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’.”
The Gyges effect takes its name from a story related in Plato’s Republic about the Ring of Gyges, which bestowed the power of invisibility on the wearer. Gyges was a historical king of Lydia, but the story centers on a mythical shepherd said to be Gyges’ ancestor; in the tale, the shepherd uses the cloak of invisibility to seduce the queen, murder the king, and seize the throne. In recounting the tale, Plato’s brother Glaucon asks “whether any man can be so virtuous that he could resist the temptation of being able to perform any act without being known or discovered,” and concludes that morality is a social construct.
The Ring of Gyges has taken on metaphorical significance in the Internet era. In an opinion piece about “the epidemic of facelessness” published in the New York Times on February 15, 2015, Stephen Marche writes about “the faceless communication social media creates, the linked distances between people, both provokes and mitigates the inherent capacity for monstrosity”:
The Gyges effect, the well-noted disinhibition created by communications over the distances of the Internet, in which all speech and image are muted and at arm’s reach, produces an inevitable reaction — the desire for impact at any cost, the desire to reach through the screen, to make somebody feel something, anything.
Is Cadillac a whipped underdog? That’s what I infer from the automaker’s new “Dare Greatly” campaign, from Publicis, which will kick off during Sunday’s Academy Awards broadcast. I caught the teaser ad at a Berkeley movie theater before a screening of the Best Foreign Film nominee Timbuktu, which is about the violent clash between cattle herders and religious extremists in Mali. (The dissonance between ad and movie was so thick it would have taken a cleaver to slice it. But I digress.)
Here’s the spot:
The script isn’t credited, but it’s lifted from “Citizenship in a Republic,” a 1910 speech given at the Sorbonne in Paris by Theodore Roosevelt, then one year out of the White House. The youthful-sounding female voiceover, the moody music, the slow-mo near-black-and-white imagery: they’re intended to make you think—no, not think, feel—that Something Important Is About to Happen. Something moving and portentous and great. But is that really what we’re being told?
The Seattle Seahawks lost the Super Bowl to the New England Patriots. Maybe they’d have fared better under one of the other names nominated in a 1975 naming contest, including the Rainbeams, the Lumberjacks, and the Needlers. (Mental Floss)
“Check the trademark early on,” “Avoid focus groups,” and other good advice about naming from professional name developers. (Communication Arts)
“People talk about expensive meals using sex metaphors; for noodle joints and cupcake counters, they resort to drug lingo.” A visit to a London pub with linguist Dan Jurafsky, author of The Language of Food. (The New Yorker)
The Daily Brute, The London Asswipe, The Quibbler, and other fictional newspaper names. (Wikipedia)
“Be specific—but not wordy” and other tips for naming a blog. Includes a nice shoutout for Strong Language, where I publish from time to time. (The Daily Post)
Would you spend $30,000 to find “a unique name for your unborn child? A wonderful first name that sounds so good that it just had to be invented? A brand-new name with an exciting derivation and unmistakable history? “ This Swiss firm—whose own name is tough to pronounce—is banking on it. (erfolgswelle® AG)
A drugroll—um, drumroll—for the 2015 drug name awards. It’s a tough, confusing field: Zerbaxa, Zontility, Vimizin, Zykadia… (Gary Martin)
Last week North Korea’s Workers’ Party released 310 exclamatory new slogans created to mark the country’s 70th anniversary, and Western news media have been having a glorious people’s field day with them. “Even allowing that they probably come off more melodious in their original Korean,” observed NPR, “some of the commandments are so awkward that it's hard to imagine them sounding right in any language.” Some are malodorous (“Let the strong wind of fish farming blow across the country!”), while others are creepy (“Let us turn ours into a country of mushrooms by making mushroom cultivation scientific, intensive and industrialized!”) and still others could have come from an overeager U.S. marketing department (“Go beyond the cutting edge!”). Here’s the complete list on KCNA Watch, an official English-language publication of the Korean Central News Agency.
Telematics: The science and technology of sending, receiving, and processing information via telecommunications.
Telematics is not a new word: it was borrowed from the French télématique, which was coined in 1978 by the authors of a report on “the computerization of society.” (That report was largely responsible for the national launch in 1982 of Minitel, France’s pioneering network of computers that at its apex was installed in 9 million homes. Supplanted by the Internet, Minitel was finally shut down in 2012.) The OED’s earliest citation for telematics in English is from an October 1979 article in The Economist, where telematics was called “the new vogue word for the high-growth industries of telecommunications, computers, microchips and databanks.”
