How do you translate a colloquial, nonliteral expression like Trainwreck—the title of the new Amy Schumer feature film—into non-English languages? IMDb has a list of global akas; Mashable has helpfully re-translated some of them. (Not included in the Mashable list: Y de repente tú (“And suddenly you”), probably the most romantically inclined of the bunch. In France, by the way, the official title is Crazy Amy—yes, in English.
Translation of the French Canadian title, Cas désespéré.
Three guys were watching HBO’s “Silicon Valley” when it occurred to them to create a dictionary of jargon used on the show. The result is Silicon Valley Dictionary, where you’ll find definitions for terms like This changes everything (“Nothing has changed. Pure marketing”) and Awesome journey (“used when a startup has failed”).
Gone are the days when an aspiring wine brand had to sound aristocratic. Today’s successful wines have names like Jealous Bitch, The Ball Buster, and Le Vin de Merde. “Dirty Wine,” my new post on the Strong Language blog, examines the trend and catalogues the players. Take a look, but be forewarned: Strong Language calls itself “a sweary blog about swearing,” and it delivers on that slogan—but in the most edifying and even scholarly way.
Related: Untitled, a restaurant at New York’s Whitney Museum; Untitled Startup, Inc., which eventually chose a less baffling name; The Nameless Café in Oakland, California (which has no listings as well as no name); and The Nameless, a nonprofit organization, also in Oakland, that is defunct as well as nameless.
So much cleverness obviously begged to be imitated. And so behold (or Be.hold) Be toothpaste from Crest, which I spotted at Walgreen’s earlier this week.
Crest launched the “innovative new line” back in January. According to a press releasefrom Procter & Gamble, Crest’s parent company:
“Crest is always looking at trends to develop products that give consumers a unique yet effective experience,” said Rishi Dhingra, Marketing Director, Procter & Gamble. “Crest Be® was developed out of the research and insights that consumers are looking for experiential purchases. The new toothpastes not only provide the foundational benefits needed for oral health but allow for an unexpected experience through flavors that offer personal expression.”
As you can see, not only does Be toothpaste share a name (albeit an unpunctuated one) with Be. wine, it also duplicates the commanding tone. “Be Dynamic” is the brand’s “lime spearmint zest™” flavor; “Be Inspired” is “vanilla mint spark™”; and “Be Adventurous” is “mint chocolate trek™.” Yes, the TMs are [sic].
Chocolate-flavored toothpaste is weird enough; I’m not convinced I want to invite a trek into in my mouth. (All those muddy boots…) Some unexpected experiences are best left unexperienced.
Names that incorporate “ever” are more popular than, well, ever. But the concept has been around for more than a century. Here are three old-school “ever” brands and eight that have appeared since 2005.
Founded in St. Louis in 1896 as American Electrical Novelty & Manufacturing Company). The company changed its name in 1905 to the American Ever Ready Company, which was shortened to Eveready in 1917. Since 1980, the Eveready Battery Company has sold both Energizer and Eveready batteries.
Now associated with boxing, Everlast was founded in the Bronx in 1910 as a swimwear manufacturer:
Seventeen year-old Jacob Golomb, the son of a tailor and an avid swimmer, was dissatisfied with swimsuits of the time that barely lasted a season, and began making suits that he guaranteed would last for a full year.
In 1917, a young boxer named Jack Dempsey asked Golomb to make protective headgear that would last more than 15 rounds; two years later, Dempsey won the world heavyweight championship wearing Everlast gloves.
In 2002 Everlast extended its sporting-goods brand into men’s grooming products with the “Everlast Original 1910” label. (The cologne has base notes of patchouli, leather, tonka bean, and musk.)
Everlast is also the stage name of the American rapper, singer, and songwriter Erik Francis Schrody.
Everclear is a brand of pure grain alcohol whose original formula (190 proof, or 95 percent alcohol) is illegal in 14 states. (California and some other states sell a 151 proof version.) The brand name was first used in commerce in 1917 by the American Distilling Co.; the brand is now manufactured and sold by Luxco of St. Louis.
The rock band Everclear, formed in Portland, Oregon, in 1991, takes its name from the alcohol brand.
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.
