I spotted the sign on Van Ness Avenue, near San Francisco’s Civic Center and some distance from Google headquarters (35 miles away), Pier 48 (four miles away and the site of the Google Cloud Platform Users Conference, which begins today), or any other relevant landmark. It’s a short stroll from the ad to the symphony hall and opera house, but I doubt music aficionados are in the target demographic.
Here, for the benefit of everyone who isn’t fluent in Techlish, is my attempt at decryption:
On Tuesday, Sarah Palin, wearing a hypnotically sparkly garment that sartorial conservatives might have impugned as inappropriate for a daytime event, delivered a 20-minute endorsement of real estate developer and former Democrat Donald J. Trump, who, as you may have heard, is running for president as a Republican in order to Make America Great Again. As the New York Timesput it, in an excess of understatement, “Ms. Palin has always been a singular force on the campaign trail. But in her her years away from politics, the former Alaska governor and Senator John McCain’s Republican vice-presidential pick in 2008 seems to have spawned a whole new series of idiosyncratic expressions and unusual locutions.”
I’ll say. Here are some of the responses Ms. Palin’s “expressions and locutions” have inspired.
Let us briefly imagine the brainstorming session at Polish Eats, of Garfield Heights, Ohio, that led to this travesty.
“WHYYYYYY WHY WHY. Why.” -- K. Sekelesky, via Instagram/Twitter. (“Ditto.” – Fritinancy.)
Now let’s unimagine it, if we can.
Pierogi are Polish dumplings. Sophie’s Choice is the title of a novel by William Styron that became a film starring Meryl Streep as Sophie. The “choice” of the title is an excruciating one: to survive a Nazi death camp, Sophie must sacrifice one of her children.
Let us review:
I don’t care if your beloved founder is named Sophie. I don’t care if she chose the ingredients, the recipe, and the wacky label art. I will not listen to your argument about “choice” being an adjective meaning “of fine quality.” I don’t care if you call it an homage, and I don’t care how you pronounce “homage.”
I definitely won’t listen to arguments about Polish jokes.
Here’s the thing: Literature renders some names off limits. In this case, William Styron got there first, and thanks to him, “Sophie’s Choice” now stands for something horrific.*
Unless you are truly tasteless—a damning thing to say about a food company—you do not get to name your product “Sophie’s Choice.”
I enjoy a little word puzzle as much as, or maybe more than, the next public-transit user. But two Bay Area bus-shelter signs, both for worthy nonprofit organizations, go beyond puzzling to confounding.
“Do You Really Want the City 7 x 7 x 7?” asks this poster. I stood in front of it for a couple of minutes, trying to stitch together “Do you really want the city” and “7 x 7 x 7.” What could it possibly mean?
Is Cadillac a whipped underdog? That’s what I infer from the automaker’s new “Dare Greatly” campaign, from Publicis, which will kick off during Sunday’s Academy Awards broadcast. I caught the teaser ad at a Berkeley movie theater before a screening of the Best Foreign Film nominee Timbuktu, which is about the violent clash between cattle herders and religious extremists in Mali. (The dissonance between ad and movie was so thick it would have taken a cleaver to slice it. But I digress.)
Here’s the spot:
The script isn’t credited, but it’s lifted from “Citizenship in a Republic,” a 1910 speech given at the Sorbonne in Paris by Theodore Roosevelt, then one year out of the White House. The youthful-sounding female voiceover, the moody music, the slow-mo near-black-and-white imagery: they’re intended to make you think—no, not think, feel—that Something Important Is About to Happen. Something moving and portentous and great. But is that really what we’re being told?
1712, from addle (n.) “urine, liquid filth,” from Old English adela “mud, mire, liquid manure” (cognate with Old Swedish adel “urine,: Middle Low German adel, Dutch aal “puddle”).
Used in noun phrase addle egg (mid-13c.) “egg that does not hatch, rotten egg,” literally “urine egg,” a loan-translation of Latin ovum urinum, which is itself an erroneous loan-translation of Greek ourion oon “putrid egg,” literally “wind egg,” from ourios “of the wind” (confused by Roman writers with ourios “of urine,” from ouron “urine”). Because of this usage, from c.1600 the noun in English was taken as an adjective meaning “putrid,” and thence given a figurative extension to “empty, vain, idle,” also “confused, muddled, unsound” (1706). The verb followed a like course. Related: Addled; addling.
My favorite addle compound is addlepated, as in “What were those addlepated people thinking when they came up with this name?”
“Grow Up Strong and Harmless.” But not armless, obviously.
I … don’t get this. I mean, “Grow Up Strong”—sure, fine, OK. But how does one “Grow Up Harmless”? What could that possibly mean?
“Harmless” has several dictionary definitions: inoffensive (“He seems harmless enough”) and benign (“harmless bacteria”) are the most familiar. There’s also a legal definition, the one we see in the boilerplate language “to hold harmless”: “free from loss or legal liability.”
But the WF ad doesn’t appear to use “harmless” in any of those senses. Instead—as far as I can tell—it’s meant to be a synonym for “kind” or “ethical.” Or possibly “Without Causing Harm to Anything on the Planet.” That’s quite a semantic leap, and, frankly, senseless.
Then again, I may just be too square for the rarefied sensibilities of Partners & Spade, which has built its reputation on too-cool-for-school chic. The agency’s inverted name is one tipoff; its strenuously self-effacing tagline—“A Well-Intentioned Endeavor”—is another. The P&S client list is a hipster honor roll: Warby Parker, Shinola, Harry’s shaving products. The Spade on the nameplate is Andy Spade, husband of Kate and co-founder of the fashion label Kate Spadeand the grownup jammies label Sleepy Jones. I’d tweet a query about “harmless,” to P&S, but the account’s been moribund for more than a year. Too cool for Twitter, even!
The “harmless” Whole Foods ad triggered my recollection of another grocery-store “harmless.”
The first time I encountered this name I thought it sounded weirdly apologetic: damning with the faintest of praise. But at least it has alliteration on its side; Whole Foods’ “harmless” just sounds confused.
I did find one use of “harmless” that’s not merely well intentioned but also well targeted: Harmless.org, a UK organization that helps “people who self harm, their friends and families and professionals.” At last—someone who knows how to keep “harmless” out of harm’s way.