I promised myself I’d ignore April Fools’ Day this year, but Betabrand shattered my resolve.
Remember Betabrand? It’s the sassy San Francisco company that brought us the Vagisoft blanket, a real, year-round product I wrote about in December 2010. (Since then, Betabrand’s “VagiLab” has added unisex Vajamas and Vagisoft hoodies to the range.)
This morning, Betabrand emailed me to announce a very special new product: Adult Adult Undergarments, an “innovation in absorption couture.”
The before-and-after photos depict a grizzled, slightly seedy-looking guy wearing, stage left, a pair of gray incontinence briefs and, stage right, some va-va-voom leopard-print skivvies.
The copy displays the usual Betabrand bravado:
Gentlemen: When the forecast calls for a sizzling hot night, you want to make sure there’s 0% chance of precipitation.
So don’t settle for ordinary adult undergarments when you can slip on new Adult Adult Undergarments. Super sexy, super absorbent, and available in three come-hither styles.
Jungle Lord: Like a big cat, you’re always on the prowl. Now get ready to mark your territory, discreetly.
Outlaw: You’re not the kind of guy who plays by the rules, especially the rule that says you can’t urinate in your pants.
The Dry Martini: Leave your lover shaken and stirred.
Naturally, there’s an absorption-demonstration photo. Naturally, it uses blue liquid. But not just any blue liquid.
The brand still lacks a name, so feel free to leave your suggestion in the comments. My favorite so far, for its combination of erudition and zaniness:
“Piadese” (pee at ease) after the greek urinating cherub. OR name after the iconic statue of “Menneken Pis” (urinating cherub) by Hieronymus Duquesnoy was created in commission of the city council of Brussels after an earlier 14th century example.
Newt Gingrich—remember when he ran for president and talked about building bases on the moon?—now appears to be campaigning for Andy Rooney’s old slot on “60 Minutes.” “We’re really puzzled,” he tells his YouTube audience, a look of grave concern furrowing his brow, a familiar-looking device in his hand. “We spent weeks [!] trying to figure out whaddya call this.” This is what you and I call a cell phone or a mobile phone or a smartphone, but that doesn’t satisfy Gingrich. He’s soliciting new, more precise names for the gizmo he used to call “a handheld computer.” Commenters have been gleefully obliging; my favorite nominations are Talkie-Viewie (maybe “TV” for short?), roundcorner-camera-communications-email-apps-thingy, iMoon, and horseless telephone. (Via TechCrunch.)
I caught this a few days too late for Underwear Week but can’t resist sharing it anyway. Triumph, the Swiss bra company, last week introduced its concept bra of the year at a Tokyo press conference. The theme: “branomics,” “a playful take on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ‘three-arrow’ economic revival plan,” according to Reuters. “We hope that as the Japanese economy grows, we can also help bust sizes to get bigger,” said a Triumph spokeswoman. (Via The 3% Conference.)
Andris Pone of Coin Branding, in Toronto, applauds Frogbox, a “green” moving company in more than one sense. It’s a great brand story, Andris writes: “The Frogbox positioning statement, From one pad to another, exemplifies the message of ease by creating a promise (completely delivered on) that one can move from their old home to their new one with all the difficulty of a hop.”
Corporate buzzword-wise, “delight” is shaping up to be the new “passion.” (Via MJF.)
You’ll need to subscribe to Visual Thesaurus to read Mike Pope’s excellent column, “What’s in a -Nym?”, which goes beyond antonyms and synonyms to more obscure and fascinating terms like contranym, retronym, and backronym. But of course you’re already a subscriber.
I also can’t resist an opportunity to combine entomology, etymology, and a plug for Fritinancy. As language maven Ben Zimmer—my editor at Visual Thesaurus—observed in an email to me:
I noticed that the first OED cite for “fritin(i)ancy” is from Sir Thomas Browne’s Pseudodoxia Epidemica, talking about cicadas. (In this edition, it’s actually “fritinnitus.”) Johnson defined “fritinancy” as “the scream of an insect, as the cricket or cicada” (citing Browne) and subsequent dictionaries used similar definitions. (Johnson didn’t define “cicada,” oddly enough.)
