Into the final weeks of 2015 with one final link roundup!
Lucy Kellaway,who writes about language and writing for the Financial Times,has created Guffipedia, “a repository for the worst jargon I’ve seen over the years.” All the devils are here: onboard more resource, flex-pon-sive, diverse hairdos, etc. ad nauseam. “The point of Guffipedia,” writes Kellaway, “is not just for you to admire the extent of my guff collection, but to help me curate it going forward, as they say in Guffish.” Good point of entry: the many Guffish euphemisms for you’re fired. (Hat tip: Molly Walker.)
Canadian retailer Kit and Ace – see my post about the company name here – is adding coffee shops to its boutiques: The first Sorry Coffee opens tomorrow in Toronto. “Sorry” can mean “worthless” or “inferior,” but here it’s “an attempt to poke fun at Canadians — a winking nod to the quick-to-apologize stereotype,” co-founder J.J. Wilson toldthe Star. Be sure to pronounce it the Canadian way: SORE-ee.
My friend Suzanne Mantell is a rare-book dealer, and every so often I’m the beneficiary of one of her finds. The latest is a real gem hiding behind a pedestrian title: Dictionary of Trade Name Origins, by the late British onomastician (scholar of names) and toponymist (place-name expert) Adrian Room. The book, now out of print, was originally published in the UK in 1982; my copy is the revised 1983 edition.
Look at those gorgeous logos!
I’d never heard of Adrian Room(1933–2011), but I certainly should have. He turns out to have been astonishingly prolific: his many published books include Placenames of the World, The Street Names of England, The Fascinating Origins of Everyday Words, and Cassell’s Dictionary of First Names. He also edited a later edition of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable than the one I own.
To compile the Dictionary of Trade Name Origins, Room did a lot of dogged and, to hear him tell it, frustrating research. “[A]n unusually high proportion of written enquiries, even repeated ones, failed to reach their addressee … [or] many companies either could not or would not supply the information I asked for.” Nevertheless, the results are admirably comprehensive, if (understandably) biased toward British and Continental names. The excellent introduction gives a conceptual framework for brand names (“an important function … is to suggest as well as to indicate”) and lays out “the chief criteria for a good, successful name”: instantly comprehensible visually, easily pronounceable in all major languages, lacking “ludicrous or undesirable” meanings in foreign languages, and so on—all still relevant today. An appendix covers the role of specific letters and suffixes in name creation, a topic of special interest to me. (See my many posts on -ly names, a subject I’ll be covering in a presentation with Christopher Johnson at the American Name Society meeting in Portland in January.)
The bulk of the book is an alphabetical dictionary of brand-name origins, from Abbey National (created by the merger of the Abbey Road and National building societies) to Zubes (a brand of throat lozenges, whose origin “can only be guessed at,” although Room wonders whether zoob, the Russian word for tooth, played a role).
In between are some edifying and amusing stories. Here are some of my favorites:
- Nylon, the fabric name, has never been a trademark and has no meaning. “The letters of the name are stated to have no significance, etymologically or otherwise, yet there must even so be a link with rayon, which predated it.” The name was coined in 1938 by the Du Pont company.
- Virgin – in 1983 not yet a global conglomerate but merely a record company – was almost named Slipped Disc. (That name was “wisely rejected,” Room editorializes.)
- Scotch, the adhesive-tape brand sold by 3M, has no connection to Scotland or Scottish people (or terriers, for that matter). Rather, the name mostly likely came from the derogatory usage of “Scotch” to mean “frugal.” As Room tells the story, in the 1920s 3M developed a masking tape for use by car manufacturers who were painting two-tone cars. To keep costs down, the tape was only partially adhesive, and it tended to fall off. “At one garage, when the 3M salesman called, he was told to ‘take this Scotch tape back to those bosses of yours and tell them to put adhesive all over it—not just on the edges’.” 3M complied, but the “Scotch tape” name stuck, so to speak, launching “a trade name so well known that it has almost come to be generic.”
- Sobranie, the British tobacco brand, means “parliament” in Bulgarian. The association of tobacco with “exotic” cultures is a venerable one (see also Camel cigarettes).
- Names ending in -ola were in vogue in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Pianola, Victrola, and Farola are the ones Room cites; you could add Crayola, Moviola, and Shinola to the list. According to Room, the suffix conferred a “quasi-Italian” flavor to the brands.
- Audi, the car brand, is the Latin translation of the surname of the company’s German founder, Dr. August Horch. Both words mean “hear!” “This, although certainly a classical name, is more punning than prestigious,” writes Room.
Speaking of car names, here’s the entry about the Russian Lada, made by the Volga Automotive Works.
The Russian car is manufactured in Tolyatti (formerly Stavropol) on the river Volga. The river is reflected in the logo of the vehicle, which depicts a boat. The name, however, does not derive from the Russian poetic word ladya, “boat,” but from a folk word meaning “beloved” or “dear one.” In the USSR the car’s native name is Zhiguli, derived from the hills so called bordering the Volga not far from the city of manufacture. The car is known as Lada abroad since it is a simpler name in most languages and also since in some languages “Zhiguli” has undesirable connotations. In English and French, for example, it resembles “gigolo,” and in Arabic can suggest similar sounding words with meanings such as “fake” and “ignoramus.” In Scandinavian countries, moreover, the sound “zh” (as in English “pleasure”) does not exist. The name is also the standard Russian diminutive of Vladimir, which doubtless helps the car’s popular image.
Furcifer: A yoke-bearer; a fork-user; a rascal or scoundrel. From Latin furca, a fork.
