Federal-level idiocy was on full, florid display this week. On Sunday, the current occupant of the White House and Mar-a-Lago took to Twitter to share his innermost thoughts, and got so carried away he misspelled the word principles.
It’s probably not a word he’s had much occasion to use.
Spotted on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland: a sign plugging the Jack in the Box Buttery Jack burger.
“Juiciest. Butteriest. Craviest.”
Sticklers will tell you that of those three adjectives, only juiciest is legit. I’m more concerned about the logical fallacy. Juicy and buttery (and their superlative forms, legit or not) describe the burger itself. But who or what is doing the craving?
.@Fritinancy@JackBox So, the burger is juicy and buttery but somehow is also animate such that it itself has cravings and is thus "cravy"?
Also defying logic: the nutritional valueof this sandwich. It contains 820 calories, 470 of them from fat. Its 1150 milligrams of sodium constitute 48 percent of the recommended daily allowance. (Hold the fries!)
Jack in the Box is also proudly serving – and coining – brunchfast, which would seem to require another superlative: brunchfastest.
Ten industry partners, including the youth-sports organization USA Swimming and several swimsuit manufacturers, are collaborating on a summer-long campaign to encourage kids to join a swim club or team—in other words, to view swimming as a sport instead of a grimly utilitarian anti-drowning measure.
The campaign includes a series of promotional spots featuring kids having fun and showing off. In a column about the ads, the New York Times’s Andrew Adam Newman wrote:
The spots direct viewers to a website for the effort, SwimToday.org, and promote a hashtag that will not endear the organization to English teachers, #funnestsport.
It’s not the first time funnest (or funner, for that matter) has pushed peevers’ buttons. Back in 2008, Apple described a new iPod Touch as “the funnest iPod ever,” and “people all over the Internet freaked out,” wrote Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty. Ben Zimmer devoted a Visual Thesaurus column to funner and funnest, affirming that they are “real words,” albeit “nonstandard, colloquial, informal” ones. He provided historical perspective:
Why are reactions so strong against funner and funnest? Plain old fun has always gotten something of a bad rap: back in 1755, Samuel Johnson called it “a low cant word,” meaning that it was jargon from the underworld. Over the centuries, the reputation of fun has been rehabilitated, but only as a noun. Many usage guides still state bluntly that fun is a noun and not an adjective. But it's a plain fact that fun has increasingly been treated as an adjective by modern English speakers, even among those who object to adding the comparative and superlative suffixes.
In other words, most people today won’t protest if you say “The party was fun.” (In his new book Bad Language, which I wrote about earlier this week, Ammon Shea notes that fun began to be used as an adjective in the middle of the 19th century.) Still, “creeping ‘adjectivization’ can sometimes only go so far,” Zimmer observed:
Adding -er or -est is the most in-your-face way to flag a word as an adjective, since there’s no possible way of connecting it back to the original noun sense. That’s a bridge too far for many English speakers. But for a lot of people born in the last thirty or forty years, especially in the United States, there's nothing objectionable about funner or funnest, at least in informal usage. In another thirty or forty years, these words might even be considered acceptable in standard written English.
The argument failed to convince some of his readers. “I refuse to allow advertising to dictate the evolution of the language,” wrote one commenter. Funner is “gut-clenchingly awful,” protested another.
“Which sounds the most fun to you?” Some peevers will say it’s still wrong, all wrong—that there should be a “like” after “should,” or that fun cannot, should not, must not ever be an adjective. Ammon Shea sums up the objections to fun as a noun like this: “If you try to use it adjectivally you might as well say ‘that was so enjoyment.’”
Something similar has been occurring, over roughly the same period of time, with stupider and stupidest. Ammon Shea devotes six pages in Bad Language to the debate over the status of stupider, which detractors insist is “not a real word.” Shea casts a rational eye. “In some cases,” he writes, “two-syllable adjectives can be modified with -er and -est, and in some cases they cannot—it depends largely on how the word ends. Those that end with a vowel, or a vowel sound (such as yellow or fancy), tend to be fine with -er and -est.”
And, he adds, “We did not used to be so worried about tacking –er and –est endings onto words. … Shakespeare was fond of inflecting adjectives in a way that would make a present-day English teacher burble, using honourablest, ancienter, eminentest, famousest, delectablest, and many such others.”
To return to the SwimToday hashtag, I vote in favor. It fits the subject: it sounds like what a kid having fun would say. (Linguists would say it’s in the appropriate register.) In fact, if I were the copywriter on that cannonball ad I’d swap out “which sounds most fun” for “which sounds funnest.” It’s just naturaler.
Besides, school’s out. Let’s relax the rules!
But even if you disagree, take heart: funnest is not evidence that the English language is headed for fiery doom. I’ll let Ammon Shea have the last word:
You can use funner and funnest, but you should bear in mind that anyone who chastises you for this use is unlikely to be interested in hearing your explanation for why it should be acceptable. These words will grate on the ears of many for some while to come. The process of an acceptable usage becoming unacceptable can be a long one, and the reverse process is true as well.
