The Northern Hemisphere’s summer solstice – literally, “the point at which the sun seems to stand still” – occurred at 9:24 p.m. Pacific Time on Tuesday, June 20. But for some brands, the solstice never ends.
Last week Taser International, maker of stun guns, body cameras, and technology for transmitting law-enforcement data, announced that it was changing its corporate name to Axon, the name of its body-cameras. As part of the rebranding, the company is offering a free body camera to every police officer in the U.S. for one year, plus a year of free data storage.
Axon pursued a popular renaming strategy for companies that are shifting their product focus: Elevate the name of the product that’s going to carry you into the future. “Axon” is not a brilliant name; its dictionary meaning is “the long process of a nerve fiber that conducts impulses away from a nerve cell,” and that’s sparked the synapses of a lot of other companies. (A sampling: a company that makes “nutraceuticals for Baby Boomers”; a kiteboard company; a bedbug-extermination company; and Dolby, for its surround-sound VOIP program, which the company shut down late last year.) And Axon pales in comparison with Taser, which has a vivid name story: The word was coined in 1974 by the device’s inventor, Jack Cover, who created an acronym from the title of one of his favorite childhood books, Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle, originally published in 1911. Cover bestowed a middle initial on Tom, and a name was born. It couldn’t have hurt that “Taser” echoed two slightly older science-y names: maser and laser. The Online Etymology Dictionary notes that Taser “threatens to escape the cage of its copyright [sic; should be “trademark”], despite the strenuous efforts of the owners, who are within their rights to fight to hold it.” Among other trademark no-nos, Taser has spawned a backformed verb, to tase.
“Broadly speaking,” Winston Churchill may or may not have said*, “short words are best, and old words when short are the best of all.” With Oath, the name of the new division that will house AOL and Yahoo’s media and business-to-business properties after those two companies merge, parent company Verizon gets a twofer: short and old.
The name was revealed in a cryptic tweet from AOL CEO Time Armstrong on Tuesday afternoon: “Billion+ Customers, 20+ Brands, Unstoppable Team. #TakeTheOath. Summer 2017.” Twitter predictably piled on, not without justification. But I solemnly pledge to give the new name a fair hearing.
I’ve been tracking smart in product and company branding for a couple of years (see this blog postand this Visual Thesaurus column), but I’ve still been amazed and amused by a recent cascade of smart brands – a smartnado, if you will. Many of the newer smart brands don’t even incorporate tiny artificial brains: They’re just attempting to tell us that they’re geniuses at whatever they do.
If the deal goes through, Yahoo, the pioneer internet portal founded by Jerry Yang and David Filo in 1994, will be selling its core internet assets to Verizon for $4.8 billion. On Monday it was announced that what’s left – a 15 percent stake in the Chinese retail business Alibaba and the Yahoo Japan joint venture with Softbank – would be renamed Altaba. CEO Marissa Mayer and founder Filo will be leaving the board.
The old Yahoo billboard near the Bryant Street on-ramp to the westbound Bay Bridge. It went dark in 2011. Read my post about it.
This post marks my eighth annual foray into word-of-the-year (WOTY) speculation. My first such summing-up, in 2009, included birther, Tea Party, and FAIL, among other lexical units. How things have changed. Or not.
As in the past, my choices for 2016 follow the guidelines of the American Dialect Society, which will choose its own WOTYs on January 6, 2017, at its annual meeting in Austin, Texas. (If you happen to be in the vicinity, the vote is open to the public, and it’s hella fun.) There are a few new ADS categories this year – political word of the year, digital (tech-related) word of the year, slang word of the year, WTF word of the year – and there’s always the possibility of even more categories being nominated from the floor. (For my own list, I’ve created three new categories: Obscenity of the Year, Import of the Year, and Spoonerism of the Year.) Nominated words don’t have to be brand new, but they do need to “show widespread usage by a large number of people in a variety of contexts and situations, and which reflect important events, people, places, ideas, or preoccupations of English-speakers in North America in 2016.”
Do-it-yourself home security devices – connected to homeowners’ smartphones rather than to a security company or police department – represent a growing market. Most such devices cost around $200 and involve monthly fees of $10 to $50, but a Chinese smart-technology company, RippleInfo, has developed a security device with some attractive differences – notably, a lower initial price and no monthly fees.
What if business jargon were made literal and tangible? Artists Isabel + Helen take on that challenge with A Load of Jargon, an installation opening tomorrow at The Conran Shop in London’s Chelsea district. The exhibit turns five buzzwords – “thinking cap,” “big idea,” “next steps,” “easy win,” and “going viral” into visual puns. There’s a public-health imperative behind the humor, notes FastCo Design in a story about the show: “[C]orporate speak isn't just funny sounding (and fuzzy in meaning)—it actually can make you less intelligent.” (Hat tip: Silicon Valley Speak.)
Software engineers and the enterprises that hire them as vendors share a frustration: long-term contracts with little flexibility. Adrian Ionel, who’d co-founded the successful cloud-infrastructure company Mirantis, had a better idea: a software-support network that cuts out the middlemen and the expensive contracts, delivering expert technical services on an as-needed basis. Adrian came to me for help in naming the company after internal naming efforts had not yielded satisfactory results.
My new column for the Visual Thesaurus, “There’s Something About ‘Thing’,” takes a look at the astonishing versatility and utility of thing, one of the oldest words in the English language. Thing dates back to at least the seventh century C.E., yet it’s as current as the oft-invoked Internet of Things – a 1999 coinage to describe devices (thermostats, refrigerators, even garbage cans) with their own means of gathering information and understanding the world.
Full access to the column is restricted to subscribers for three months. Here’s an excerpt:
One new thing slogan appropriates an idiom that seems newly coined but is in fact decades old. Earlier this year, the cable channel truTV — which broadcasts, among other programming, some of the games of the NCAA basketball tournament, also known as March Madness — revealed a new, scrawled tagline: "truTV is A Thing.” The slogan turns a pop-culture expression into a positive declaration while sounding a bit self-effacing. “We're not the biggest channel on earth,” a spokesperson told me via Twitter. Rather, he said, truTV is modestly asserting that “we exist.”
“It’s a thing” and “Is that even a thing?” are trendy right now. But as Patricia O’Connor pointed out last year in her Grammarphobia blog, versions of the phrase have been around since at least the mid-1980s. She found an example in a 1984 issue of Musician magazine:
In the article, Garry Tallent, the bassist for the E Street Band, comments on a People magazine piece that compared the “clean-living” band to the Hardy Boys.
“It’s true,” Tallent is quoted as saying, “but, especially since People magazine, it’s become a thing.”