Webctormay be the only purportedly English word I’ve ever encountered that contains the consonant sequence B-C-T. That’s because that particular sequence is unpronounceable. Which makes word-of-mouth advertising, or even answering the telephone, rather challenging.
In creating this breathtakingly bad name, someone—or someone’s automated name generator—evidently went no further than “web + doctor.” A similarly shaky command of English is evidenced in the writing. (“WebCTOR.com delivers valuable medical content the needy every day.”) And, in fact, WebCTOR was launched in Poland sometime in 2011.
You own a flower shop/restaurant/gift “shoppe” in “a sprawling turn-of-the-century home” in Pittsburgh, PA. Naturally, you name your business after a macabre, bestselling 1979 novel (and 1987 movie) about abandoned children and adolescent incest. Welcome to Flowers in the Attic!
Rochelle Kopp, who tweets as JapanIntercult, sent me this ad (originally tweeted by Hiroko Tabuchi) for a new brand of milk tea from Kirin, the huge Japanese beverage company.
Let’s pause to admire that gorgeous “g” in the logo. And then let’s collectively drop our jaws at the name. Pungency may sound dandy in Japanese (I honestly have no idea), but its associations in English are less than appetizing. Pungent is a synonym for “biting,” “penetrating,” or “caustic”; its Latin root means “to sting.” Burning rubber is pungent. Milk tea should not be pungent. Indeed, the blogger at Transmissions from Tokyo found the opposite to be the case:
Ironically, the drink is more or less the same as Royal Milk Tea. It's not strong tasting or strong smelling at all. Not in the least! You'd think that someone there at the company would have thought to argue against naming a beverage Pungency for the same reasons I'm mentioning now. Guess not.
The language barrier is no excuse for Flubit, unless it’s that old separated-by-a-common-language barrier.
FlubIt is a London-based startup that finds discounts “on everything you buy.” The company’s founder apparently thinks “flub” is an invented word, when in fact—sorry to be the bearer of bad news—it’s a synonym for “botch” or “bungle.” Yes, the OED says it’s a US colloquialism, but it’s been around since 1924, for crying out loud. Surely it’s crossed the pond a few times.
But it seems never to have reached the ears of founder Bertie Stephens, who boasted to The Next Web about what a brilliant name he’d picked:
“[T]he name flubit preceded the actual business idea by a couple of years or so,” Stephens said, “and it just stuck with me until I eventually had the right product for it. So rather than putting a name to a product, we put a product to the name. … It was short, people would remember it, and it was a verb which, in my eyes, is hugely important. This meant I could run with the tagline ‘before you buy it, Flubit.’”
And then he said, still on the record:
“Also, it doesn’t have a pre-conceived meaning”, added Stephens. “So we can make it mean what we like – some find it silly, others cool.”
No preconceived meaning for someone who hasn’t consulted a dictionary, that is to say. FlubIt can go stand in the corner with Flubby, the badly named (but beautiful) shoe from Aquatalia. And, Mr. Stephens, the next time your entrepreneurial brain tells you to choose a name because it’s short and “a verb,” please seek professional advice.
Royal Bitch is the name of the wine, one of a teeming sisterhood of cabernets and chardonnays from a variety of producers with labels like Sassy Bitch, Jealous Bitch, Tasty Bitch and Sweet Bitch. They’re reinforcements for a growing army of rude, budget-priced wines that have shoved their way into wine stores and supermarkets in the past few years — most recently Happy Bitch, a Hudson Valley rosé that made its debut last month.
The target market for these brands? Young women who call one another “bitch.”
Like a slap across the face, Bitch grabbed the attention of a certain type of consumer, primarily young women en route to a bachelorette or divorce party, or looking for a special way to say, “I love you” on Mother’s Day.
“They can buy it and say, ‘Here, bitch, I bought you a present,’ ” said John F. Umbach, the owner of Joseph Victori Wines, which distributes Royal Bitch and Sweet Bitch.