In recent years, telematics has taken on a specific new meaning. That new definition is the subject of “The Spy Who Fired Me,” a report by Esther Kaplan in the March 2015 Harper’s. (The article is behind a subscriber paywall.)
Kaplan writes that she became interested in “the data-driven workforce” when she began noticing that UPS deliveries “never arrived” at the Brooklyn apartment she’d recently moved to. Instead, she’d get attempted-delivery notes—even when she was at home. “Then,” she writes, “I learned about UPS’s use of something called telematics”:
Telematics is a neologism coined from two other neologisms — telecommunications and informatics — to describe technologies that wirelessly transmit data from remote sensors and GPS devices to computers for analysis. The telematics system that now governs the working life of a driver for UPS includes handheld DIADs, or delivery-information acquisition devices, as well as more than 200 sensors on each delivery truck that track everything from backup speeds to stop times to seat-belt use.
One New York City UPS driver Kaplan interviewed makes 110 stops and delivers 400 packages in a typical shift, which can last more than 12 hours. The Teamsters (“North America’s strongest union”), which represents UPS employees, won contract language preventing drivers from being fired based on their telematics reports, but, Kaplan writes, “supervisors have found workarounds, and telematics-related firings have become routine.”
UPS is far from an outlier: McDonald’s, Stop & Shop, Gap, Starbucks, and Uniqlo are among the many companies that are governing their employees’ lives by the rule of telematics, and Kaplan writes that telematics “is expected to become a $30 billion industry by 2018.” Typically, at a telematics-driven restaurant, “[a] point-of-sale (P.O.S.) system connected to the cash register captures the length of time between the end of the last customer’s transaction and the beginning of yours, how quickly the cashier rings up your order, and whether she has sold you on the new Jalapeño Double. … This data is being tracked at the employee level: some chains even post scan rates like scorecards in the break room; others have a cap on how many mistakes an employee can make before he or she is put on probation.”
One result of this relentless tracking is “to keep staffing as lean as possible, to treat employees as temporary and replaceable, and to schedule them exactly and only when needed.” At one chain, Abercrombie & Fitch, “employees started receiving entire schedules composed of on-call shifts that never materialized. … Employees were slowly being turned into day laborers. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that the number of retail employees involuntarily working part-time more than doubled between 2006 and 2010, from 644,000 to 1.6 million.”
Telematics appears in 34 live marks in the U.S. trademark database, all of which were registered in the last decade. Many, such as Octo Telematics and Mix Telematics, are for vehicle tracking (or “providing information about driver behavior to third parties”) devices and services; at least one, Kore Telematics, sells a full range of monitoring systems “for use in vehicle location and tracking, point of sale and vending, asset tracking, personal security, healthcare, energy management, environmental services, and industrial monitoring.” And phone companies are getting in on the action, too: Verizon’s Networkfleet divisionsells “fleet management solutions” that drive “more efficient ways of working.”
There’s something slightly bananas about this slogan:
“Taste Me Do Good” bananas.
The bananas in the boxes are grown in Ecuador following organic, fair-trade practices. That’s very commendable. But the marketing language—from that slogan to the name of the growers’ community, Interrupción—is less appealing.
I’m back at the Strong Language blog today with a post about “Schitt’s Creek,” a new sitcom that makes its U.S. debut tonight on cable TV’s Pop channel. The title was too taboo for NPR’s television critic to utter aloud, so he spelled it out, provided a rhyming mnemonic, and subsequently truncated the offensive name to “Creek.”
There’s a second naming story hidden in that one, although it’s not as racy: Pop (as in pop culture) was formerly known as the TV Guide Network; it rebranded last year as “a multi-platform destination dedicated to celebrating the fun of being a fan” where “fans don’t sit at the outskirts of pop culture making snarky comments, they live right smack in the middle of it.” Pop is targeting “modern grownups” age 35 to 40 (a rather narrow demo, don’t you think?) “who have a lot of disposable income and still go to the gym, want to look good and want to watch the show everyone is talking about,” according to the channel’s president of entertainment and media, Brad Schwartz.