My original post about Fritinancy cited Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913), which mentioned crickets but not cicadas. The post was written before I had access to the OED online, a weak defense but the one I’m sticking with.
But, Ben told me, “there are plenty of people who pronounce it KAH, and many dictionaries give it as an acceptable alternate. I don’t have a good sense of the regional distribution of the two pronunciations, though.”
How can a brand name convey a specific benefit—in this case, underwear so smooth and sleek it’s almost like wearing no underwear at all—without resorting to descriptive terms (Vanishing Edge, Invisibles)? For one U.S. company, the solution came from Vietnam-era slang.
Commando is a brand of elastic-free women’s underwear and hosiery designed with smooth edges that don’t show under clothing. Founded in 2003 by husband-and-wife team Kerry O’Brien and Ed Biggins, the company is based in South Burlington, Vermont, far from major garment-industry capitals; products are made in the U.S. and sold at department stores and online.
“Commando” is an excellent example of a suggestive name—and by suggestive I mean not only the dictionary sense of “implying something slightly improper” (completely appropriate in this context) but also the trademark sense: “indirectly alluding to a quality of a product.” That’s because of commando’s metaphorical secondary meaning.
Commando first entered English in the late 18th century, a borrowing from Portuguese that originally referred to “an armed and mounted party of men” or the expedition undertaken by such a party. It wasn’t until World War II that the word referred to a single person—specifically, according to the OED, “a member of a body of picked men trained originally (in 1940) as shock troops for the repelling of the threatened German invasion of England, later for the carrying out of raids on the Continent and elsewhere.” Until 1942, “commando” was capitalized.
The underwear brand Commando isn’t about shock troops: it’s about “going commando,” a slang phrase first documented (again according to the OED) in 1974, in Current U.N.C. [University of North Carolina] Slang: “to wear no underpants (beneath one’s clothing).” “The origin of this use is obscure,” the dictionary notes; “the allusion appears to be to commandos’ reputation for action, toughness, or resourcefulness rather than to any specific practice.”
When did the term “going commando” enter the civilian lexicon? The phrase dates back to at least the middle of the 20th century, when Americans used it to mean “toughening up.” (That meaning persists to this day in some contexts.) The phrase’s more common connotation dates back to at least 1974, when it appeared in a source on college slang. The phrase “crotch rot" emerged during the same period: It first appeared in 1967. It's possible that “going commando” first poked its way into the public consciousness during the Vietnam War, when American special forces were spending extended periods in hot, wet jungle environments. The phrase got its big break in 1996, when Joey and Rachel went commando on an episode of Friends.
Ross: Okay, now hold on. Joey, why can’t you just wear the underwear you’re wearing now? Joey: Because, um, I’m not wearing any underwear now. Ross: Okay, then why do you have to wear underwear tonight? Joey: It’s a rented tux, Okay. I’m not gonna go commando in another man's fatigues.
As Joey’s line and the military history suggest, “to go commando” is traditionally associated with men; appropriating it for a women’s brand makes it that much more dramatic and memorable.
Commando is a popular trademark for many products other than underwear: I found records in the USPTO database for Commando padlocks, lubricants, auto parts, tires, coffee, beer, and jerky. I also discovered that Commando the underwear company—which to date has been a women-only brand—has filed for protection of “Commando Naked,” a men’s line.
Co-founder O’Brien says on the Commando website that the company’s products are “sometimes saucy” and “put the fun in functional.” Most of the product names, however, are descriptive: thong, high-rise panty, cami, half-slip, control brief. Nope, nary a cheekini in the lineup—although I admit the “Commando” brand name had me seeing the descriptive term tank in a new light. It’s in the “accessories” category that Commando lets its guerrilla flag fly.
The very first Commando product, in fact, was named Takeouts (“The Better Boob Job”). The “full-cup-boosting” silicone inserts—known generically as cutlets—cost $48 and are “grope tested,” it says here.
Other accessories with creative names include Low Beams (single-use nipple covers), Top Hats (reusable nipple covers), Matchsticks (double-stick tape for bra straps), Match Tips (double-stick adhesive dots), and Cleavage Cupcakes (“a perky plump-up for what nature already gave you”). The cheeky names are supported by playful copy that spins each metaphor for everything it’s worth.
