My May column for the Visual Thesaurus looks at a two-letter word that’s become ubiquitous in brand names and slogans: go. We see it in GoPro cameras, the HBO GO streaming service, Grab & Go airport meals, the Ford GoBike, and much more.
Full access to the column is paywalled for three months; here’s a sample:
As a shorthand suffix (or prefix) meaning “mobility, especially of the electronic-device category” go is relatively new, and its ubiquity feels sudden. But go has been with us as a verb since the dawn of English, and as a noun – “the action or fact of going” – since the 17th century. Later, it found new life as an interjection such as “Go, team!” (first seen in print, according to the OED, in 1831) and an adjective (in the 1930s and 1940s, a “go man” or “go girl” was modern and fashionable; beginning in the early years of manned space flight, an engine or system has been “go” if it’s ready for implementation).
Go can mean to live or to die; in past centuries it also meant to be pregnant (for example, “The female goes two months, and then brings forth two young ones”). It can mean to travel, to occur, or to elapse, to function, or to have authority (“What I say goes!”). It has meant “to pay a visit to the toilet” (as the OED primly puts it) since Old English.
Charmin toilet paper introduced its “Enjoy the Go” slogan in 2009. More on the ad campaign here.
Cambridge Analytica, the “embattled political consulting firm” that was involved in the Facebook data-harvesting scandal, has filed for bankruptcy and closed its U.S. offices, according to reports yesterday in the New York Times and other media outlets. Out of the ashes has risen something called Emerdata, “a mysterious British company” (per Mother Jones) whose board includes two daughters of Robert Mercer, “the enigmatic hedge-fund investor and right-wing power broker” (MJ again), as well as three Britons who had held senior roles at Cambridge Analytica. “The story, in other words,” writes MJ’s Andy Kroll, “is far from over.”
A century ago, dozens of American girls were named Milady because of the success of a new product: the Milady Décolleté Gillette safety razor, developed to remove underarm hair. (And did you know that “underarm” was coined as a euphemism for “armpit”?) (Baby Name Wizard)
My latest column for the Visual Thesaurus, “Naming the Name of the Year,” looks at the quirky and wildly popular Name of the Year Tournament (NOTY), started in 1983 by some Penn undergraduates and still going strong. One of those undergrads was Stefan Fatsis, who may be better known as the author of several books, including Word Freak, and as an occasional contributor to NPR. I interviewed Stefan for the column, as well as Laura Wattenberg (creator of the Baby Name Wizard website and author of a highly regarded book about baby naming) and Sam Gutelle, who helped revive NOTY in 2012.
The paywall on this column has been lifted, so even non-subscribers can read all about this year’s NOTY contenders, including Miracle Crimes, Babucarr Fatty, Forbes Thor Kiddoo, and Mahogany Loggins.
I saw Black Panther on opening weekend – in Oakland, California, birthplace of the film’s director, Ryan Coogler – and have been thinking ever since about the names in the movie. I’m not a comic-book fan and had never read the source material or seen Captain America: Civil War, the 2016 film that introduced the Black Panther character to movie audiences, so I came to the experience with fresh eyes and ears.
And I came away with questions. Where, for starters, did “Wakanda” – the name of the tiny, technologically advanced African country that’s home to the Black Panther character – come from?
The fictional country of Wakanda, via SciFi Stack Exchange. Theories vary about Wakanda’s location; see the comments on the entry.
“Most verbs stay basically the same in different grammatical roles. ‘Walk’ looks like ‘walks’ and ‘walked.’ But the word ‘be’ looks nothing like the word ‘am,’ which looks nothing like the word ‘were.’” (Arika Okrent for Curiosity.)
When I wrote about mansplain, in September 2010, the earliest citation I found for the word was from an April 2009 Urban Dictionary entry. Now lexicographers at the OED have antedated mansplaining to a May 2008 comment about the TV show “Supernatural.”Katherine Connor Martin, Oxford University Press’s head of US dictionaries, says the OED usually waits a decade or so before adding new words, but makes exceptions when a word “is deemed important enough.” (Quartz)
My recent explorations of sicko and rhino led me to wonder about other words that end in -o and how they arrived in English. Those words are the subject of my latest column for the Visual Thesaurus, “The Story of -o.” Full access is restricted to subscribers for three months; here’s a taste:
As trademark lawyers love to remind us, distinctiveness is a paramount goal of brand naming. A name doesn’t need to be original – consider Dove deodorant and Dove chocolate — but it does need to stand out in its category.
But can a name ever be too distinctive – too much of an outlier to connect with its intended audience?
I recently spoke with a business owner via Clarity, the expert-advice service, who wanted my opinion on a name that was distinctive in the extreme. This person, a graphic designer in the Pacific Northwest, was dissatisfied with her current business name, which combines her initials with “design.” She’d come up with a new name and, she told me in an introductory email, had already bought a couple of domains associated with it. The name she wanted my opinion on: MOZZAFIATO.
It sounded distinctive, all right. It also sounded like nothing I’d ever heard of. Google Translate told me mozzafiato is an Italian word meaning “breathtaking,” which is nice but not helpful. How was this name going to help the designer grow her business?
Every year Fast Company publishes a list it calls World’s Most Innovative Companies: “more than 350 enterprises across 36 categories,” including biotech, finance, retail, and space, as well as five geographic sectors (Africa, China, India, Israel, and Latin America). I’ll leave the innovation metric to FC’s editors; what I wanted to know was: Which of these companies have the most appealing, distinctive, and interesting names?
In creating my own list I quickly eliminated names that are merely descriptive, like Social Capital, Safe Catch Foods, and GE Healthcare. I also discarded names that have been around too long to draw much attention to themselves: Amazon, for example, is an outstanding name for reasons I explored in a 2013 post, but it no longer seems innovative. The same goes for Spotify, the name that launched a thousand (well, almost) -ify imitators.
I reluctantly passed on a few names I found intriguing, such as Gunpowder & Sky, a global video studio, if they didn’t provide any naming backstory. And it should go without saying that I excluded names in the overstuffed let’s-just-tack-an-ly-suffix-on-it category. Sorry, Scopely and Collectively.
Here, then, are my top ten Most Interesting Names on the Fast Company list.