If “Bitch” strikes you as too effete, there’s always this:
Tait “Ball Buster” wine, spotted at Costco, Nov. 28. At 15% alcohol, it’s more of a head-buster. Tait, a family-owned winery in Australia’s Barossa Valley, calls Ball Buster “Australia’s #1 wine in the US for under $20.”
Ball buster is, of course, slang for an extra-bitchy, testicle-harming woman. Oddly, though, the Ball Buster label copy claims that the contents of the bottle are “built like a stallion.” Maybe we’re not meant to think too deeply about it.
In the Times article, William Grimes traces the evolution (or devolution) of wine naming back to around 1980, when wine labels became “surfaces for communication.” “Casual became cheeky,” he writes. “Now, cheeky has given way to saucy.” A Vancouver brand consultancy, Brandever, recently named a British Columbia wine Dirty Laundry, an allusion to a long-gone bordello and Chinese laundry in the neighborhood. Dirty Laundry is saucy bordering on … well, “scratchy”:
“Your immediate reaction is, this is not a good name for a wine, but that’s why it is a good name,” said Bernie Hadley-Beauregard, a principal in Brandever. “It has a scratchy hook to it.”
It’s good because it’s bad! I must remember to use that line with my own naming clients.
The intent is clear enough—the bubbly hearts drive it home—but the English is, to put it charitably, unidiomatic.
Sunlee outdoor ad, Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco.
It’s the sort of awkward phrasing you might expect to find on the Engrish website or in one of linguist Victor Mair’s “lost in translation” posts on Language Log. But I spotted the billboard near San Francisco’s Civic Center on one of the most heavily traveled thoroughfares in the city. (This stretch of Van Ness Avenue is also US 101.) The message is pretty clearly directed at the English-speaking market.
The advertiser, Sunlee, is based in Thailand but has two corporate offices in California, where there are many English-speaking copywriters who might have suggested a more felicitous headline before the big bosses ordered an expensive billboard.
On the other hand, “Aroma that you will fall in love” does have a certain enigmatic, even poetic, charm.
Items that have caught my attention in recent weeks:
TechCrunch brings news of AngelPad, a mentorship program for web-technology startups. The companies selected for the program receive $20,000 in initial funding and another $100,000 from “two mystery VC firms.” A bunch of businesses have been presenting their pitches this week. Most of their names are boring and amateurish (SourceNinja, Prizzm, IDoneThis). One of the names, however, is baffling and amateurish: Vungle. Ditto the company’s self-description (reproduced verbatim):
Previously, mobile apps have had to rely on text and banner advertising, unable to show the user what the app does; and as a result doesn’t result in active users. Vungle is 15 second mobile video clips, becuase [sic] the users see what the app does, installs acquired via our ad format result in four times as many active users.
The company is based in San Francisco and London, two cities with large populations of fluent English speakers and writers, something you’d never deduce from that copy. (As a result doesn’t result …? Sheesh.)
So I’m guessing the V stands for video and the -ungle has something to do with … jungle? Sorry, but all I’m getting is fungus, fumble, bungle, and linguine alle vongole, with unpleasant overtones of Tungle, a name I still dislike.
In another TechCrunch story I read about another bad name, Adlibrium Dailies, which distributes daily deals through mobile applications. If this name is meant to evoke ad lib (short for ad libitum, Latin for “at one’s pleasure”), it ain’t working, because it sounds exactly like “add Librium,” a very well-known antianxiety drug. (If you click the latter link, you can watch a “phobias slideshow.” Fun!) Adlibrium is brought to you by Camber Tech, itself a not-bad name: camber means an arched surface or a setting of automobile wheels. But the creativity seems to have run out there. Besides Adlibrium, Camber has also developed Snapify (one of too many -ifys; read “A Disturbifying Trend in Namifying”) and Chatisfying, which is even more disturbifying: I originally read it as Chasti-fying (making people chaste?) or Chasten-fying (scolding people?). Even as it’s meant to be read—chat plus satisfying—it’s terrible. Portmanteaunames: so tempting, so challenging.
