I spotted the sign on Van Ness Avenue, near San Francisco’s Civic Center and some distance from Google headquarters (35 miles away), Pier 48 (four miles away and the site of the Google Cloud Platform Users Conference, which begins today), or any other relevant landmark. It’s a short stroll from the ad to the symphony hall and opera house, but I doubt music aficionados are in the target demographic.
Here, for the benefit of everyone who isn’t fluent in Techlish, is my attempt at decryption:
My latest column for the Visual Thesaurus takes a look at how nouns become verbs – and vice versa – in the language of commerce and elsewhere. If you’ve seen ads inviting you to beauty, to movie, or to pumpkin, you’ll know what I mean. But what about to gift, to share, and to contact? All began their lives as nouns before being undergoing the process known as functional shift or anthimeria (and not without controversy, in some cases).
Access to the column is open to all this month! Here’s an excerpt:
Although the examples I’ve cited here are recent, the phenomenon is not. “Flaubert me no Flauberts. Bovary me no Bovarys. Zola me no Zolas,” the novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1937. “And exuberance me no exuberances. Leave this stuff for those who huckster in it...” Facebook may have popularized to friend (the verb has been in widespread use since about 2005), but friend had occasionally been used as a verb since the 1200s, according to the OED. Four and a half centuries before there were mobile text messages, to text meant “to write in text letters” – the large writing used by clerks in the body of a manuscript. (The past-tense form of text still stymies many people. For the record, it’s texted. As linguist Arnold Zwicky pointed out in 2008, “Verbing has always weirded [not weird] language.”)
Gee, it seems like only last week that I brought you tidings of “family” and “museum” being used as verbs. Hang on – it was last week! And now I can make it a trifecta: the cable network TCM (Turner Classic Movies) has launched a new ad campaign that verbifies “movie.”
A new brand campaign for Turner Classic Movies not only puts the emphasis on movies, but turns the word into a verb.
With the slogan “Let’s Movie,” the channel is urging people who love movies—not just the classics—to tune in.
Watch the 60-second spot, which contrary to the mission statement does in fact spotlight classic movies like Casablanca and Ben-Hur, and whose narrator coos, “Let’s live. Let’s love. Let’s go. Let’s movie!”
And mark your calendars: September 19 is Let’s Movie Day. “Hopefully that will get a little buzz,” TCM general manager Jennifer Dorian told B&C, a little plaintively.
By the way, “Let’s Movie” is not to be confused with “Let’s Move,” which is First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to reduce childhood obesity.
Verbifying a noun is a popular (lazy) way for ad copywriters to say “Look at how creative and action packed we are!” Two current marketing efforts, from Tylenoland the Natural History Museumof Los Angeles County, perpetuate the trope.
This Is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More. For Young and Old Alike, by Augusten Burroughs. The paperback edition (2013) bore an abbreviated subtitle: Surviving What You Think You Can't.
Unlike the store window, the company website refrains from squash-verbing, or verb-squashing: it simply and modestly claims that “Pumpkin Is Here.” The bounty includes pumpkin bagels, pumpkin shmear, pumpkin muffins, and something called pumpkin clusters.
You may have noticed that everyone everywhere is prepared to pumpkin: it’s become the dominant fall flavor. And that may have puzzled you, because pumpkin isn’t really a flavor at all—the squash itself is nutritious but bland. So what constitutes “pumpkin flavor,” and what’s responsible for all this pumpkinifying?
According to an article published this week in Fortune(“Is Pumpkin Spice the Ultimate Aphrodisiac?”), Starbucks may have started the trend with its Pumpkin Spice Latte, known to fans as PSL. The company claims that the drink, which was introduced in 2003, is its “most popular seasonal beverage of all time.” You may or may not be surprised to learn that there is no actual pumpkin in the beverage; essence of pumpkin is evoked by cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and sugar, as well as a dose of unspecified artificial flavors.
Eleven years of Starbucks success has inspired a lot of imitators. From the Fortune article:
Just about anything that can have a pumpkin variety now does, or soon will: Oreos, Milano cookies, M&Ms, yogurt, marshmallows, gum, oatmeal, Eggo waffles. There was even buzz last week, which turned out to be a hoax, about a pumpkin spice condom. The fact that this fake news gained so much traction is a sign of how sexy the subject has become.
Why pumpkin (or “pumpkin”) and not another seasonal flavor, like apple pie or (my own preference) maple syrup? The Fortune reporter talked to Alan Hirsch, founder and director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, who has researched the effects of scents on sexual arousal in male volunteers. (Yes, only males.) The results:
He found that the scent causing the highest level of arousal was a combination of lavender and pumpkin pie. Doughnut and black licorice came in second, and the combination of doughnut and pumpkin pie came in third. Ironically, cranberry, the other big marker of Thanksgiving, came in last.
