Every holiday season since 2006, Charmin toilet tissue has operated a fully stocked, fully branded public restroom—pop-up potties, if you will—in New York’s Times Square. (I wrote about the inaugural season in a November 2006 post, “Flushed with Success.”) This year, the 20-seat facility opens on November 22 on West 42nd Street. On that day, the five winners of Charmin’s “Go Nation” contest—judged on, among other things, “best incorporation of the Charmin spirit”—will be announced.
The Charmin Restrooms slogan this year, as it was in 2009, is “Enjoy the Go.” The slogan is an interesting example of anthimeria: the use of a word (in this case, the verb “go”) outside of its customary part of speech (in this case, as a noun instead of as a verb). Anthimeria happens frequently in branding; see, for example, my post about “I want reliable,” “Way to relief,” and other twisted-lingo slogans.
What does the “go” in “Enjoy the Go” mean? Linguist Arnold Zwicky offered an informed analysis on his blog:
Ok, that’s the go of go to the bathroom/toilet/restroom/…, nouned and with the mention of toilet facilities elided (as in the plain verb go, used with similar meaning: “I need to go really bad”), so that go here means something like ‘going to the bathroom’, but without any explicit reference to toilet facilities.
Of course, go to the X in these uses is already doubly indirect: it’s a metonymic reference to defecation/urination, with the place reserved for such purposes standing in for the acts performed there (but now semantically detached from those places, so that it’s possible to say things like “The kid went to the bathroom in his pants”); and the various fillers for X are themselves originally euphemisms. The Charmin slogan distances things two more steps, by removing X from the expression and (via nouning) by making the expression less action-oriented.
The Charmin website displays another curious slogan: “Use Charmin, and Use 4 Times Less.*” (*“vs. leading value brand.”) I understand “four times more” and even “four times less likely to X,” but the “X times less” construction always strikes my ear as mathematically implausible. “Half as much” or “one-quarter as much” makes more sense, even if it’s unlikely to turn up in an advertisement.
This latter topic, by the way, has gotten some attention on the Interwebs, occasionally by someone who’s lobbying for “four times fewer” (not relevant in the Charmin example) and occasionally by someone much smarter than I who brings in Isaac Newton, Jonathan Swift, and John Locke as witnesses for the defense. Here’s Eugene Volokh:
[I]t may well be that “A times less than B” is suboptimal usage, precisely because it annoys enough people. (I am skeptical that it genuinely confuses a considerable number of people.) But to say that the usage is “simply wrong” or “mathematically incorrect” is to misunderstand the connection between mathematics and English, including the English used by people who are masters of mathematics.
OK, Charmin, you’re off the hook. Gotta go now.
P.S. If Charmin ever repeats this experiment in Detroit, it may need a new slogan. “The Go” is the name of a local rock band.