“we need a trademark for our new skincare brand” “what if we take a basic generic/descriptive term & remove all the vowels?” “ooh like an unpronounceable secret code?! DO IT.” pic.twitter.com/o6TJ0AqaIz
DRMTLGY was new to me, but I’ve been tracking the no-vowels branding trend for quite a while. (See my Pinterest board We Don’t Need No STNKN VWLS. And see my posts about BHLDN and BNJMN.) I had fun researching and writing about all the ways we dispense with written vowels in English and in some other languages, notably Arabic and Hebrew.
Full access to the column is restricted to subscribers; here’s an xcrpt:
Heroes:Quidsi, the parent company of a clutch of e-tailers (Diapers.com, Soap.com, Look.com, et al.), thinks very highly of its workforce and “culture.” Its employees aren’t just model citizens. They aren’t merely heroes. They’re superheroes! With … superpowers?
Food portmanteaus: Taco Bell is testing a quesarito (a hybrid quesadilla/burrito), which will come as old news to Chipotle customers. The owners of a couple of Shoprite markets in New Jersey claim to have invented the donnoli (hybrid donut/cannoli). At the Donut Fest in Chicago back in January, an NPR reporter tasted a doughscuit (“an impossible mix of doughnut-fried sweetness and crumbly biscuitness”) And the Portland, Maine, bakery Little Bigs got slapped down in its attempt to sell a cronut imitation as a crauxnut. Little Bigs asked customers to suggest a new name. The winner: C&D (for “cease and desist”).
And this just in: The New York Timesreports on the cragel (croissant + bagel), the mallomac (Mallomar + macaron), the scuffin (scone + muffin), and other hybrid baked goods.
A San Francisco startup called Gramr has blasted past its $15,000 Kickstarter goal in less than two weeks and appears likely to reach its “stretch goal” of $50,000. Before I give you any links or clues, try to guess from the name alone what Gramr makes. Language-learning flash cards? National Grammar Day T-shirts? An app that corrects your faulty subject-verb agreement?
No, no, and no. Gramr looks and sounds exactly like “grammar,” but the company has a completely different mission.
Given Peet’s Berkeley origins and normally high-minded, even reverential brand voice, I expected “social” here to mean “socially conscious”: I thought I’d be voting on microloans for women farmers in Ghana or clean water in Bangladesh. But no: the “vote” was yea or nay on zombies. Really, Peet’s? On the other hand, I suppose that when you start punning on “give a fuck,” you’ve left the Cult of Caffeine far behind.*
Then there’s this catchy, tuneful commercial for Fresh & Easy, a grocery-store chain that specializes in underserved (i.e., low-income) neighborhoods. (“You deserve wholesome food that doesn’t cost your whole paycheck,” says the F&E website, taking a little dig at Whole [Paycheck] Foods.)
“It’s about time/ Life was this F’n Easy.”
I’m guessing they tried “fresh and E” and decided it didn’t scan properly. (Hat tip: Infinitely Jeff.)
Rounding out the F trifecta is an announcement this week of CVNDSH, a new brand from British cycling star Mark Cavendish, known professionally by his surname only. He’s also known for his potty mouth, which is reflected in the tagline.
“NEW SITE COMING FST AS FCK.”
Yep, it’s another all-consonants brand name, in this case for bicycles and (maybe, someday) other products. “Removing the vowels from the identity is like removing parts of the bike—streamlining it as much as possible but making sure it still works,” said Sam Hodgson, creative director for the UK agency that did the brand design. “We wanted to create something that looked really pure.”
By the way, “FST AS FCK” may be for Eurozone eyes only: when I checked out CVNDSH.com, the line was the G-rated “New site coming soon.”
FCUK is a short, sharp name to stand for French Connection United Kingdom and was being used on faxes between our offices in the UK and Hong Kong (FCHK) before being introduced across the company as a highly recognisable name and acronym to stand alongside the French Connection logo.
The American Family Association, a conservative Christian group, attempted to stop the US trademark registration of FCUK. The group was particularly exercised over a line of branded fragrances with names like FCUK HIM and FCUK HER.
* Here’s what I mean about Cult of Caffeine: Some years ago I did a series of writing projects for Peet’s that required my presence at company headquarters. I thought my hosts would be eager to offer me a cup of House Blend, if not something fancier, but none was forthcoming. When I asked whether coffee was available—the meeting was long; it was mid-afternoon; I was fading—I saw pained looks all around. Sighing heavily and clearly inconvenienced, one of my clients removed himself to the Coffee Shrine and slowly, very slowly made one cup of French-press coffee just for me. It’s not the Peet’s Way to keep coffee sitting around, I was told: every cup is made fresh.