By the way, Commando’s URL is WearCommando.com. Commando.com is a communications agency in Chicago. As I’ve said before, you don’t need a “pure” URL when you’ve got a plausible alternative and a strong brand story.
It’s Day Four of Underwear Week! Grab your passport and some loose loonies: we’re headed north of the border for today’s installment.
I stumbled upon undie-maker Ginch Gonch about six months ago. The name was a complete puzzle to me, the tagline (“Live Like a Kid!”) didn’t seem to clarify the odd words, and I got no help at all from the About page:
Ginch Gonch was born from the rebellion against the dull, colorless underwear endured by most people, and has quickly become one of the fastest growing premium lifestyle brands internationally. It was the first of its kind to successfully combine humor and sexuality with funky, fashion-forward designs, and has completely reinvented the underwear industry through the unconventional ways it sets the trend for the rear end.
The styles pictured on the website have loud prints, bright colors, large “Ginch Gonch” logos, and double-entendre-ish names like “Joystick Jockey” and “Lip Reader.”
What the website doesn’t have are clues about where the company’s located, other than a Montreal area code on the Contact page. The company boasts that its products are sold “in premium department stores and exclusive boutiques” in 22 world capitals, but I’m a pretty serious shopper and I can’t recall ever seeing them.
gotch, ginch, gonch, gitch (From Ukrainian gatky/gatsi): refers to men’s brief-style underwear, particularly those that are threadbare. Used in British Columbia and Alberta. Gitch and gotch are variants heard mostly in Saskatchwan. It is also acceptable to append ‘ies’ to any of these variants, especially when referring to the underwear of male children. eg: “Make sure you do laundry tonight, I’m going to need some clean gonch in the morning”. The term is becoming more widespread in use as a result of the rise in popularity of Vancouver-based undergarment company GinchGonch. A “gotch-pull” or “gonch-pull” is another name for a wedgie.
So—Vancouver, not Montreal? The Internet is silent on the discrepancy. But I was definitely warming to the name: it’s fun to say, relevant (if you’re from British Columbia or Alberta), and memorable.
Apparently, though, if you’re not from British Columbia or Alberta you may be as clueless as I was about ginch and its relatives. Here’s a question posted on Yahoo Answers in 2008:
Is “ginch / gonch” really Canadian slang for underwear?
“Ginch Gonch” is a Canadian underwear company, and they say their name comes from the canadian slang word(s) for underwear “ginch / gonch” now, i'm Canadian, but i’ve never heard the term before... how common is the slang?
And the answer, seemingly from another Canadian:
Gitch and Gotch are words that i am familiar with -- both refer to underwear. I can't say anyone in my generation (born in 70s) would use the term, but we do know what it means. My parents (born in the late 40s) use the term quite often. I can't remember them using any other term for undies.
I also consulted the OED, whose entry for ginch makes no mention of Canada, underwear, or the supposed Ukrainian origin:
Etymology: Origin unknown.
slang (orig. and chiefly U.S.).
An attractive woman, esp. (freq. depreciative) one regarded as an object of sexual gratification. Also as a mass noun: such women collectively.
1934 J. D. Carr Eight of Swords ix. 98 He found himself walking away beside this lithe, bright-eyed, altogether luscious ginch in the tennis frock.
1971 E. Tidyman & W. Friedkin French Connection (film script) (Electronic text) 6 A close shot of a chorus line, with lots of tits and ass and lean, long legs... Russo takes the seat on the right, eyes immediately on all that ginch.
1992 C. Nova Trombone (1992) iii. 242 Well, I guess that's Dean's last piece of ginch, isn’t it? There isn’t any romance or desperate women where he's going.
2002 J. A. Jackson Badger Games 17 You’re shaggin’ the ginch. I seen her, not a bad little piece of ass.
Well, wow. I’ve seen The French Connection and read a bit of detective fiction, but I can’t remember ever encountering ginch in this sense or any other. Please let me know in the comments if you’ve heard or used the word in any context.