I’ve been enjoying the new HBO series “Enlightened,” starring (and co-created by) Laura Dern, who plays Amy, a volatile, self-destructive, yet somehow sympathetic corporate executive who has a screaming meltdown in the office, submits to mellowing-out therapy, and manages to get herself rehired. The naming tidbit? The company Amy works for is called Abaddon Industries, pronounced in the show with emphasis on the first syllable, something like “Avedon.” The company nameplate is featured prominently on screen, but it didn’t ring any bells with me and it isn’t explained in the episodes I’ve seen. Wall Street Journal culture critic Michael Judge filled me in. Abaddon, he writes, “is the real co-star of ‘Enlightened’”:
The name is taken from Revelation 9:11: “And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon...” Our heroine, it becomes clear, aims to slay this corporate beast.
Possibly relevant: The other co-creator of the series, Mike White, is the son of Mel White, an evangelical pastor who ghostwrote the autobiographies of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Billy Graham—and then came out as gay, switched to a progressive Christian denomination, and eventually married his partner.
Here’s what a lot of us want to know about Downy UNSTOPABLES, “the in wash [sic] scent booster for clean breeze [sic—why does Downy hate hyphens?] freshness that just won’t quit”: Is the spelling error intentional? Or is it a case of “We know we goofed but the labels were already on the presses so maybe no one will notice,” like Seagate’s “Your On” slogan (reported here in 2007)? Did Procter & Gamble, which owns Downy, spend so much money hiring Amy Sedaris as spokeslaundress that nothing was left in the budget for proofreading?
Downy chose the word "Unstopables" to embody the playful and feisty spirit of the new product's unique form. The name puts a spin on the word "unstoppable" similar to how Unstopables puts a fresh twist on your laundry! However, Downy and Procter and Gamble definitely do not endorse the misspelling of the word "unstoppable" in daily usage.
What Saatchi [&] Saatchi/Lenovo came up with is the “For those who do!” campaign, which will come in three phases starting this May. The first phase of the “For those who do!” campaign will be a declaration of what Lenovo is. Phase two will be product proof showcasing Lenovo technology. The last phase is called people proof, showing what people can do with Lenovo technology.
“People proof”! I ask you, what could possibly go wrong with a themeline like that?
But back to “The Do Inside.” This nounification of “do” represents the latest development in a language-twisting trend in advertising. We’ve seen Charmin’s “Enjoy the Go,” Comcast’s “We Own Faster,” and Crystal’s “Full of Wow.”
Do, of course, already has noun meanings: it’s short for hairdo and an informal term for a party. And do’s (or dos) and don’ts are lists of preferred and prohibited actions.
As a verb, do also has scatological and sexual meanings that add (unwanted) ambiguity to a phrase like “For Those Who Do.” (Don’t count on Lenovo’s next tagline being “Full of Do.”)
On the Lenovo website, do is both more innocent and more professional. “Whatever You Do, We Can Help You Do It Better, Smarter, Faster” reads one headline. Another declares, “Do Apps Like You’ve Never Done Before.” (Yes, done before, not done them before.)
Every time I drive past this Lexus billboard I do a semantic double-take.
Headline-speaking, it’s also topward-slicing.
I get the “forward-thinking” part, although “forward-looking” (“ahead of the times”) might sound more natural. And I get the contrast between “thinking” and “doing.” But I’m stuck in low gear on “forward-doing.” How do you “do forward”? Bow deeply from the waist? Make an inappropriately sexual move?
Besides, when you factor in Lexus’s new slogan, “Engineering Amazing,” you’ve got a whole lot of –ing words. On the billboard, “thinking” and “doing” are participles, and “engineering” is—I think—a gerund here. “Amazing” may be a participle (a verb acting as an adjective), in which case “Engineering Amazing” has a Yoda-esque flavor. (“Engineering amazing it is.”) Or it may be some sort of neo-noun, as in “engineering the amazing.” The copy on the Lexus website tends to support the latter theory: “See how Lexus is engineering amazing.” (We’ve seen nouning like that in other slogans: in AT&T’s “Rethink Possible,” for example, or Apple’s classic “Think Different.”)