BNJMN is “a paintbrush-wielding bot created by two students at the Basel Academy of Art and Design,” according to a story in Co.Design. The name is pronounced “Benjamin,” and I was surprised to learn it had no relation to the paint company Benjamin Moore (which does sell a product calledben—all lower case). I emailed the creators of BNJMN and asked them about the name; here’s Travis Purrington’s reply in full (the ellipses are his):
BNJMN’s name evolved with his construction and development...
During the beginning of the naming process we originally were brainstorming far and wide for clever acronyms (like everyone) or heavy tech names (THX 1138, etc).
But in the end BNJMN was a warm/inviting sounding name that seemed a nice contrast to his sleek hard-edged body
(plus it looked good on paper and was easy to pronounce without vowels)
It seemed like a good match to the personality of his programming once we got him up and running...so it stuck.
Purrington did not say how many Benjamins BNJMN will set you back.
Perfume is a distillation of essences, so I suppose it’s logical for a perfume name to eliminate a few letters. And HYLNDS (“Aromatic Epics”) does have a vocalized Y, so it isn’t a complete consonant brick.
Refinery29, a design/lifestyle site, reportsthat HYLNDS was inspired by “the rolling hills and dramatic history of ancient medieval cultures.” And yet the aromas of peat, goat, and sweat are strangely absent from the three HYLNDS fragrances, which go for $180 per 50ml bottle: they’re called Bitter Rose, Broken Spear (which smells of “smelted iron, bitter rose,” and “melancholy thistle”); Isle Ryder (“resinous Norway spruce and fir cones with narcotic jasmine, island wildflowers, honeyed mead and bulrush straw”); and Pale Grey Mountain, Small Black Lake, (“a chilling air of wood, water, stone, and shrubs”). Each fragrance has HYLNDS, MDLNDS, and LWLNDS notes. Do I need to tell you that the company behind HYLNDS is “an indie Brooklyn perfumer” and that the product can be found at “stockists,” that Britishism beloved of pretentious Yank hipsters? No, probably not.
Melancholy thistle, indeed.
How to pronounce frrry? “Fry” with a lavishly trilled r? “Furry”?
No and no, according to the New York-based accessories e-tailer Roztayger:
The Frrry collection (pronounced ferry) is all about construction. Designed and made in The Netherlands using vegetable tanned Italian leather, creator Ferry Cornelis Gerardus Meewisse founded the line in 2002 after passing exams for 3D design at the Arnhem Academy of Arts.
Yes, that dangling phrase made me wince a little—Mr. Meewisse isn’t made of vegetable-tanned leather, as far as we know—but my bigger point is: ferry? Why not just spell it that way? “Ferry” would be an excellent name for handbags that ferry your stuff around. (Gorgeously, I must add: this style is fabulous, and not too exorbitant, either.)
It only stands to reason that you can find frrry products at UNDSCVRD.
Evvvvverywherrrre, from instant messages to texts to tweets and even e‑mails, I see examples of what language watchers call “word lengthening.” The habit began among teens and 20-somethings, but it is no longer limited to them. Adults are adding o’s to their no’s, s’s to their yes’es, and i’s to their hi’s, to say nothing of a glut of exclamation points. In response to some recent news, my 60-something mom wrote, “LOVE IT AND YOU TOO!!!!” What is going on?
Doll got answers from linguists: Elongation is an attempt to convey emotional nuance in short messages. It occurs frequently in instant messaging and texting, less so in email. It’s a way to foster a sense of shared identity.
Fair enough. But how to explain word-lengthening in business names, like the two I spotted recently?
Pizzahhh!, in Berkeley’s Hearst Food Court, caters to the university crowd.
PHHHOTOtransforms photo-booth photos into animated GIFs for party souvenirs.
Warning: website may induce seizures.
The creators of these names may think they’re being clever. Or they may have just futzed around, adding letters until they found available domain names.
I have two cautionary comments for them:
1. How many H’s did you say there were? Three? Four? (I forgot numerous times as I was writing this post.) Do you expect your customers to say “I’ll meet you at Pizza with some extra H’s on the end, no, not Pizza Hut, more like what you say at the doctor’s, only with an exclamation mark”? Do you want them to say “It’s that photo-GIF thing with the funny spelling”?
