! Enjoy their haiku, and don’t let any dangling modifiers hit you on your way out.
Grammando: “One who constantly corrects others’ linguistic mistakes.” Neologism coined by Lizzie Skurnick from grammar and commando. First appeared in the March 4, 2012, issue of the New York Times Sunday Magazine, under the heading “That Should Be a Word.” In a blog entry published on the same date, Skurnick explainswhy she coined the word: “Because I have always HATED the term ‘Grammar Nazi,’ as it makes NO SENSE, unless Jew-killing means an adherence to precision.” (Skurnick’s use-it-in-a-sentence example isn’t exactly precise, either: “Cowed by his grammando wife, Arthur finally ceased saying ‘irregardless.’” As linguist Arnold Zwicky points out, “As usual the exemplary grammando’s complaint is not actually about grammar, but about word choice. What the hell, It’s All Grammar, right?”)
I’d read about grammando three years ago, then promptly forgot about it until last month, when Anne Curzan, an English professor at the University of Michigan, used it in a talk she gave at the American Linguistic Society meeting in Portland. She prefers it to “grammar Nazi,” she said. Curzan was an early adopter of grammando, mentioning it during a July 2012 episode of “That’s What They Say,” a Michigan Public Radio program about language. Grammando evokes the ambush tactics of militant language cranks—the people John McIntyre of the Baltimore Sun has dubbed the peeververein—without resorting to images of swastikas and concentration camps.
Curzan admires grammando but is less approving of grammandizing. “It’s a real power play to suddenly talk about the way somebody is writing or talking as opposed to what they’re saying,” she told Michigan Public Radio:
So if you catch someone’s grammatical mistake, should you point it out? Curzan says it depends on why you are correcting the person.
According to Curzan, some people are sticklers about grammar because they feel like it’s a part of professional training.
“If that’s the reason, I think that’s a legitimate reason, but I wouldn’t stop them in the middle of talking. That’s very disruptive,” Curzan said.
Unsurprisingly, the comments on that MPR article are, with one exception, in the peevish-grammar-stickler vein
A grammando currently making headlines is Bryan Henderson, a 51-year-old American software engineer on a mission: to rid Wikipedia of every instance of “comprised of.” (To comprise means to contain or include; standard usage insists on composed of or consists of.) To date, he’s removed 47,000 offenses. In a 6,000-word essay published on his Wikipedia user page, Henderson reminds readers that “the whole comprises the parts; the parts compose the whole” and argues that comprised of is “completely unnecessary,” “illogical,” etymologically unfounded, imprecise, and “new”: “It was barely ever used before 1970,” Henderson writes. Of course, neither were many other words, including quite a few from the vocabulary of technology: app, flash drive, and voicemail, to name but a few.
Two years ago, the American Dialect Society selected hashtag as its word of the year for 2012. Last week, for its 2014 word of the year, the ADS chose an actual hashtag, #blacklivesmatter, the slogan that—as the press releaseput it—“took on special significance in 2014 after the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. and Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y., and the failure of grand juries to indict police officers in both cases.” It was the first time in the contest’s 25 that a hashtag had been selected for the distinction. The vote at the Hilton in Portland, Oregon, was nearly unanimous, but the response has been anything but. (“It’s not a word” and “It’s too political” were two of the negative reactions.) Read Ben Zimmer, chair of the ADS New Words Committee, on the WOTY selection (and on other words discussed at the meeting). For supporting viewpoints, see Anne Curzan’s post on the Lingua Franca blog(“The linguistic work of hashtags is especially interesting”) and linguist/librarian Lauren B. Collister’s post on her own blog(“a pretty historic moment for the field of linguistics for a number of reasons”). For a dissenting view, see Schnaufblog: “Call me old school -- I like the idea of a word as a combination of form (sound, gesture, writing) and meaning (lexical or grammatical) that can combine with other words according to the rules of grammar to form a clause.”
Hoist the bare aluminum pole, my friends: today is Festivus, which means it’s time once again for my favorite holiday tradition, The Airing of Grievances.
For this year’s A of G—the sixth in a series—I’ve gathered some of the worst offenders from the world of marketing: the gaffes, goofs, and boneheaded blunders that we’ll recall for as long as schadenfreude remains in season.
Enallage: Substitution of one grammatical form for another that violates a grammatical rule. Pronounced almost exactly like analogy, but from a different Greek source, ἐναλλαγή, which means “change.” (Analogy can be traced back to ἀναλογία, which means mathematical proportion or correspondence.)
I learned enallage only recently, but it turns out I was very familiar with examples of it. Mark Forsyth (@InkyFool on Twitter) dropped the word into a recent New York Times column about the rhetoric behind successful slogans. Here’s the relevant passage:
The other day I told a friend I was writing an article on corporate slogans. He immediately told me that the one he hated, absolutely hated, was “Think different” because it should be “think differently.”
He’s right, grammatically. But the fact that he’s nursing a grudge over an ad slogan Apple hasn’t run for a dozen years proves just how memorable it was.
Same for a long-popular British slogan, “Beanz Meanz Heinz,” which grammar would have insisted on as “Beanz Mean Heinz.”
For that matter “Got milk?” is substandard speech. So is Subway’s “Eat fresh.” Probably the most memorable ad in Britain in the last few years uses the one-word tagline “Simples” — uttered by an anthroporphic Russian meerkat on behalf of an insurance website, comparethemarket.com.
It’s a trick called enallage: a slight deliberate grammatical mistake that makes a sentence stand out.
“We was robbed.” “Mistah Kurtz — he dead.” “Thunderbirds are go.” All of these stick in our minds because they’re just wrong — wrong enough to be right.
Forsyth—author of The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase—also discusses alliteration (“Famously Fresh” – Planters); diacope (“a verbal sandwich of two words or phrases with something else tucked in the middle,” as in the U.S. Army’s long-running “Be all you can be”); chiasmus (“I am stuck on Band-Aid*, ’cause Band-Aid’s stuck on me”); and tricolon (“Buy It. Sell It. Love It.” – eBay); and paradox (“The world’s local bank” – HSBC).
“We’re excited for you to take the One Shower Challenge!”
“Excited for you to take” is one of the newish “excited for __” constructions that I’ve been noticing in speech and writing. The Dove copy was my first encounter with the phrase in a commercial context, but it turns out to be more common than I’d thought. (See below.) Indeed, it represents a convergence of two hot lingua-trends: preposition creep—a term I’m borrowing from English professor and language writer Ben Yagoda—and, more generally, excitement overload.
Starbucks has hailed the return of the beverage with big signs for “PSL.” Is the abbreviation an initialism or an acronym? Are we meant to pronounce each letter or make a word from their consecutive sounds?
As an acronym, PSL would become pissl, or even pizzle, which just sounds rude. As an initialism, on the other hand, PSL feels clinical, as if it might be a medical condition.