For reasons best left undisclosed*, I recently found myself looking up facts about California cities. I wasn’t searching for nicknames or mottoes, but somehow I ended up on Wikipedia’s List of City Nicknames in California, and … well, there went the afternoon.
The list doesn’t include one city nickname I’ve always liked: Manteca, in Central California, is known as Fat City. (Manteca is Spanish for “cooking fat.”) But it does contain plenty of nuggets, many of them new to me (a California native). I learned, for example, that Chatsworth, in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley, is sometimes called San Pornando, and that San Francisco has more nicknames (ten) than any other California city.
Then there are all the “X of the world” cities and towns. A lot of them.
I’d known, of course, that Castroville is the Artichoke Center of the World and that Gilroy is the Garlic Capital of the World; indeed, I’ve attended the Artichoke Festival and the Garlic Festival. But some of the other world capitals surprised me:
Fallbrook: Avocado Capital of the World and Raisin Capital of the World. (But also see Selma, below.)
Forestville: Poison Oak Capital of the World. (Hey, I’ve been to Forestville. It ain’t that bad!)
Holtville: Carrot Capital of the World. (I had to look up Holtville on a map. It’s a town of about 6,000 in Imperial County, about 10 miles east of El Centro.)
Indio: Date Capital of the World. (I have fond memories of spring vacations in Indio. It’s in the hot, dry Coachella Valley, near Palm Springs on the map but worlds away in style. We’d always stop at Shields Date Gardens to order date shakes and watch a grainy black-and-white documentary called The Romance and Sex Life of the Date.)
Watsonville: Strawberry Capital of the World. (Don’t tell Oxnard.)
Willow Creek: Bigfoot Capital of the world. (Had to look this one up, too. It’s in Humboldt County, near the Trinity River. Population about 1,000.)
I understand the inclination toward superlatives, but where city mottoes are concerned, I prefer the poetic: Modesto’s sublime “Water Wealth Contentment Health,” Del Mar’s much-imitated “Where the Turf Meets the Surf,” Redwood City’s briskly reassuring “Climate Best by Government Test.”
I’m drawn to dark mottoes, too, like San Francisco’s “The City That Waits to Die.” But no California city beats Colma, just south of San Francisco, which Wikipedia reminds us was “founded as a necropolis in 1924.” One of Colma’s mottoes is “It’s Good to Be Alive in Colma”; it’s also known as “The City of the Silent” and as “The City That Waits for ‘The City That Waits to Die’ to Die.”
My post earlier this week about Hipmunk’s “funner-er” ad prompted a couple of readers to contribute other examples of super-comparative coinages in advertising.
From HildebrandBurke, a new Twitter friend, I learned about KFC Australia’s recent “Goodest Get Together” promotion, an extension of the international “So Good” slogan. The agency, Ogilvy, went a little nuts inventing new words for this explanatory video:
“You simply take a good thing, emgooden it, and voilà—you’ve made it gooderer, as in ‘That’s the gooderest thing I’ve ever tasted!’”
Yeah, it’s pretty silly*, but even sillier (sillierest?) is the utter absence of brand referents. No food, no restaurants, no happy customers—what’s the deal? And why should I care?
Here in the U.S., reader Jenne reported seeing a store promotion that used the slogan “Make it creamier-er-er.” “Sadly,” Jenne wrote, “this explosion of ‘er’ did not make me remember what the product was.”
It was Kraft Natural Shredded Cheese.
Now, I understand that advertisers are constantly looking for new ways to say “superlative.” And I certainly don’t have a problem with wordplay and word invention. But I’m tired of the copycatting. When Android used “funner-er” back in 2008, it got attention. Then, in 2010, a bunch of companies hopped on the bandwagon: BlackBerry used “closer-er,” Captain Morgan used “delicious-er,” and Old Spice coined “fresherer” and “freshershist” [sic!]. Last year Maker’s Mark tried to sell us on “Maker’s-er” and United Airlines flew “worldwider.” Now Hipmunk is recycling “funner-er.”
It’s getting, shall we say, tedious-er.
Sticking an -er or an -est on an adjective doesn’t tell me you’re creative. It’s no longer a way to stand out from the competition. All it says is that you’re too lazy to do some truly original thinking about what your brand means.
* I give partial credit to “emgooden,” but it’s not as good as “embiggen,” whose coinage is usually attributed to “Simpsons” writer Dan Greaney, who used it in a 1996 episode. In fact, the first citation for “embiggen” appeared in 1884.
Something about this Hipmunk ad seemed familiar to me.
San Francisco Muni bus, May 20, 2012.
