It started, as so many things do these days, on Twitter. GrammarSnark posted a photo…
… and added a comment: “Look, DiGiorno, this is not OK.”
To which Neal Whitman (LiteralMinded) responded:
GrammarSnark tossed it over to me, but I was stumped—temporarily, anyway. I determined to get to the bottom of this chik’n-and-egg question.
Some commercial misspellings exist for trademark distinctiveness and to send an ersatzness signal to customers: Don’t expect real wings, they’re just Wyngz! There are no actual cow byproducts in “kreme”!
But “chik’n,” it turns out, is a very different animal. First of all, that particular spelling has never been trademarked, although it forms part of many trademarks, including Chik’N Jr’s, Chik’n Giggles (!), and Dip’n Chik’n. (The first two are produced by Brakebrush Brothers, Inc. Dip’n Chik’n is a trademark of Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation. In this case, Pilgrim’s Shame is more like it.)
Second, and more alarming, “chik’n” can mean either of two things: what the USPTO calls “further processed chicken”—actual poultry bits reprocessed into other foods—or vegetarian chicken substitutes.
Chik’N Jrs, Chik’n Giggles, and Dip’n Chik’n all originated with live chickens. Not so the chik’ns of Morningstar Farms, which specializes in vegetarian replicas of meat items. Morningstar sells “tender, juicy Chik’n products” such as Chik’n Nuggets, Chik’n Veggie Patties, and Original Chik’n Tenders. All of these foods are essentially textured vegetable protein plus water, food color, spices, and some flour to hold the stuff together.
“These faux-meat chik’n nuggets were so much better than even the Purdue real chicken ones.” – IAteAPie.net
Meanwhile, Worthington Loma Linda, a vegetarian-foods competitor of Morningstar’s, sells frozen Fried Chik’n with Gravy. Another competitor, Quorn, sells “meatless and soy-free” Chik’n Patties, Southwestern Chik’n Wings, and Cranberry & Goat Cheese Chik’n Cutlets. Boca, a pioneer in veggieburger cuisine, offers six kinds of chik’n, including Spicy Chik’n Patties Made with Non-GMO Soy. Possibly striving for fanciness and premium pricing, another vegetarian-meals company, Gardein (“garden + protein”), spells it Chick’n, as in Chick’n Fillets, Chick’n Marsala, Chick’n Scallopini, and other apostrophe’d delicacies.
To sum up: Chik’n (or chick’n) can be chicken-derived or just chicken-ish. It can come from any of a dozen or so unrelated companies. The only thing the odd spellings guarantee is a certain degree of unnatural-ness.
But it was when I ventured into the realm of dead trademarks that things got really unnatural.
Over on Trademarkia—an endlessly fascinating trove if that’s your inclination (guilty as charged!)—I stumbled upon a morgue’s worth of hilariously inappropriate names from a company called Pierce Foods, which once operated out of West Virginia but now appears to be as defunct as the trademarks it owned. (Those marks are now for sale at bargain prices.) All of the trademarks involve “further processed” meats—that is, not vegetarian substitutes—and several entail chik’n. Here’s the one that pulled me in:
Notch-Ho Chik’n? Go ahead and serve it up with Chik’n Quickie, another dead Pierce trademark, and pour yourself a Cosmo Chik’n while you’re waiting for the microwave to ping. (Yes, I know Cosmo Chik’n wasn’t a beverage.)
Pierce at one time owned trademarks for Breastuft and Breast-Buttons. (Breast-Buttons? What, they were too shy to go with Niplettes?)
Consider, also, The Second Generation of Fried Chicken™, so much more appealing than what my people call “leftovers.” Or how about a platter of Pullet Surprise, Bone-Aparts, Lovebird Finger-Filets, Roman-Fingers, and Frenchik? Damn, those folks at Pierce Foods sure had themselves a good time around the old naming table.
Take it away, Louis Jordan:
Aaaaaaargh! Breast Buttons! Niplettes!!! I think that's going to be seared into my brain forever.
So glad someone else sees things like "wyngz" and deliberately misspelled business signs and groans aloud. It really is SO ANNOYING.
Thanks for the laugh - I will forever call all vegetarian amalgams of said fowl - with the exception of the aforementioned Breast Buttons(!!!) - "chik'nish."
Posted by: tanita | July 28, 2011 at 07:10 AM
I am Italian and the first thing that came to my mind when I saw the chik’n nuggets picture above, knowing that it was vegetarian food, was "chickpeas" rather than "chicken". Is it a typical non-native speaker reaction, possibly influenced also by cultural factors, or would anyone else make the same type of associaton? Thanks.
Posted by: Licia | July 28, 2011 at 11:30 AM
@Licia: It's unlikely that a North American would derive "chickpea" from "chik'n." Chicken is extremely popular in the U.S. and chickpeas aren't. Besides, chickpeas are often called garbanzos here (that's what I grew up calling them). "Chik'n," on the other hand, is ubiquitous, not just in vegetarian-meal names but also, as I said in the post, among processed-poultry products.
Posted by: Nancy Friedman | July 28, 2011 at 02:30 PM
Posted by: Duchesse | July 28, 2011 at 04:02 PM
When I first ran across "wyngz," I assumed it was just another cutesy trademarkable spelling. Not so. In fact, there exists a definition of "wyngz" in Federal law.
I wrote about it here:
Posted by: CGHill | July 28, 2011 at 06:16 PM
Anyone else get the impression that "notch-ho chick'n" is meant to be read as "not yo' [your] chicken"? It reminds me of a mildly racist joke I heard as a kid, about a black man who is confused by "nacho cheese", which he processes as "not yo' cheese".
Posted by: Lane | July 29, 2011 at 10:44 AM
I think that most such misspellings are either trademark distinctiveness, as you note, or an attempt not to confuse customers. Laws often dictate that something called "Tom's Turnips" actually has to be made of turnips, but "Tyrnyps" would have no such regulations.
Posted by: John Cowan | July 29, 2011 at 11:18 AM
By coincidence, just ran across this by Neil at Literal-minded on the subject of "not-show" becoming "nacho::
Posted by: Lane | July 29, 2011 at 11:27 AM