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.
The toaster was introduced last month at EuroCucina in Milano. Reviewed.com’s Keith Barry gushed that the Noun “puts all others to shame, and it does so with advanced technology that's never before been used on a small appliance.”
Expected price tag: about $1,000. Look for it in U.S. stores in 2015.
As for the name: no explanation given. For all I know, we may be expected to pronounce it noh-OON, a la italiana.
Parts-of-speech fans will have another opportunity to round the grammatical bases when the Verb Hotel opens in Boston this summer.
“At” the heart?
The property is a refurbished building that opened in 1959 as the Fenway Motor Lodge and most recently operated as a Howard Johnson Inn.
The Boston edition of Curbed reports that Verb will be “edgy” and “irreverent”
with 94 rooms and a DJ spinning in a lobby adorned with old Boston Phoenix covers amongst other memorabilia. However much a nod to olden days, the developers do plan to refurbish the rooms, which will go in the $200-a-night range.
Here’s how the Verb’s website explains the name:
Well, if you want to get literary about it, “Verb” describes an action, and a state of being. But we like that it came from “reverb”—a reminder of the music and attitude that’s inspired us all throughout the years.
If they liked “Reverb,” why didn’t they name it that and make a clear statement about music and “vibe”? Or how about Phoenix, with its nifty double meaning: a rebirth from the metaphorical ashes, and a partnership with the venerable alt-weekly BostonPhoenix. (Possible reason: The Phoenix is San Francisco’s own “rock-star” hotel repurposed from a mid-century motel.)
Confusingly, there already exists a Verve Hotel in Natick, 25 minutes from downtown Boston.
Today is National Grammar Day (March Fourth, the only date that’s an imperative) and Mardi Gras and National Pancake Day (the last according to IHOP, which has what you might call a vested interest). Stack up the grammardicakes and let the bon temps rouler!
Even if you celebrated National Grammar day last year or in 2010, you must celebrate it again today. Most important, or most importantly, if you live in a state that is adopting the Common Core, you are required to take the National Grammar Day Quiz today. If you took the National Grammar Quiz in 2011, you must retake it, because those scores are no longer valid.
“Well, they may have the doors and windows covered, but that doesn’t make you safe.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ve been infiltrated.”
She uttered a word that I don’t think used to be in the dictionary.
Mark Allen of the American Copy Editors Society (ACES) directed the fourth annual National Grammar Day Tweeted Haiku Contest. Who will win? Our breath is bated; we definitely could care much, much less than we do. See all the entries here. UPDATE: Well, whaddya you know. My doge haiku won!
Some of them are mine:
Wow. Very poem. Amaze syllabifying. Because #grammarday
Leave it to the inventive and enterprising Mignon Fogarty, aka Grammar Girl, to turn language peeves (“literally,” “could care less,” “very unique,” et al.) into a card game in which the object is “to annoy your opponent to death.” She’s raising money for Peeve Wars through Fund Anything; contribute now to claim your own card set or another nifty reward.
Some people peeve about new, “unnecessary” words. But language blogger Stan Carey defends them: “Avoiding new and ‘needless’ words in formal contexts is all well and good, but what’s wrong with a grand superfluity elsewhere? Will the language look untidy if words float around not filling vital gaps? Will they gum up the works?”
“We think first / Of vague words that are synonyms for progress / And pair them with footage of a high-speed train.” This Is a Generic Brand Video, from McSweeney’s, of course.
Orenitram, a drug for pulmonary arterial hypertension, is an ananym: The name was created by reverse-spelling the first eight letters of the name of the drug company’s CEO, Martine Rothblatt. But that’s just the beginning of a truly remarkable name story, reported by Catchword.
The new BuzzFeed style guide answers the really tough spelling and usage questions: Is bitchface one word or two? (One.) Is there an E in chocolaty? (No.) What’s the proper abbreviation of douchebag? (d-bag.) What’s the difference between wack and whack? (Look it up; it’s in there.) And, FYI, the word is spelled whoa. Don’t make us repeat ourselves.
“Writing and editing are linked but distinct enterprises, and distinct temperaments are involved. Very few people can move smoothly from the one enterprise to the other.” – John McIntyre, one of the few.
Who names the color of the year? Professional namers, that’s who. The Boston Globe interviewed Bay Area name developer Anthony Shore for his insights into color naming; the article is headlined—care to guess?—“What’s in a Name?” (I tackled the subject of color names myself for a 2011 Visual Thesaurus column.)
“Picking a product name is all agony and no ecstasy,” writes Trello founder Dan Ostlund (“The Agonies of Picking a Product Name”). His detailed account of his own DIY effort is a cautionary tale, although he doesn’t explain why the company felt it necessary to jettison its perfectly good placeholder name.
Top executives writing about verbal branding may be a trend now. Here’s Larry D. Kramer, president of the Hewlett Foundation in Menlo Park, California, on how his organization developed a new tagline (“What’s in a Tagline?”):
When I first proposed reexamining the tagline, I felt almost sheepish. The Hewlett Foundation pays little attention to self-promotion (that itself is a core value here), so why bother putting time and effort into something so marginal. Instead, the project proved to be both interesting and fruitful—an opportunity to reaffirm and remind ourselves about who we are and who we want to be.