Grammando: “One who constantly corrects others’ linguistic mistakes.” Neologism coined by Lizzie Skurnick from grammar and commando. First appeared in the March 4, 2012, issue of the New York Times Sunday Magazine, under the heading “That Should Be a Word.” In a blog entry published on the same date, Skurnick explainswhy she coined the word: “Because I have always HATED the term ‘Grammar Nazi,’ as it makes NO SENSE, unless Jew-killing means an adherence to precision.” (Skurnick’s use-it-in-a-sentence example isn’t exactly precise, either: “Cowed by his grammando wife, Arthur finally ceased saying ‘irregardless.’” As linguist Arnold Zwicky points out, “As usual the exemplary grammando’s complaint is not actually about grammar, but about word choice. What the hell, It’s All Grammar, right?”)
I’d read about grammando three years ago, then promptly forgot about it until last month, when Anne Curzan, an English professor at the University of Michigan, used it in a talk she gave at the American Linguistic Society meeting in Portland. She prefers it to “grammar Nazi,” she said. Curzan was an early adopter of grammando, mentioning it during a July 2012 episode of “That’s What They Say,” a Michigan Public Radio program about language. Grammando evokes the ambush tactics of militant language cranks—the people John McIntyre of the Baltimore Sun has dubbed the peeververein—without resorting to images of swastikas and concentration camps.
Curzan admires grammando but is less approving of grammandizing. “It’s a real power play to suddenly talk about the way somebody is writing or talking as opposed to what they’re saying,” she told Michigan Public Radio:
So if you catch someone’s grammatical mistake, should you point it out? Curzan says it depends on why you are correcting the person.
According to Curzan, some people are sticklers about grammar because they feel like it’s a part of professional training.
“If that’s the reason, I think that’s a legitimate reason, but I wouldn’t stop them in the middle of talking. That’s very disruptive,” Curzan said.
Unsurprisingly, the comments on that MPR article are, with one exception, in the peevish-grammar-stickler vein
A grammando currently making headlines is Bryan Henderson, a 51-year-old American software engineer on a mission: to rid Wikipedia of every instance of “comprised of.” (To comprise means to contain or include; standard usage insists on composed of or consists of.) To date, he’s removed 47,000 offenses. In a 6,000-word essay published on his Wikipedia user page, Henderson reminds readers that “the whole comprises the parts; the parts compose the whole” and argues that comprised of is “completely unnecessary,” “illogical,” etymologically unfounded, imprecise, and “new”: “It was barely ever used before 1970,” Henderson writes. Of course, neither were many other words, including quite a few from the vocabulary of technology: app, flash drive, and voicemail, to name but a few.
The company has an athleisure*(athletic + leisure) pedigree: one of the co-founders, Shannon Wilson, is married to Chip Wilson, who founded the yogawear pioneer Lululemon. The other co-founder is Chip’s oldest son, JJ. (Chip Wilson, who is an informal adviser to Kit and Ace, “resigned from Lululemon’s board last year, after a disastrous episode involving unintentionally see-through yoga pants,” writes Widdicombe.)
Where did the Kit and Ace name come from? Here’s Widdicombe:
JJ oversees branding for the Kit and Ace line. The name, he explained, refers to two imaginary “muses” that he and Shannon came up with. Kit is the name Shannon would have given a daughter (for Vancouver’s Kitsilano beach, “where all my dreams came true,” she said). “I think of Kit as Shannon in her heyday,” JJ said. “An artist at heart, a creator. A West Coast girl. An athlete.” Ace, her masculine counterpart, is “a West Coast guy. He likes things that are easy and carefree.” He filled out the picture: Ace surfs. “He’s graduated college. He’s thirty-two. He’s maybe dating The One.”
Could Ace be modelled on JJ? His parents teased. “He’s a bit of a pain in the ass!” Shannon said.
“A little pretentious,” Chip said, laughing.
There’s no explanation of the symbol that stands in for “and.”
Besides being plausible personal names, kit and ace have other relevant meanings. Kit can mean “a set of articles or implements used for a specific purpose” (a survival kit; a shaving kit), while ace can mean “expert” or “first rate.” Both words can function as verbs (to kit out, to ace a serve) as well as nouns.
This isn’t JJ’s first foray into retail, or into company names that follow the X + Y formula: He founded Wings + Horns, a menswear company, in Vancouver in 2004.
Kit and Ace sells clothes made from a washable fabric blend the company calls Qemir (sometimes uncapitalized; pronunciation uncertain): 81 percent viscose, 9 percent cashmere, 10 elastene. The company has applied for trademark protection for “Qemir” and for a tagline: “Technical Cashmere.”