Laches: Negligence in the performance of a legal duty; delay in asserting a right, claiming a privilege, or making application for redress. “Laches is not to be confused with the ‘statute of limitations,’ which sets specific periods to file a lawsuit for types of claims (negligence, breach of contract, fraud, etc.)” – Law.com. Pronunciation is similar to “latches.”*
The headline is inaccurate and inadequate— “words” don’t “become startups”—and I take issue with the snarky attitude, but this list of short “real” (dictionary) words used as names of startups is worth a look. And the way they’re organized is downright poetic. (Hat tip: Karen Wise.)
Speaking of poetic, the New Yorker’s Rebecca Mead consideredthe favorite words of some writers (mostly British and Irish)—Hilary Mantel loves nesh, Taiye Selasi celebrates the Ghanaian colloquialism chale—and added a favorite of her own.
This new book by Mark Schatzkerlooks interesting. The title, though, troubles me.
There is no “Dorito.” The trademark is DORITOS, which only looks like it’s plural. In fact, it’s singular.*
“But,” I hear you cry, “how do I say I want just onerobustly flavored corn-based snack-food product manufactured by Frito-Lay North America, Inc.?”
My answer: In the privacy of your home, you can say whatever you like. But if you are a major publisher—Simon & Schuster, in the case of The Dorito [sic] Effect—then you should pay attention to the legal niceties. I’m sure Frito-Lay’s lawyers do, every single day.**
Normally, I wouldn’t fault the author. Authors only rarely get to choose their titles; the final decision is almost always up to the publisher. However, a search through the book’s contents reveals several examples of singular “Dorito”: “the Dorito model,” “heirloom Dorito cuisine,” “the Dorito treatment.” So the finger of blame must point back to the author—or perhaps to an editor unfamiliar with trademarks.
Pass the chip, please.
* Just like “kudos.” And speaking of brand names, LEGO, a trademark for a brand of interlocking toy bricks, is never pluralized. At least, not if you want to stay out of legal hot water. Read more about brand names with plural problems (by Arika Okrent for Mental Floss)—but bear in mind that in strictest legal terms, none of these brand names is supposed to be pluralized.
** It has occurred to me that the publisher went with “Dorito” to avoid legal implications from the use of a registered trademark. Well, good luck with that.
“When Simon Tam dropped out of college in California and moved to Portland, Ore., to become a rock star, the last tangle he imagined falling into was a multiyear battle with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office over his band’s name.” The trademark tussle over “The Slants,” which the USPTO has deemed “disparaging” and thus ineligible for protection. (For a more technical perspective, see this Brent Lorentz post at Duets Blog.)
The strange charm of cutthroat compounds like pickpocket, scarecrow, and, well, cutthroat: Stan Carey on these rare English words“that have a long, colourful history and constitute a very interesting category.” (I wonder how the newish fondleslab fits in?)
The 2014 Social Security Administration stats on baby names are out, and the Baby Name Wizard blog has discovered some interesting trends in the data. The biggest trend? What naming expert Laura Wattenberg calls “the great smoothing of American baby names”: goodbye “chunky” names (Jayden, Jessica), hello “silky,” vowel-rich names (Amanda, Mia, Noah, Liam).
Speaking of popular names, here’s a fun tool to discover what your “today baby name” would be, based on the ranking of your own name in the year you were born. The tools works backward too: If I’d been born in the 1890s, chances are I’d have been named Minnie. More than a time-waster, the tool can be a big help in character-naming. (May take a while for the tool to load.)
“She originally went by Flo White, then Lord of the Strings. She eventually settled on the Period Fairy. It was more straightforward.” A new ad from category-busing Hello Flo, which sells a Period Starter Kit to adolescent girls.
“The Ultimate Driving Machine” has been BMW’s tagline since 1975, when it was created by the American ad agency Ammurati & Puris; the company filed for trademark protection of the line in 1981. (In 1990, Rawlings Golf in Northridge, California, registered the identical slogan for use with golf clubs. That trademark was abandoned in 1992, possibly under pressure from Bayerische Motoren Werke Aktiengesellschaft.) Just before the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, Canada, the carmaker took a detour with a campaign called “Joy” that was supposed, according to the company’s vice president of marketing, to “warm the brand up.” BMW loyalists were not impressed, and in 2012 “The Ultimate Driving Machine” was once again in the driver’s seat.