Meanwhile, enjoy Ginch Gonch’s self-description:
Through its cheeky, outside-of-the box marketing campaigns and sassy names for its products, Ginch Gonch has acquired the reputation of being the brat of the industry. Ginch promotes fun, freedom of expression and diversity through its famous catch phrase “Regardless of your inches we cover you in our Ginches!”. Its “Shiny Heiny”, “Wiener Eater” and “Crotch Rocket” underwear have won the hearts and crotches of millions all over the world who embrace the Ginch Gonch Live Like a Kid! philosophy.
It’s Day Three of Underwear Week! Time for some news of the new.
TechCrunch, to which I turn for the latest info about gadgets, gizmos, and Google, surprised me a couple of weeks ago with a guest column by research analyst Ross Rubin about, of all things, four new underwear companies. The tech angle? All four startups had sought crowdfunding to build their businesses; two succeeded, two didn’t. My angle? The companies’ names, naturally.
Thinx(pronounced “thinks”) was started by three women in New York City who saw a need for leakproof, stainproof underwear that women can wear confidently during their periods (referred to in the Kickstarter video with inexplicably coy euphemisms like “that time”).
“QUAD-DRY BreatheTECH” provides “a leak and stain resistant support matrix that’s got you covered.”
The project met its funding goal, but the name falls short. Yes, it’s non-descriptive (remember, that’s a good thing), but the spelling makes it look like a knockoff—or a spinoff—of the successful Spanx brand, and the “think” concept strikes me as off-target. The customer doesn’t care how much thinking went into your product, and she doesn’t want to have to overthink her purchase. (“Think” is also overused in branding to the point of meaninglessness.) The dull, redundant tagline, “Rethinking Women’s Underwear,” doesn’t convey a benefit or convince me to buy.
The bottom line, so to speak: an interesting product that could better realize its potential with a more effective, less derivative name/tagline combination. Something sassy and unexpected is what’s called for here.
By the way, a tip of the hat to columnist Rubin for working “panty ante” into his copy.
Snowballs(“Cooling underwear for conceiving men”) also addresses a serious problem—male infertility—and it does so with candor (in the pitch) and humor (in the name). “Testicular cooling has been shown to increase sperm count,” the website informs us, “particularly in cases of varicoceles, and we’ve created an comfortable, organic product that will help you succeed naturally before investing thousands of dollars in other risky, more invasive solutions.” I love the product name (and also the Procreativity.net domain name), but backers balked, possibly put off by the product’s high market price ($65 to $80).
Don’t give up, Snowballs! I’d love to see you pitch on “Shark Tank.”
JockGodsis a decent name, but slightly misleading if what you’re selling is “high-quality underwear designed for men and women”: both “jock” and “god” suggest that these undies are for guys only. There’s also nothing particularly distinctive about the product. I’m not surprised that the project failed to meet its funding goal.
Helux Gear has a clear, straightforward pitch: there’s a need for “ergonomic” (supportive) men’s briefs with a practical, accessible fly. The name has a nice resonance, suggesting both “luxury for men” and “helix” (suggestive of the unusual design of the pouch). “Helix” also sounds powerful, elemental, and science-y, and the logo makes it stick. Backers apparently agreed: they funded the project with room to spare.
This time around we kicked off with a newish underwear-ish word, cheekini. Today we travel from the orchestra to the balcony, so to speak, to see what a nice bra company like True & Co. is doing with a naughty acronym like MILF.
“Mom I’d Love to Fit” temporary tattoo, free during the promotion.
True & Co. MILF ad.
It’s for Mother’s Day, you see. Truly! AdFreak called the campaign “odd” and advised True & Co. to “apologize, act contrite and enjoy the attention.” Instead, True & Co.’s blog went on the offensive about the offensive term:
MILF – the term brings to mind pervy frat boys but who says they should own an acronym? MILF (Moms I’d Love to Fit) is about the best people in the world taking 5 minutes out of their busy day to treat themselves to a proper bra fitting and get a new bra. … We meant the pun and we meant it in good fun. We think there’s nothing objectifying about a woman owning her sexuality. We’d be proud to be considered a MILF (Mom I’d Love to Fit).