Then I remembered: Back in 2008 Google introduced its first Android phone, the T-Mobile G1. The ad for the phone was, as Ben Zimmer wrote for Language Log, “packed with jocular comparative adjectives: smarterer, connecteder, funnerer.” Ben went on:
Jobs died last year, the iPod Touch website no longer includes a reference to “funnest” (it now says “It has fun written all over it”), and the G1 has evolved into the G2X. But “funner-er” lives on at Hipmunk, the San Francisco startup founded in 2010—a generation removed, in tech years, from that 2008 Android campaign.
You may be wondering about the Hipmunk name. Here’s a story about it from TechCrunch, reproduced verbatim with the usual caveat about TechCrunch’s slack writing and editing:
Like many startups in today’s Silicon Valley*, [co-founder Adam] Goldstein was struggling to find an apropo domain that was topical and more importantly, available. After dangerously flirting with (and even purchasing) domains like BouncePounce.com and Trot.me, Goldstein’s girlfriend** told him to identify a cute mammal that he could build a brand around. Hipmunk fit the bill.
You’ll notice something missing from this origin story: an explanation of how Chipmunk (I presume) became Hipmunk. I gather that Chipmunk.com wasn’t available and (“more importantly”) no one was willing to part with cash for (a) domain negotiations or (b) professional naming services. Or maybe the founders just wanted to emphasize their hipness. A follow-up question from the reporter would have been helpful.
I wrote about another super-comparative coinage—“Maker’s-er,” from Maker’s Mark—in a September 2011 post.
* Hipmunk is in San Francisco, not Silicon Valley. Different area code, more fog, etc., etc.
** I’m sorry to keep sticking it to TechCrunch, but who was doing the dangerous flirting and purchasing—Goldstein or his girlfriend? Dangling modifiers: use at your own (and your readers’) peril.
You can’t blame Kentucky distillery Maker’s Mark for wanting to pile on the superlatives in an ad for Maker’s 46, the company’s first new bourbon in more than half a century. “Bigger, “bolder,” “spicier”—sure. But “Maker’s-er”? Er … what’s up with that?
Financial District, San Francisco, Sept. 10, 2011.
To me, “Maker’s-er” sounds like something you might slur to the bartender on your way to being 46ed—sorry, 86ed—from the saloon. It looks peculiar, too, because of the possessive -’s butting heads, or tails, with the comparative -er. Of course, “peculiar-looking-and-sounding” can be a good thing if it enhances memorability—or even, best of all possible worlds, becomes a meme.
The trouble is, this particular meme isn’t new or original. Like it or not, “Maker’s-er” follows a comparative-and-superlative-coining trend that’s been sputtering along for a few years. Back in 2008, Ben Zimmer wrote a Language Log post about an Android campaign that invented connecteder, smarterer, and funnerer. In July 2010 I wrote aboutcloserer (in an ad for BlackBerry Messenger) and deliciouser (in a campaign for Captain Morgan Lime Bite). And in March of this year Ben Zimmer wrote in the Visual Thesaurus about a TV spot for the laundry detergent Gain that caused a little fuss with its use of gooder. Phrases such as “the decay of our youth” were mobilized.
But back to Maker’s 46, which has tinkered with the coin-a-comparative formula by appending -er to its own brand name rather than to some other adjective. (Brand names are adjectives, legally speaking.*) The new bourbon has gotten some good reviews (Alcohology: “a body matured like Sophia Loren in her late 30’s”; Drink Spirits: “builds on the excellent foundation of Maker’s Mark and represents a big step forward”); it retails for $35 to $40 for a 750ml bottle. Where, I wondered, did the name come from? The number of years it took to develop the bourbon? No. Alcoholic proof? Nope. (It’s 94, or 47 percent alcohol by volume.) The number of some rural route in Loretto, Kentucky, where Maker’s Mark is located? No again. Here with the answer is an Associated Press story about the brand’s 2010 release:
The product’s name is a tip of the cap to the brand’s barrel maker and one of its top executives, who came up with the unique idea of using seared French oak planks inside the barrel to draw out more flavors. The product’s name reflects the profile number attached to the process.
* Actually, they’re attributive modifiers. See this 2004 Language Log post by linguist Geoffrey Pullum. The gist: “Attributive modifiers are nearly always optional, so if you have dutifully used your trademarks as attributive modifiers throughout, you should find that when you leave the trademark words out, things still make sense without any change in the grammatical structure of what is said.” Hat tip: Ben Zimmer.
The design of this poster is striking, but the slogan rings false. I don’t object on principle to the invented “closerer,” but “closer friends” made me jump to “loser friends” and then to the immortal “Coffee’s for closers only.”
“Beer . . . it’s delicious,” purrs the Spanish-accented voiceover. “But could it be deliciouser?” The answer is “jess,” of course.* In the few seconds remaining, the spot also introduces “ridiculicious” and “brohemoth.” (Another spot in the series uses “brochacho,” a blend of “bro” and “muchacho.” Bro- is the man-word prefix du jour.)