Verbifying a noun is a popular (lazy) way for ad copywriters to say “Look at how creative and action packed we are!” Two current marketing efforts, from Tylenoland the Natural History Museumof Los Angeles County, perpetuate the trope.
Earlier this week, Sprout Pharmaceuticals announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had granted approval of Addyi(pronounced “ADD-ee,” as though the “i” weren’t there), a once-daily, non-hormonal pill for the treatment of low sexual desire in premenopausal women. The prescription drug, whose generic name is flibanserin (fly-BAN-ser-in), will go on sale October 17, 2015.
Other reporters have commented on the medical and businessaspects of the announcement. Even The Onion, America’s finest news source, has weighed in. I’m here to talk about the Addyi name—its spelling, its pronunciation, and its brand qualities.
The Seattle Seahawks lost the Super Bowl to the New England Patriots. Maybe they’d have fared better under one of the other names nominated in a 1975 naming contest, including the Rainbeams, the Lumberjacks, and the Needlers. (Mental Floss)
“Check the trademark early on,” “Avoid focus groups,” and other good advice about naming from professional name developers. (Communication Arts)
“People talk about expensive meals using sex metaphors; for noodle joints and cupcake counters, they resort to drug lingo.” A visit to a London pub with linguist Dan Jurafsky, author of The Language of Food. (The New Yorker)
The Daily Brute, The London Asswipe, The Quibbler, and other fictional newspaper names. (Wikipedia)
“Be specific—but not wordy” and other tips for naming a blog. Includes a nice shoutout for Strong Language, where I publish from time to time. (The Daily Post)
Would you spend $30,000 to find “a unique name for your unborn child? A wonderful first name that sounds so good that it just had to be invented? A brand-new name with an exciting derivation and unmistakable history? “ This Swiss firm—whose own name is tough to pronounce—is banking on it. (erfolgswelle® AG)
A drugroll—um, drumroll—for the 2015 drug name awards. It’s a tough, confusing field: Zerbaxa, Zontility, Vimizin, Zykadia… (Gary Martin)
Last week North Korea’s Workers’ Party released 310 exclamatory new slogans created to mark the country’s 70th anniversary, and Western news media have been having a glorious people’s field day with them. “Even allowing that they probably come off more melodious in their original Korean,” observed NPR, “some of the commandments are so awkward that it's hard to imagine them sounding right in any language.” Some are malodorous (“Let the strong wind of fish farming blow across the country!”), while others are creepy (“Let us turn ours into a country of mushrooms by making mushroom cultivation scientific, intensive and industrialized!”) and still others could have come from an overeager U.S. marketing department (“Go beyond the cutting edge!”). Here’s the complete list on KCNA Watch, an official English-language publication of the Korean Central News Agency.
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.
Umcka products are derived from the medicinal plant Pelargonium sidoides, a type of geranium native to southern Africa. The brand name comes from a Zulu word for the plant, umckaloabo, which translates to “heavy cough.” According to the Umcka website:
In 1897, Englishman Charles Stevens went to South Africa hoping to cure himself of a respiratory illness. While there, an African tribal healer gave him a remedy made from Pelargonium sidoides roots (a plant native to the coastal regions of South Africa). Fully recovered, Stevens brought the remedy back to England where it became popular as Stevens’ Consumption Cure.
After excursions through Switzerland and homeopathy, Umcka came to American drugstore shelves as a sub-brand of Nature’s Way.
Today the bank has branches along the Pacific coast between San Francisco and Seattle. Umpqua Bank was founded (as South Umpqua State Bank) in 1953 in Centerville, Oregon. According to a Wikipedia entry, the bank’s founders were “a group of people working in the timber-logging business who wanted to create a means for their loggers to cash their payroll checks.” Earlier this week, the bank’s parent company, Umpqua Holdings Corporation, approved a merger with Sterling Financial Corporation of Spokane.
Umpqua is the Native name for several tribes that live in present-day south-central Oregon; the word has been variously translated as “thundering waters,” “across the waters,” and “satisfied.” It’s an unusual name for a bank—and Umpqua presents itself as an out-of-the-ordinary financial institution—but not an unusual word in its place of origin: southern Oregon is home to the Umpqua River, the Umpqua National Forest, Umpqua Community College, Umpqua Dairy, and Umpqua Transit (“UTrans”). The umpqua.com domain is owned by Umpqua Feather Merchants, which makes fly-fishing ties.
Umpty: a word meaning “of an indefinite number.” The OED calls it “a fanciful verbal representation of the dash (—) in Morse code,” and dates it back to 1905. But a World Wide Words entry (under “Weird Words”) found much earlier citations “in which it was a nonsense syllable in poetry, for example as umpty-tumpty-tiddle-dee.” The earliest WWW citation is from 1884. WWW also mentions a more recent British expression, “give it some umpty,” (“an encouragement to effort”).