For the big picture on pumpkin-flavored foodstuffs, check out Impulsive Buy, whose dogged bloggers track down and consume all manner of crap in the name of consumer enlightenment. Impulsive Buy’s pumpkin archivesinclude posts on pumpkin spice chips(from Pringles), tortilla chips (from Food Should Taste Good and Garden of Eatin’), soymilk (from Silk), pop-tarts (from Kellogg’s), and sparkling juice “cocktail” (from Welch’s), as well as all of the snacks cited by Fortune.
It’s a double whammy, folks! Numero uno, another candidate in the Near-Profanity Sweepstakes, F-word division. It’s a category already overpopulated with entries like Fresh ’n’ Easy’s “It’s about time life was this f’n easy” and Booking.com’s “Look at the booking view!” (For more, see my post from June 2013.)
And numero two-o, it’s another example of the funny uses of funin the language of commerce. We’ve seen comparative fun (funner), superlative fun (funnest), and even super-comparative fun (funner-er). Now Toyota has transformed fun into a reflexive imperative verb.
The Italians must think the slogan is untranslatable.
You may recall that Toyota isn’t the first mass brand to hop on the F train. Last year Jell-O verbed funin a boundary-pushing campaign called “Fun My Life.” The #FML hashtag made it clear that Jell-O knew exactly which boundaries it was pushing. Bye-bye, Bill Cosby.
Despite the boggling number of Urban Dictionary upvotes, FML does not mean “Fix My Lighthouse.”
What else can we say about Toyota’s creative effort? Well, the copy avers that “The spirit of playfulness is alive in this small car.” The spirit of punctuation, however, is on its last wobbly legs.
Sophisticated dramatically styled and compact. We’ve designed our best small car ever, now it’s time you got involved.
The idiocy of this slogan truly boggles the mind! I’m an avid user of the longer F word in the right context, but Toyota has shot itself in the foot with this one...not funny, not clever, won’t sell cars.
I’ve been interested for years in advertisers’ penchant for turning adjectives into nouns and nouns into verbs. In his regular column for The Week, James Harbeck, a linguistics-trained editor, looks at why these switches—collectively known as anthimeria—work. It’s all about bisociation: “You have two things operating on two different planes or according to two different scripts, and at the point where the two meet, you jump from one to the other. … Bisociation tickles your brain, and that’s just what marketers want to do.”
Here’s something lovely: Vernacular Typography, “dedicated to the documentation and preservation of vanishing examples of lettering in the everyday environment.” A project of the New York Foundation for the Arts, it catalogs ghost signs, Coney Island signs, no-parking signs, subway signs, grammatical-error signs, and much more.
Reason #46,313: The best worst names in superhero comics, compiled with frightening thoroughness by Drew G. Mackie of Back of the Cereal Box. A few of my favorites: Egg Fu, Microwavebelle, Flemgem, and Rice O’Rooney (the San Francisco Threat). If you don’t know why the last one is so bad it’s good, watch this.
On April 22 the New York Times launched The Upshot, an online section that focuses on politics and policy. The name was chosen over 45 also-rans, including Crux, Kernel, Sherpa, and Uncharted. Why did The Upshot prevail? “It’s simple and straightforward,” the editors write, “and there’s no inside joke or historical reference you’ll need to understand what it’s about: a clear analysis of the news, in a conversational tone.”
Now that Pied Piper, the fictional startup in HBO’s “Silicon Valley” series, has an official logo, how well does it stack up?
In November 2012, voters in Washington State legalized marijuana use and authorized the licensing of retail outlets to sell cannabis. (Voter turnout, Wikipedia notes with no apparent irony, was 81 percent, “the highest in the nation.”) Now that Seattle’s first pot stores have been chosen by lottery, let’s take a look at their names. Lots of greens (Greenjuana, Evergreen, Street of Greens, Green Vision, Greenco, Behind the Green Door), quite a bit of 420 (Seattle 420, 420 PM Corp, Highway 420, 420-911), and a few whose owners appear to be fans of “The Wire” (Bellinghamsterdam, Vansterdam, Hamsterdam, New Vansterdam). Kinda meh, if you ask me, but hey—it’s still a budding industry. (Hat tip: Benjamin Lukoff.)
In related news, Fast Company’s Co.Design blog talks to four cannabis-industry experts about “how to brand a high-demand, once-illegal product.” Cherchez les femmes, says Cheryl Shuman, who points to “stiletto stoners”—successful working women who smoke pot—as a key demographic. (Hat tip: Irene Nelson.)