The folks at SQIRL – the little preserves- and pickle-maker and café in Los Angeles that’s the darling of big-timefoodies – must be too busy to answer the phone during business hours, so I haven’t been able to ask them the question that’s been gnawing at me: Is SQIRL pronounced “squirrel” or “skirl”? I’ve listened a couple of times to the very brief voicemail message, and I think it sounds like “squirrel,” so I’m going to go with that, although it makes me feel sad about the lost U, R, and E. Stashed away for next winter, perhaps.
“Skirl” might have been the more interesting pronunciation. And meaning.
More all-caps, vowel-starved names here. More squirrel stories here.
TESTY UPDATE from SQIRL via Twitter:
@fritinancy No email or message from you? Yet a post. Sqirl is pronounced Squirrel and its spelling is the marriage of a Girl who Squirrels.
a 9,000-square-foot retail space and gallery slated to open in the Mission in September. The design trove will feature furniture, lighting, fashion, and accessories from over 20 firms, as well as collaborative workshop space for Steven Miller Design Studio, Figure Plant, Hazel.Wood Design Group, and Hart/Wright Architects.
The all-caps, all-consonants naming trend continues unabated. I originally spotted unbevoweled names like BHLDN and BLK DNM in the fashion pages*, and now I see the fad is spreading to restaurants.
STK is a “new-style steakhouse” that’s set up shop in Los Angeles, Miami, Las Vegas, and New York. The website has video but no voiceover, so I can’t tell you whether the name is pronounced Ess-Tee-Kay, “Steak,” or something else. (Stock? Stick? Stack? Stoke? Stuck?) The establishment’s target market appears to be angry young women in extremely high heels and the men who photograph them. A restaurant blogger for the AtlantaJournal-Constitution liked what he saw and ate at the local outpost; he called STK “a cannily updated supper club with a good-natured sense of glamour” whose menu “has a kind of corporate-honed contemporary edge that slices into the he-man ethos of most other steak houses.”
In other news, the New York Timesreports that KTCHN will open in June on West 42nd Street. “It is in Out NYC, a new ‘urban resort’ complex whose owners have called it both the first gay hotel in New York and ‘straight friendly’,” notes reporter Florence Fabricant.
* And they continue to appear there. Latest example to catch my attention: the all-caps, vowel-deficient RUBR, maker of colorful, inexpensive rubber watches. Slogan: “What Color Is Your RUBR?”
Where does a style-savvy girl have to shop to buy a vowel nowadays? I’m looking at you, BLK DNM, the newish anti-fashion fashion boutique in downtown Manhattan that the New York Timesprofiled last week. (Reporter Jon Caramanica called BLK DNM “in essence an aggressively priced Uniqlo or Gap for the upper echelon of the invisible.”)
Is BLK DNM texting shorthand for “black denim”? Maybe. Maybe not. Urban Dictionary says “d’n’m” stands for “deep and meaningful.” Perhaps BLK stands for “bulk.” Or “blerk.” Or “bollocks.”
I’d dismiss BLK DNM as a pretentious anomaly if I hadn’t seen evidence that it is in fact part of an annoying trendlet. Let’s take a look:
BHLDN, which I wrote about a year ago, is Anthropologie’s entry into the wedding-fashion market. As I said in the post, it begs to be backronymed. (“Beware Hardly Literate Dumb Names”?)
Asmbly Hall, a new boutique on San Francisco’s Fillmore Street, scrounged up enough cash to buy a couple of A’s, but had to cut the E (and an S) out of the budget.
JNSQ, “the first independent, multimedia style magazine for iPad,” takes its name for French texting shorthand for “je ne sais quoi,” which means “I don’t know what.” How we’re supposed to pronounce the name? Moi, je ne sais pas. The online version of the company, according to a TechCrunch post, is called Jenesqua. Gen-ess-kwa? Donnez-moi un break.
The Gap is catching the consonantal drift, too. Its new online catalog, Styld.by, “taps fashion bloggers from popular sites including FabSugar, Lookbook.nu, and Refinery29, to style and showcase pieces of Gap clothing,” according to a post on Co.Create, Fast Company’s branding/entertainment/tech blog. (The “by” in the name looks like a country code, but isn’t: the URL is www.styld-by.com. There is no .by country code … yet.) Styld.by was created by a San Francisco agency called AKQA. AKQA doesn’t stand for anything except a certain JNSQ.
Of course, the whole thing started several years ago when tech companies like Flickr, Plnnr, and Dlvr.it (RIP) eliminated vowels to obtain short domain names. It sends one message when a scrappy startup cheats on spelling and quite another when the vowelless name belongs to an image-conscious fashion brand. By belatedly jumping on the bndwgn, are retailers trying to sell us austerity? Or are they just moving too fast to vowel up?