My latest column for the Visual Thesaurus is about an ongoing fascination of mine: company and product names that end in -ly. Over the last several years I’ve pinned 256 examples of such names on a Pinterest board, from Adaptly and Amazely to Yarrly and Zaarly. But I’m not content with pointing in alarm; I want to know how and why one little suffix has assumed so much power—and, not for nothing, how it came to be a marker both for adjectives (friendly, lonely, writerly) and for adverbs (frankly, strikingly, immediately).
No paywall this time! Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite:
Some categories of words never, in normal English grammar, take the -ly suffix. Verbs are the most prominent example. But despite or perhaps in defiance of this proscription, many new businesses deliberately have chosen to create names by adding -ly to verbs: the roster includes Findly, Seekly, Sendly (not to be confused with Sently), Referly, Knowly, Embedly, Respondly, Optimizely, and Recurly. (Recurly has nothing to do with hair; it’s a service for recurring payments.) Sometimes it’s hard to know which part of speech is being -ly-ified: Founderly is a site for company founders, but you could just as easily read founder as the verb meaning “to sink” or “to fail.”
Even odder are the -ly names formed from neologisms (BucketListly, a way to keep track of your “bucket list”—things to do before you “kick the bucket,” i.e., die), portmanteaus (Volcally, from “volunteer locally”), and coined words with no evident meaning (Scubbly, an online marketplace; Rosingly, a daily-deal site; Vimbly, an activity finder). One such name was created—well, winkingly: Irregardless.ly is a crowdsourced style and usage guide whose name is a nod to a notorious “non-word”; the site’s founder, Charles Best—who also founded the philanthropic site Donors Choose—told me that when he couldn’t buy Irregardless.com “despite repeated attempts,” he chose the .ly extension, “consoling ourselves that we at least had an even funkier construction in ‘irregardlessly’.”
In another bookstore closer to home (Walden Pond Books, Oakland) I found #Girlboss, by Sophia Amoruso; The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes; and Growgirl, by Heather Donohue (who starred in the 1999 cult movie Blair Witch Project and then became a pot grower in Northern California).
All of these books were published between 2012 and 2014; all are about adult women, not children.
There’s a lesson here for lady writers, although it grieves me a little to spell it out: No matter how long ago you passed puberty, to your publisher you’ll always be a girl.
For more than five years I’ve kept a tally of mister brand names—Mr. Tea, Mr. Bra, Mr. Noodle, Mr. Handyman, et al. Lately, I’ve discovered that “mister” is démodé: all the cool generic brands have gone to grad school and earned doctorates.
Dr. Fone calls itself “the world’s #1 iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch data recovery software to recover lost contacts, text messages, pictures, notes, and much more.” This doctor has a devious side. In “The Adultery Arms Race,” published in the November Atlantic, Michelle Cottle writes that Dr. Fone allows suspicious spouses to moonlight as private eyes:
Jay spent a few days researching surveillance tools before buying a program called Dr. Fone, which enabled him to remotely recover text messages from Ann’s phone. Late one night, he downloaded her texts onto his work laptop. He spent the next day reading through them at the office. Turns out, his wife had become involved with a co-worker.
Dr. Smog N Lube in Burbank, California, sounds like a shop that sells just two things, but in fact it “offers comprehensive auto services.”
Tip: “Doctor” names work best (if they work at all) with a single descriptor, not two. “N” as an abbreviation for “and” is ill advised at all times. And the “Dr.” abbreviation is used only in a title—not in a sentence like “Go to the doctor.”
(Hat tip: brother Michael.)
Dr. Sponge(“sustainable cleaning for your skin”) sells “a revolutionary skin cleansing tool that serves as an all-in-one solution for various skincare concerns.” The sponges come in several colors and formulas.
Dr. Sponge Lycopene Body Cleansing Konjac Sponge, $11.50. Konjac, “an exotic plant native to Eastern Asia,” is further defined as “glucommnnan,” which is a misspelling. Hardly spongeworthy!
Dr. Lipp is the “original nipple balm for lips.” Yes, you read that correctly.
Why they didn’t go with “Dr. Nipp” is a mystery.
The company is based in London; the product is sold at Sephora, Bloomingdale’s, and other retailers for $15 a tube.
Dr. Dewyis another lip doctor. This one’s in Southern California.
“Dr. Dewy” is the nom de balm of Dr. Edward Akkaway, who is “inspired by nature’s unlimited bounty of remedies that help heal the body and mind, as well as enrich the soul.”