“The Ultimate Lighting Machines” has a shorter history. (BMW has been BMW since 1916; Holtkötter Leuchten GmbH was founded in West Germany in 1964.) Holtkoetter Lighting, Holtkötter’s Minnesota-based U.S. division, was denied trademark protection of the slogan in 1997, and abandoned its claim. It tried again in May 2013 under a new dba, St. Paul Lighting, and two months ago—on February 3, 2015—the mark wasregistered. The record is mum on whether BMW USA raised any objections during the process.
Like BMW driving machines, Holtkötter/Holtkoetter lighting machines are not for bargain hunters. The slender chrome floor lamp in the ad costs almost $1,000; a starkly dramatic chandelierwill set you back more than $2,000.
The trademark database also shows that Holtkoetter has received trademark protection for at least one other “ultimate” slogan: “The Ultimate LED.” That product, a light bulb, is not to be confused with “The Ultimate Led Zeppelin Experience,” a tribute band.
“Clickspittle: an unquestioningly loyal follower who obediently shares every trivial thought of their idol on social media.” Post-modern portmanteaus from The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present, excerpted in The Independent. (Via @Catchword)
“Most important, it stood for Internet. But it also stood for other valuable i things, like individual, imagination, i as in me, etc. It also did a pretty good job of laying a solid foundation for future product naming.” A knowledgeable Quora answer to the question “What is the history of the i prefix in Apple product names?”(Via @AlanBrew)
“Around the time of the birth of OK, there was a fad for komical Ks instead of Cs on the pages of newspapers … including from 1839: ‘The gentleman to the left of the speaker, in klaret kolored koat with krimson kollar, is Mr. Klay, member of Kongress from Kentucky’.”Allan Metcalf, author of OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word, marks the 176th anniversary of “OK” with a post about the word’s “konspicuous, kurious, komical” … uh, kwalities. (Read my 2010 post about “OK.”)
What do we lose when dictionaries delete words like bluebell, catkin, lark, and mistletoe to make room for blog, broadband, MP3 player, and chatroom? British nature writer Robert Macfarlane—most recently the author of Landmarks—writes in The Guardian about “the importance of preserving and plenishing a diverse language for landscape.” His essay includes some beautiful, obscure words like ammil, “a Devon term for the thin film of ice that lacquers all leaves, twigs, and grass blades when a freeze follows a partial thaw, and that in sunlight can cause a whole landscape to glitter.” Plenishing is pretty wonderful, too. (Via @StanCarey)
Related: Untitled, a restaurant at New York’s Whitney Museum; Untitled Startup, Inc., which eventually chose a less baffling name; The Nameless Café in Oakland, California (which has no listings as well as no name); and The Nameless, a nonprofit organization, also in Oakland, that is defunct as well as nameless.
My January column for the Visual Thesaurus looks at how smart came to be attached to so many inanimate objects, from phones to skin lotion, from bombs to highways, from quotation marks to fabric. Along the way, I consider the multiple senses of this very old word, which can mean “stylish,” “cheeky,” or “to cause pain,” as well as “witty” or “intelligent.”
No subscription needed to view the column this month (not always the case!). Here’s a taste:
The sense of smart = shrewd extends to the slangy smart-ass, which first appeared in print in 1951 in an American detective novel. (OED on smart-ass: “orig. and chiefly U.S.; characterized by an overly clever or smug display of intelligence or [esp. professional] knowledge.”) The term’s mild vulgarity might seem to preclude its incorporation into branding and advertising, but that’s not the case at all.
Blog extra: A smart gun is one that uses biometrics to recognize its user. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote about one such gun for the January 18, 2015, Sunday Review:
Doesn’t it seem odd that your cellphone can be set up to require a PIN or a fingerprint, but there’s no such option for a gun?
Which brings us to Kai Kloepfer, a lanky 17-year-old high school senior in Boulder, Colo. After the cinema shooting in nearby Aurora, Kloepfer decided that for a science fair project he would engineer a “smart gun” that could be fired only by an authorized user.
“I started with iris recognition, and that seemed a good idea until you realize that many people firing guns wear sunglasses,” Kloepfer recalls. “So I moved on to fingerprints.”
Smart guns are “smart” in at least two senses of the word: clever and connected. And yet, Kristof writes, “The National Rifle Association seems set against smart guns, apparently fearing that they might become mandatory.”
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.