If you’re considering a coined name for your company or product, it’s helpful to keep in mind a general rule of English pronunciation: When a vowel precedes a single consonant that’s followed by an e, the first vowel is long. Double the consonant and the vowel becomes shortened.
Later: long a. Latter: short a. Miler: long i. Miller: short i.
Yes, yes, there are exceptions. But coined words are like hoofbeats: we expect a horse, not a zebra. We look for simplicity, not conundrums.
Hoist the bare aluminum pole, my friends: today is Festivus, which means it’s time once again for my favorite holiday tradition, The Airing of Grievances.
For this year’s A of G—the sixth in a series—I’ve gathered some of the worst offenders from the world of marketing: the gaffes, goofs, and boneheaded blunders that we’ll recall for as long as schadenfreude remains in season.
Cromnibus: The $1.1 trillion spending bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on December 11 and by the Senate on December 13. The word is a portmanteau of omnibusbill (per Vox, “how Congress funds the government when things are working normally”—which in recent sessions is never) and the initials of continuing resolution, (“how Congress funds the government when it can’t come to a deal”). The bill now goes to President Obama for his signature. Also spelled CRomnibus.
Omnibusentered English—from a Latin word meaning “for all”—around 1829; it described “a four-wheeled public vehicle with seats for passengers.” By 1832 it had been truncated to bus. In reference to legislation, the Online Etymology Dictionary tells us, omnibus goes back to 1842.
Cromnibus caught on, however briefly, not only because of our enduring affection for portmanteaus but also because the word triggered similar-sounding associations that tickled our collective fancy. One of those associations is cronut, the croissant/donut hybrid invented—and trademarked—in 2013 by New York bakery owner Dominique Ansel. It has inspired dozens of imitators.
The cronot, a specialty of Bay Area bakery chain Posh Bagel. (Spotted earlier this month on Piedmont Avenue, Oakland.)
The omni- prefix has been used with sardonic intent in another recent-ish coinage, omnishambles, invented by British writer/director Armando Ianucci for a 2009 episode of “The Thick of It.” It was famously used in 2012 in the British House of Commons.
Update: Ben Zimmer alerted me to “the clever meta-blend cromnishambles,” as seen on Twitter last week.
Speaking of -bus words, and of Britain (but not of politics), IncubusLondon is a newish venture whose name is intended to be a portmanteau of [startup]incubator plus bus: it’s a co-working space in a London double-decker bus. Unfortunately, incubus has a separate and sinister meaning: “a male demon who comes upon women in their sleep and rapes them.” You’d think the London gang would have learned from Reebok’s costly misstep, back in 1996, when it named a women’s running shoe the Incubus. According to the Snopes entry, “Reebok Incubus” had been developed in-house and selected from a master list of about 1,500 names. Whoops:
Much chagrined, the company recalled 18,000 boxes of these unsold $57.99 shoes. The poorly researched name did not appear on the footwear itself but merely on its boxes, which provides a potential explanation for how the product’s rollout process got so far along before anyone commented on the unseemly name.
More of an excuse than an explanation, if you ask me.
From whence the name? It’s a play to make the word “mortgage” less weighty and ponderous. According to [founder Patrick] Browne, the company thought that “S’moretgage could be a nice way to make that word sound a bit less intimidating.” Once you learn how to spell it, it’s not too hard to remember.
But few commercial portmanteaus rise to those heights. Instead, what we see is a lot of chop-and-jam (or perhaps choja, as the blend trend would have it).
Last year, for example, saw the debut of Burger King’s Satisfries, a combo of “satisfy” and “fries” that satisfied no one. (It doesn’t help that the word sounds almost exactly like “saddest fries.”) Sonic Drive-Intortured phonetics with Spicedictive, a distinctly nonaddictive word. The New York Times devoted many column inches to a bourbon-rye blend called Bourye, which I see as Bour Ye and want to pronounce like “Hear ye, hear ye!”
Also in 2013, Subway introduced the Flatizza (flatbread/pizza), which invites adolescent chortling* about flat tits.
Image via A Walk in the Words, who called Flatizza “a phonetically problematic portmanteau.” Indeed.
And I’m sorry to say that we are far from finished with this tired trend. Today marks the rollout of Framily, from Sprint.
This Technology tip via brother Michael. Post title via Dorothy Parker.
* Which isn’t to say you can never use This in a name. Compare, for example, This Into That, the name of a small business in Berkeley that transforms old books into clever and useful objects such as clocks and key holders.
Also ill advised: a wordmark that makes it all too easy to read the name as “anus.”
I have anticipated your questions: No, “Onus” is not the name of the CEO/founder. (Her name is Kimberly Lee.) And it’s not “on us,”as in “The first visit’s on us!” I phoned the office: “Onus” rhymes with “bonus,” of which there is none to be found in the name.