Furcifer is archaic enough to be ignored by the online OED, which gives definitions only for some of its relatives (furcate: to divide into branches; furciferous: descriptive of certain butterflies that bear a forked process). Furcifer’s heyday was the early 17th century, when English travelers to the Continent noticed that the Italians used a curious pronged implement at table. One of those travelers, Thomas Coryat (or Coryate), visited Italy around 1608, when forks were virtually nonexistent in England. He wrote about this odd custom at some length in a book published in 1611.*
Bee Wilson tells Coryate’s story in Consider the Fork (2012), her informative and amusing “history of how we cook and eat”:
The typical Italian, noted Coryate, “cannot endure to have his dish touched with the fingers, seeing all men’s fingers are not clean alike.” Although it seemed strange to him at first, Coryate acquired the habit himself and continued to use a fork for meat on his return to England. His friends—who included the playwright Ben Jonson and the poet John Dunne—in their “merry humour” teased him for this curious Italian habit, calling him “furcifer” (which meant “fork-holder,” but also “rascal”). Queen Elizabeth I owned forks for sweetmeats but chose to use her fingers instead, finding the spearing motion to be crude.
In the 1970s, real men were said not to eat quiche. In the 1610s, they didn’t use forks. “We need no forks to make hay with our mouths, to throw our meat into them” noted the poet Nicholas Breton in 1618.
Breton was on the wrong side of English history. “By 1700,” Wilson writes, “ a hundred years after Coryate’s trip to Italy, forks were accepted throughout Europe. Even Puritans used them. … Not wanting to dirty your fingers with food, or to dirty food with your fingers, had become the polite thing to do.”
Furcifer literally meant, in Latin, a slave who for punishment of some fault was made to carry a fork or gallows upon his neck through the city with his hands tied. Hence it came to signify generally a rogue or villain.
* The book’s full and splendid title is Coryat’s Crudities, Hastily Gobbled Up in Five Months’ Travels in France, Savoy, Italy, Rhaetia (commonly called the Grison’s Country), Helvetia (alias Switzerland), Some Parts of High Germany and the Netherlands.
In the column, I expand on a Word of the Week entry from earlier this year, tracking the word’s long and interesting history (Chaucer! Shakespeare! Eighteenth-century slang!), reporting on “apothecary” sightings far and wide (from medical marijuana dispensaries to a gastropub), and speculating on the reasons for the word’s new popularity (steampunk, perchance?).
Apothecary is fun to say, but, as I note in the column, it’s no laughing matter legally:
Here in California (and maybe elsewhere), the use of “apothecary” is legally restricted to licensed pharmacies. The state board of pharmacy has, on at least a couple of occasions, wielded that law—enacted in 1905—against non-druggist apothecaries. In 2008, the board warned Apothecary, the San Francisco children’s-clothing store, to either change its name or close its doors. “Imagine ending up in legal hot water for not selling drugs,” a local newspaper wryly commented. The store owner chose to go out of business rather than rebrand.
The skincare brand Vichywas new to me when I spotted it at Walgreen’s last weekend.
Vichy display at Walgreen’s.The headline strikes me as not quite idiomatic: “transforms” generally doesn’t take “to.”
But Vichy is not a new brand: it was born in 1931, when a Parisian cosmetics manufacturer, George Guérin, was treated by Dr. Prosper Haller, at the spa in Vichy, France. The two men then created a line of skincare products that used water from the famous Vichy spring. In 1955, the company was bought by L’Oréal, which still owns the brand and which in 2014 is the world’s largest cosmetics company. (L’Oréal brands include Lancôme, Maybelline, Kiehl’s, Garnier, and Clarisonic.)
Here’s where we take a detour into 20th-century European history.
For students of World War II, or for anyone who’s watched Casablanca or Marcel Ophüls’s The Sorrow and the Pity, “Vichy” is not a neutral place name.* Beginning with the French surrender in June 1940, Vichy was the administrative center of German-occupied France and became shorthand for the pro-Nazi French regime. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, “While officially neutral in the war, Vichy actively collaborated with the Nazis, including, to some degree, with their racial policies.”
Bygones, you say? Not so fast.
The founder of L’Oréal, Eugène Schueller (1881-1957), provided financial support for a violent French fascist group, La Cagoule (“the hood”). After the war, one member of the group, Jacques Correze, became chairman of L’Oréal’s U.S. marketing arm. Another member of the group, André Bettencourt, married Schueller’s daughter, Liliane. (Their daughter married a Jew, and a son from that marriage, Jean-Victor Meyers, now sits on L’Oréal’s board.) Nor did L’Oréal make public amends after the war: In Bitter Scent: The Case of L’Oréal, Nazis, and the Arab Boycott (1996), the Israeli historian Michael Bar-Zohar tells the story of how company director Jean Frydman**, a Jew and a hero of the French Resistance, was forced off L’Oréal’s board in 1989 to satisfy demands by the Arab League.
And, of course, L’Oréal keeps the Vichy name alive on its high-priced (for a drugstore brand) skincare products.
One has to assume that L’Oréal thinks the upside of the name (brand equity, pleasant sonic qualities) outweighs the downside (unsavory history, the effort and expense of a name change).*** As for me, I’m with Captain Renault.
Vichy? Absolument non!
* Also see L'Œil de Vichy (“The Eye of Vichy”), Claude Chabrol’s 1993 documentary made up of pro-Nazi propaganda produced by the Vichy regime between 1940 and 1944. You can watch the film in its entirety on YouTube.
** Not related to your author, as far as I know.
*** May a more appropriate tagline than “Your Ideal Skin” would help. How about “Your Beauty Collaborator”? Or “Surrender to Beautiful Skin”? Or even—cue the Marseillaise and the fog-shrouded black-and-white airport scene!—“This Could Be the Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship.”