Let’s set aside, for a moment, our puzzlement about why the world needs “gourmet” scented pencils. Let’s instead ask why, in the name of Lewis Carroll*, someone thought it was clever to name those pencils Smencils.
It’s the product name and the company name! They’re both bad.
We get it: smell plus pencil equals Smencil. Unfortunately for the brand, smell is neutral at best and, much of the time, negative. On the spectrum of English-language odor-words, it’s just one degree more positive than stink. Indeed, “Smencil” carries with it a whiff of “No. 2,” and not in the graphite sense.
Alas, there’s more.
“Smencil” looks like the name of a joke product, marketed perhaps in the Yiddish Humor section of the toy store. But “Smen” looks like, well, semen.
Which is not what the company behind these products—it’s based in Southern California, in case you were looking to blame an auslander—has in mind. On the contrary, the earnest web copy strives to impress you with Smencils’ wholesome intentions:
We roll sheets of recycled newspaper to form cylinders that serve as the bodies of the pens. Then the cylinders are hardened and soaked in our gourmet liquid scents (made by an award winning fragrance company). Once they’re dry, we assemble the pens—including the pen caps that identify the scent of each Smen. Lastly, we put each Smen into its own corn-based biodegradable Freshness Tube.
No one loves a corn-based biodegradable Freshness Tube more than I do. But it’s hard to warm up to product names that evoke smegma**, smear, and smelt (“a small fish, Osmerus eperlanus, allied to the salmon, and emitting a peculiar odour”—OED).
(Hat tip: Copy Curmudgeon.)
* Carroll was the first person to call this sort of word blend a “portmanteau.” He gave us several well-known portmanteaus, including chortle and slithy.
** Lest we forget: Smeg.