And yet … elsewhere on the site we see “Engineering: The Future” and “Engineering: Knowledge.” So perhaps we’re meant to read the slogan as “Engineering: Amazing!”
On second (third?) thought, maybe Lexus’s ad agency just has a tin ear. As evidence, I present last year’s outdoor campaign for the 2011 Lexus IS, “Overqualified,” which featured the names of local thoroughfares. In some parts of the country, billboards had headlines like “Overqualified for the B.Q.E.” and “Overqualified for I-94.” The Bay Area version, however, said something no normal Bay Area resident would say: “Overqualified for the 580.” Yes, Interstate 580 is a local freeway, but only a Southern Californian would put a definite article in front of a freeway number. (Why, I wonder, didn’t Lexus just go for the obvious and say “Overqualified for the Golden Gate Bridge”? Maybe because the GGB has a maximum speed limit of 45 mph; even my Civic Hybrid overqualifies.)
Mr. Sloan went so far as to post an article about the grammatical faux pas on the Facebook page of Match Vineyards, the St. Helena, Calif., business that he co-owns. “Down south, they may drive on ‘the 10,’” he wrote, referring to Southern California, “but we never drive on ‘the 580.’”
Even beyond California, article usage was apparently more of a challenge for Lexus than tuning the car’s suspension.
The company provided a list of slogans used around the country, showing that billboards had mentioned “I-95” in Philadelphia, but “the I-95” near the Lincoln Tunnel in North Bergen, N.J.
But then, who in New Jersey wouldn’t just call it “the Turnpike”?
Copywriting perplexing, I’d say.
P.S. If you’re interested in the whole “the” + freeway issue, I recommend a 2008 post by Language Hat, which links to a scholarly article in American Speech, “‘The’ Freeway in Southern California.”
Perhaps you remember Earth Shoes—properly known as Kalsø Earth Shoes—which were invented in the late 1960s by a Danish yoga instructor and never went away, unfortunately. Oh, I’m sure there are people for whom that off-kilter “negative heel technology” has effected miracle cures. Personally, I’m relieved that a podiatrist told me never to wear them—they’re terrible for my particular foot structure—because I’d rather walk barefoot over burning coals than subject myself to that much clownitude.
However! About a year ago the Earth brand broke free of its orbit, so to speak, and introduced a new brand for women with the cute-if-not-exactly-inspired name Earthies. Unlike their hippie cousins, Earthies have platforms (yes!), heels (yes!), tapered toes (yes! yes!), and a semblance of up-to-dateness.
I’ve tried on a couple of Earthies styles and found the wearing experience to be surprisingly pleasant. The “Wellness Footbed” inside the shoes has the most aggressive arch support I’ve ever worn, and because my feet have unnaturally high arches, I felt right at home.
However #2: That off-balance Earth Shoe heritage lives on—not in the shoes themselves but in the website copy, which is daffy at its best and deranged at its frequent worst.
“Gaypon Is the Gay Groupon” reads the title of yesterday’s TechCrunch post about the new “daily deals site catering to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LBGT) and allied communities.”
“Groupon” is already mildly suggestive (get your grope on?). Now we have a copycat that sounds like “gape on.”
Not to mention the inevitable “gay p0rn” mixups. (Or capon.)
And then there’s this: Gaypon’s URL is DailyGaypon.com because—you guessed it—Gaypon.com was already taken. The latter is a peculiar, semi-literate, possibly-not-legit dating site. I’m not going to link to it but I will quote a bit of it, verbatim: “GayPon.com is a membership $30.00 per month, Your love is here sign up now your dreams will come true.”
Meanwhile, at least one person in my virtual circle got a whole ’nuther association from Gaypon:
Actually, it was “Would you have any Grey Poupon?”