I wrote about Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School for the Visual Thesaurus in 2011. (No longer paywalled.) The name is a double entendre, I wrote; it refers both to the activity of sketching or drawing and to something more sinister:
Google “sketchy neighborhood” and you get more than 67,000 results. “Sketchy area” yields more than 70,000. Both references are to what Urban Dictionary’s contributors agree is a synonym for “unsafe,” “creepy,” “not kosher,” or “someone or something that gives off a bad feeling.”
Want to be a doctor yourself? No problem! Just ask Dr. Science, the world’s foremost authoritarian. He’ll sell you a credential.
First sighting: in a story from early September about a BBC radio announcer (oops, presenter) who admitted snorting a drug called mephedrone—street name “meow meow.”Precisely how meow meow got that sobriquet is subject to some debate, but it may derive from the drug’s chemical name, 4-methylmethcathinone, or MM-CAT for short. According to a 2011 Mindhacks post, journalists (and one anonymous Wikipedia editor) were responsible for popularizing the feline nickname.
A blog called Revolting Foods of America published a catty review of these squiddy crisps last year. I’m inclined to be more generous, although the crackers (not really crackers in the US sense; more like small tentacle-shaped chips) are too sweet for my taste. You should, however, check out the review to gaze in wonder at a full-size photo of the package art, which is worthy of Jules Verne.
Just one Meow, but three M’s.
Mmmeow party picks (“cool cats with good taste”) from Fred and Friends. I’m not sure why they belong in the San Jose Museum of Art gift shop, but that’s where I found them.
Estivate: To spend the summer (in a special place, for example); to pass the summer in a dormant or torpid state (zoological usage). From Latin aestus, summer. Compare hibernate (to pass the winter in a dormant state).
The setting in this case is Williamstown, Mass., home to a venerable and usually star-studded summer theater festival. Anna (like Ms. Danner, as it happens) has estivated in Williamstown for many a decade.
Proofreading note: Please delete the comma after “time-consuming.”
Estify does a rambling and inept job of telling its story, but the TechCrunch story makes it clear that “Estify” comes from “estimate”:
There’s a rift between insurance companies and repair shops, explains Jordan Furniss, one of Estify’s co-founders. “[Insurers] write up a preliminary estimate for what a repair should cost and then repair shops have to duplicate that estimate into their systems.”
That means Estify joins the growing list of -ify names created from verbs: Chargify, Predictify, Chirpify, Connectify, et al.). As my colleague The Name Inspector (Christopher Johnson) has pointed out:
You don’t find -ify attached to verbs in natural English, because the point of the -ify ending is to make a verb out of a different kind of word. The only exception The Name Inspector has thought of is preachify, and he’s willing to wager that’s a tongue-in-cheek word, based on the similar word speechify, that’s meant to illustrate the kind artificially puffed-up speaking style it refers to.
And while we’re on the subject, The Name Inspector and I will be co-presenting a paper on naming trends at the American Name Society’s annual meeting in Portland, Oregon, in January. I’ll focus on names that end in -ly and Chris will tackle the -ifys. (I’ll also be giving a solo presentation on the nomenclature of legal cannabis, a topic I’ve touched on in this blog.) The ANS meeting is held concurrently with meetings of the American Linguistic Association and the American Dialect Society; an annual highlight is the word-of-the-year vote, which is open to the public. If you live in Portland or plan to be there between January 8 and 11, I’d love to meet up!
Unlike the store window, the company website refrains from squash-verbing, or verb-squashing: it simply and modestly claims that “Pumpkin Is Here.” The bounty includes pumpkin bagels, pumpkin shmear, pumpkin muffins, and something called pumpkin clusters.
You may have noticed that everyone everywhere is prepared to pumpkin: it’s become the dominant fall flavor. And that may have puzzled you, because pumpkin isn’t really a flavor at all—the squash itself is nutritious but bland. So what constitutes “pumpkin flavor,” and what’s responsible for all this pumpkinifying?
According to an article published this week in Fortune(“Is Pumpkin Spice the Ultimate Aphrodisiac?”), Starbucks may have started the trend with its Pumpkin Spice Latte, known to fans as PSL. The company claims that the drink, which was introduced in 2003, is its “most popular seasonal beverage of all time.” You may or may not be surprised to learn that there is no actual pumpkin in the beverage; essence of pumpkin is evoked by cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and sugar, as well as a dose of unspecified artificial flavors.
Eleven years of Starbucks success has inspired a lot of imitators. From the Fortune article:
Just about anything that can have a pumpkin variety now does, or soon will: Oreos, Milano cookies, M&Ms, yogurt, marshmallows, gum, oatmeal, Eggo waffles. There was even buzz last week, which turned out to be a hoax, about a pumpkin spice condom. The fact that this fake news gained so much traction is a sign of how sexy the subject has become.