San Francisco-based True & Co. was born in 2011 after Michelle Lam, a former principal at Bain Capital Ventures who became frustrated after trying on “20 different bras, one after the other, in what seemed to be a random trial-and-error sequence,” according to a profile in Fortune. Lam and a partner developed a quiz to help women shop for bras from home. The company was originally called Bra & Co. but launched in May 2012 as True & Co.*
This is not the first time an advertiser has attempted to “reclaim” MILF. Back in 2007, Spirit Airlines advertised a “Many Islands, Low Fares” sale with fares as low as $9 for flights between Fort Lauderdale and the Bahamas. When asked whether he’d known about MILF’s offensive connotation, Spirit’s director of communications claimed to be shocked, shocked. “The most obscene thing we’ve noticed,” [he] said, “is what other carriers have charged to fly the Caribbean before Spirit’s $9 fares.”
* Before the MILF kerfuffle, True & Co.’s major claim to newsworthiness had been a lawsuit filed by True Fit, maker of personalized-fit technology used by Macy’s and Nordstrom, which asserted that “True & Co.” infringed on its mark. True Fit also sought to prevent any use of “true” in connection with personalized-fit technology. In March of this year, the U.S. District Court denied the motion.
The earliest citation I found for cheekini is a July 2006 blog post, “Cheekini Is the New Thong!”, that credited DKNY with coining the term. However, a search for DKNY cheekini underwear came up empty-handed, or -cheeked, and all the images on that 2006 post have vanished.
I found the most extensive definition for cheekini in an unexpected place: a blog called He Wears Panties (“a friendly place to discuss lingerie and women’s clothing with men who wear it”):
Cheekini panties are clearly a play on the ‘bikini’. The general idea of the cheekini is that the rear of the panty is cut quite high across the buttock, leaving a fair amount of cheek showing whilst also reducing panty lines in the process. These are a viable alternative to thong lovers who are growing tired of feeling as if they have a never ending wedgie.
Cheekini is yet another variation on the linguistically productive bikini, which was adopted in 1946 as the name of a new French swimsuit as “explosive” as the nuclear-bomb tests that had recently taken place on Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean.
Moist jeans may be the Next New Thing; moist bras, not so much. Fortunately, there’s an app—a nappy?—for that: the Wick’em moisture-managing bra liner.
For consistency, shouldn’t it be “to keep ’em dry”?
As a brand name, “Wick’em” is assertively descriptive if a bit too reminiscent of Hang ’em High. (I’d like it better if the brand were spelled Wickham and the styles were called Lady Wickham, the Dowager Countess of Wickham, and Mistress Wickly.*) There’s no way to make “wick” sound elegant, and the apostrophe takes it even further downmarket.
The folksiness of that eye dialect is at odds with the boardroom-stiff brand voice of Wick’em’s parent company, Coconut Grove Intimates (whose other products include adhesive bras and which is headquartered, incongruously, in Ontario, Canada, far from any coconut groves I’m aware of). There’s that “moisture management” descriptor, for starters. And on Wick’em’s About Us page I learned that Coconut Grove Intimates is “an industry leader in the development of solution-oriented bras and bra accessories.” Maybe Hank Hill should be the corporate spokesman.
A new language quarterly, aptly called Babel, brings linguistics to a general audience without dumbing down the subject. Published at the University of Huddersfield (UK), the magazine covers “issues relating to many different human languages” – and some non-human ones, including, in the first issue, Venusian. I’m already looking forward to the second issue, which will include an article about “the secret linguistic history of brand names.”
I grew up in Los Angeles and always wondered why the Ralphs supermarket chain didn’t have an apostrophe in its name. Now, thanks to Los Angeles magazine, I know: the business was founded (in 1873, at Fifth and Hill streets) by George Ralphs.
“I sculpt baby names from love, from hatred, from the reality of this hellhole of a world that you’re forcing an innocent life to endure.” Bob Powers, artisanal baby namer, at McSweeney’s. Yes, he jests. Mostly. (Via Karen Wise.)
According to Helen Sword, author of a column for the New York Times and creator of something called the Writer’sDiet test, a “zombie noun” is any noun (proliferation, formation, indication) that “cannibalizes” a verb. Now linguistics grad student Josef Fruehwald, blogging at Val Systems, delivers an incisive counterpoint. “Ain’t nothing like exploiting the collective dysmorphia of a nation to push your quarter-baked usage decrees,” says he.