Iddy-umpty is early 20th-century military slang for Morse code. (Likewise, “umpteen” is believed to have originated among soldiers in World War I.) I found this in a post on the Virtual Linguist blog:
Troops were apparently taught to recognise whether a dot or a dash was being transmitted by the sound of the machine. A dot made an 'iddy' sound and a dash sounded like 'umpty'.
Iddy Umpty card game from 1920: “Quickly teaches you to read Morse.” Source: Board Game Geek.
A.A. Milne (yes, the author of Winnie-the-Pooh) used “umpty-iddy-umpty” and its variations in a passage about Morse code in his 1921 short story “The Red House Murder,” published in Everybody’s Magazine.
Covering a vast array of verbal blunders, from Spoonerisms to malapropisms to “uh” and “um,” linguist and author Erard creates a unique narrative blend of science, history, pop culture, and politics that gets at what really matter when we speak — and when we listen.
“Profits for the A.D.H.D. drug industry have soared,” writes Alan Schwarz in “The Selling of Attention Deficit Disorder,” New York Times, December 15, 2013. “Sales of stimulant medication in 2012 were nearly $9 billion, more than five times the $1.7 billion a decade before, according to the data company IMS Health.” The leading brand in this category, Adderall, was introduced in 1994 by Richwood Pharmaceutical Company, which was sold in 1997 to a British company, Shire. Roger Griggs, the Richwood executive who launched Adderall, now “strongly opposes marketing stimulants to the general public because of their dangers.”
From the Times article:
Modern marketing of stimulants began with the name Adderall itself. Mr. Griggs bought a small pharmaceutical company that produced a weight-loss pill named Obetrol. Suspecting that it might treat a relatively unappreciated condition then called attention deficit disorder, and found in about 3 to 5 percent of children, he took “A.D.D.” and fiddled with snappy suffixes. He cast a word with the widest net.
A.D.D. for All.
“It was meant to be kind of an inclusive thing,” Mr. Griggs recalled.
It succeeded on that count. Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited in the Times article show that “the diagnosis had been made in 15 percent of high school-age children, and that the number of children on medication for the disorder had soared to 3.5 million from 600,000 in 1990.”
The most popular ad campaign in Japan—it’s been running for six years—features “the White family”: mother, daughter, father (a human in a dog’s body), son (a black American), and maid (an alien incarnation of Tommy Lee Jones). Quentin Tarantino and a Japanese astronaut have made cameo appearances. The ads are for SoftBank, a mobile provider; there are no subtitles, but the surrealism transcends the language barrier. Watch a bunch of the ads here.
Wondering about the pronunciation of Qsymia, the first new prescription diet drug in 13 years? It’s Kyoo-sim-EE-ah. You’re welcome. Or gesundheit. Sales of the drug have been “minuscule,” the New York Times reports, citing a “horribly botched” introduction, lack of insurance reimbursement, safety concerns, and – oh, yeah – the fact that it doesn’t work very well.
Two huge publishing companies, Random House and Penguin, have become one huger publishing company. The new name? Let’s just call it a missed opportunity.
Side Effects, the new film from Steven Soderbergh that’s now in theaters, is a twisty thriller, more gris than noir, in which almost every character is taking mood-adjusting prescription drugs. Beta blockers, Adderall, Paxil, Effexor, Celexa, Zoloft, Wellbutrin—in the film, these real-world drugs are casually discussed at cocktail parties and liberally dispensed by doctors for pre-interview jitters, anxiety, the blues, you name it. (Another recent release, Silver Linings Playbook, also features a memorable conversation about name-brand meds. Is this the dawn of Cinema Pharma?)
The pivotal pill in Side Effects, however, is an invented one. “Ablixa” (generic name “alipazone”) is introduced as an antidepressant with an upbeat slogan—“Take Back Tomorrow”—and some worrisome side effects that include confusion, suicidal thoughts, and sleepwalking (and also, as it turns out, sleep-table-setting, sleep-loud-music-playing, and sleep-vegetable-slicing).
To say anything more about the plot would spoil the pleasures of this grim yet exhilarating movie, so I’ll stick to the Ablixa story, which contains some surprises of its own.
“The simple names favored by the alternative medicine community provide an illusion of safety and comprehensibility that the chemical names can’t match. Another common chemical name for methotrexate is amethopterin, which comes from the roots meth, Greek for wine, which I might stretch to spirits, and pterin, Greek for feathers. And naproxen is a chemical analog of salicylic acid, which can be extracted from willow bark. I strongly suspect that if Shepherd’s rheumatologist had called what he prescribed spirits of feathers and an extract of willow, rather than methotrexate and naproxen, Meadows would have been happier.”