You’ll have to scroll down to the tenth paragraph to learn what the new tagline is. Otherwise, nice process story.
This parody trailer for the new Muppet movie, Muppets Most Wanted, aired during Sunday night’s live Golden Globes broadcast, and it was so smart and funny I wished I could hit the rewind button. AdFreak says the promo “does a double public service by also making fun of all the mass-media self-adulation that studios crank out during Hollywood awards season.”
The Oxford University Press blog has a comprehensive words-of-the-year roundup that includes words of the year in Spain, Norway, France, and elsewhere. I’m fond of “plénior,” the mot nouveau pour 2014; it’s a more positive word for “senior citizen” that implies “full of life.”
While we’re in Oxford, check out the Oxford English Dictionary birthday word generator, which scours the OED database for words’ first occurrences, 1900 through 2004, and offers up one for your birth year. If you were born in 1984, for example, your word is “shopaholic.” Happy 30th, you crazy shopper, you!
“Unneeded warnings against sentences that have nothing wrong with them are handed out by people who actually don’t know how to identify instances of what they are warning against, and the people they aim to educate or intimidate don’t know enough grammar to reject the nonsense they are offered. The blind warning the blind about a nonexistent danger.” That’s linguist Geoffrey Pullum in “Fear and Loathing of the English Passive.” It will be published later this year in the journal Language and Communication; but you can read the PDF now.Pullum cites 46 examples of tsk-tsking about “passive” constructions that aren’t passive at all.
I’m not a fan of word bans: They’re a slippery slope and an exercise in futility. Nevertheless, I sympathize with reporters who, at the slow tail end of a holiday week, can’t resist one more “let’s ban buzzwords” story. Guaranteed link bait!
The Wall Street Journal’s roundup of bannable buzzwords, published yesterday, is a little different from the usual fare, because the submissions come not from grumpy wage slaves but from the people at the very top: CEOs and founders, many of whom are probably responsible for poisoning the well with those buzzwords back when they (the words, that is) seemed fresh.
The list contains the usual suspects: push the envelope, viral, low-hanging fruit, big data. One entry, however, made me smile: passionate.
“On the recruiting side, I’m pretty sick of the term…do you want passion in a typical workplace? Isn’t that a lot like drama?” says Peter Cappelli, director of the Wharton School’s Center for Human Resources.
The WSJ also polled readers, who were eager to share their peeves. Two of the terms they’d like to consign to the dustbin of history—reach out and disrupt—are words I’ve written about for the Visual Thesaurus. Another reader-nominated word, ideate, is not, as the submitter claims, newly “made-up”; it’s been part of the English lexicon since about 1600.
On the other hand, a couple of the terms in the main article—de-layering (a euphemism for “firing,” aka “demising”) and dynamic resilience (sorry, I still have no idea what this means)—were new to me, which makes me wonder whether I’ve been hanging out in the wrong meetings.
Buzzwords attain their status because they’re catchy and zeitgeist-y. There’s residual value there, so I vote for recycling them, not dumping them. Try, for example, singing along to the tune of “It’s De-Lovely”:
We can’t say “fire,” We can’t say “axe,” We’d have HR pouncing on our backs. Say “disrupting,” say “demising,” say “de-layering”!
And here’s my own suggestion for a word I’d like to see less of in 2014: whomever. It’s a legitimate and venerable word, of course, but it’s archaic and almost invariably used incorrectly, as in this New York Times lede. (“Whoever,” please.) You can read up on whoever/whomever—Grammar Girl and Vocabulary.com are good resources, and Literal-Minded goes deeper—or you can just excise “whomever” from your vocabulary. I promise you no one will mind, or even notice.
Fifty shades of blue. Can you discern the difference between LinkedIn blue and Disqus blue? IBM blue and Evomail blue? Test your powers of perception at Name That Blue, then graduate to pinks, reds, purples, greens, and a whole lot of tech companies you’ve never heard of.
Helvetica the perfume. “We have created the ultimate Modernist perfume – a scent distilled down to only the purest and most essential elements to allow you, the content, to convey your message with the utmost clarity.” Translation: for $62, not including tax and shipping, you get distilled water in a clear bottle with a label.
“For those who dare to be the same.” Image via AdFreak.
Hideous holiday music. I note with sadness the passing in 2013 of Jim Nayder, curator of Chicago Public Radio’s Annoying Music show (frequently heard on NPR); and of Regretsy (“Where DIY Meets WTF”), the blog that compiled the very worst of Etsy craft projects. But there’s hope for both camps of mourners: the multitalented April Winchell, who ran Regretsy for four years (posting as Helen Killer), can still be found on her eponymous blog. And in an effort that would do Jim Nayder proud, she’s compiled her own catalog of wretched holiday tunes, from “Homo Christmas” (by Pansy Division) to the Bethlehem Rap, from “I Yust Go Nuts on Christmas” and “Yingle Bells” by that great, great faux-Swedish entertainer Yogi Yorgesson (né Harry Stewart) to the world’s worst version of “O Holy Night.”
And speaking of holiday traditions, watch this space for my annual Festivus Airing of Grievances, coming later this week.