Why pumpkin (or “pumpkin”) and not another seasonal flavor, like apple pie or (my own preference) maple syrup? The Fortune reporter talked to Alan Hirsch, founder and director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, who has researched the effects of scents on sexual arousal in male volunteers. (Yes, only males.) The results:
He found that the scent causing the highest level of arousal was a combination of lavender and pumpkin pie. Doughnut and black licorice came in second, and the combination of doughnut and pumpkin pie came in third. Ironically, cranberry, the other big marker of Thanksgiving, came in last.
For the big picture on pumpkin-flavored foodstuffs, check out Impulsive Buy, whose dogged bloggers track down and consume all manner of crap in the name of consumer enlightenment. Impulsive Buy’s pumpkin archivesinclude posts on pumpkin spice chips(from Pringles), tortilla chips (from Food Should Taste Good and Garden of Eatin’), soymilk (from Silk), pop-tarts (from Kellogg’s), and sparkling juice “cocktail” (from Welch’s), as well as all of the snacks cited by Fortune.
Single-sole: Descriptive of a shoe style without a platform sole. Usually seen as a modifier for pumps or heels.
“Single-sole” is a retronym: a “throwback-compound” that differentiates the original form of a word from a more recent version. (In a 2007 New York Times columnabout retronyms, the late language maven William Safire attributed the coinage of “retronym” to Frank Mankiewicz, then president of NPR, in 1980. Safire’s examples included skirt suit, land line, and analog watch; he didn’t live long enough to see the rise of single-sole pump.)
I’m a little late to the party on this one: my first encounter with “single-sole” was in an email sent last Thursday from the flash-sale site Gilt:
In fact, though, “single-sole” has been showing up steadily for almost three years—a reaction, perhaps inevitable, to the dominance of platform soles in women’s footwear for about a decade. (Platform shoes’ previous heydays were the 1940s and 1980s.) In February 2012, the trade publication WWD reported on high-end designer Manolo Blahnik’s Fall 2012 “collab” with mid-market retailer J. Crew: “For the show, J.Crew chose to reimagine the single-sole pointy-toe pump in 41 different ways, with glitter, suede and a variety of colorful fabrications culled from its apparel line.”
Blahnik has continued to beat the single-sole drum.“I only make single-sole shoes,” he told Vogue.comin January 2013. “They transform the way a woman walks: in heavy platforms like truck drivers, in my shoes like ballerinas.”
Also in January 2013, the luxury retail site Net-A-Porter “loved” single-sole pumps:
“Time to abandon the platform shoe,” fashion correspondent Misty White Sidell declared in The Daily Beast in June 2013. Her rallying cry was more wishful than prophetic; Sidell acknowledged that beauty-pageant culture has played an outsize role in platforms’ continuing popularity. Despite someretailers’attempts to make “single-sole” a trend, Fall 2014 fashion forecasts were still full of platform styles (see Glamour and Lucky, for example, both of which featured some ultra-clunky flatform styles).
Like most fashion trends, “single-sole” isn’t as novel as it first seems. I found a citation in an article published in the New York Times on October 25, 1952, under the headline “10,000 Expected at Shoe Exhibit”:
“The platform shoe is very popular but the single sole type is cutting in on the demand. The consumer wants single-soled shoes, Mr. Keane said, because it [sic] affords a sheet of foam rubber or other material which supplies a soft layer to walk on.”
“Our Hero, Our Values.” Image from DeliveryHero.com. All web content is in English.
Last week San Francisco-based ModCloth (“democratizing fashion one indie, vintage, and retro-inspired style at a time!”1) became the first retailer to sign the Heroes [sic] Pledge for Advertisers, a promise not to digitally alter images of models. The pledge was created by the Brave Girls Alliance, which wants to give families “multi-layered, diverse, intelligent, and strong media characters to enrich their girls [sic] imaginations.” (I’m not sure what Brave Girls Alliance has against possessive apostrophes. And while abstaining from Photoshop is rare in fashion photography, I doubt that actual heroics are involved.)
1 For more “One X at a Time” slogans, see this, this, and this, for starters.
2 MX is an abbreviation for other words, too, including motocross (the sport) and Mexico (the Internet country code). My favorite Mx—brand new to me—stands for Mixter, “an uncommonly used English honorific for genderqueer. It is a gender neutral title used by few people and its use has yet to be made official in general, although Brighton and Hove city council in Sussex, England, voted in 2013 to allow its use on council forms.” (Source: Wikipedia)
3 Of course, there’s always the strong possibility of a less-elevated rationale:
Via TechCrunch, transforming nerds into heroes since 2005.