Many naming briefs stipulate that “negative words” be avoided. To be sure, there’s a risk to going negative with your company or product name. But sometimes the risk pays off. Consider Virgin: doesn’t the name suggest pilots with no experience? Or Caterpillar: huge machines and engines named for a tiny, destructive insect—seriously? Or Banana Republic: a small, politically unstable country governed by a dictator and dominated by a foreign interest? Yet each of those brands is dominant in its industry.
Here are three new names that embrace risk and cheerfully violate the no-negative-words “rule.”
This sign for this new wine shop and wine bar on Oakland’s Grand Avenue catches your attention with a word that seems meh. But is it really ordinary? Not exactly. “Ordinaire” has a specific meaning in wine lingo: vin ordinaire is inexpensive wine for everyday use. What seems negative at first is in fact enticing and relevant.
Speaking of meh, the definition of “mediocre” is “middling” or “average.” (The Latin and Greek roots of the word translate to “halfway up the mountain.”)
But Mediocre Laboratories is anything but ordinary. There’s the clever logo, for starters, with its tilted E and cracked beaker. There are the ringing quotations about mediocrity. (“A mediocre idea that generates enthusiasm will go further than a great idea that inspires no one.” — Mary Kay Ash.) There’s the “careers” heading: “Be a Mediocre employee. We’re looking for people so good they don’t need to call themselves ninjas, gurus, or rockstars.”
Mediocre was founded by Matt Rutledge, who sold his previous company, Woot, to Amazon. “We really tried to lower expectations with the brand,” Rutledge told TechCrunch reporter Ryan Lawler. “The team drew inspiration from Ev Williams and Biz Stone’s Obvious Corporation,” Lawler reports, “but since ‘obvious’ was taken, they decided to set the bar low with ‘mediocre’ instead.”
In keeping with the laboratory theme, each Mediocre e-commerce “experiment” is code-named for a dead scientist—Libet, Frisch, Wöhler, Pavlov, and Jensen. (I’m guessing about the last one, but it seems like a reasonable conjecture.)
Mediocre is average, but Terrible? That’s really bad, right? Who’d want that word associated with a mobile-apps firm?
Well, take a look at Terrible Labs’ logo/mascot:
T-Rex here serves as a reminder that “terrible” didn’t always mean “bad”; it originally meant “awe-inspiring” or, yes, awesome. (From Terrible’s Twitter bio: “We build terribly awesome web & mobile web apps with Ruby on Rails, RubyMotion, and other stuff.”) You might also associate Terrible with enfant terrible, an outrageous or shocking person.
Terrible Labs does a terrific job—see early definitions of terrific—of grabbing our attention and making the right conceptual connection. I’d like to see better follow-through in the web content, which is tame and predictable. (“Passionate about creating great products” … “We help our clients turn great ideas into great products” … and many more instances of “we help,” which doesn’t sound T-Rexy at all.) I do like the Terrible Labs blog tagline, “Because Terrible Labs loves you,” and I can’t help admiring the name of one of Terrible’s team members, Trapper Markelz. Trapper!
From classic rock to Turner Classic Movies, from Classic Roast coffee to MapQuest Classic, we’re living in a new Classic Era. My new column for the Visual Thesaurus looks at the many ways classic, noun and adjective, is used in branding, sports, technology, and other realms.
Full access is restricted to subscribers. Here’s an excerpt:
In April 1985, Coca-Cola — then celebrating its 99th year — announced it would be retiring the original Coke recipe and replacing it with reformulated “New Coke.” The switch was a huge miscalculation, triggering public protests and boycotts. Less than three months later, the company bowed to pressure and brought back the old formula under the name “Coca-Cola Classic.” Finally, in 2009 — long after “New Coke” had disappeared from shelves — Coca-Cola dropped the “Classic.” (It endures in the names of various Coca-Cola Classic sports tournaments and road races.) By then, “classic” had come to signify, to a large part of the population, “the original version” or “the previous version” or even “the good stuff before they started messing with it.”
And here’s a blog bonus: In his new book Yes, I COULD Care Less: How to Be a Language Snob Without Being a Jerk, Bill Walsh—a copy editor for the Washington Post and author of two other books on language and usage—devotes a chapter to retronyms, words that “differentiate the original sense of something from a new iteration.” Dairy milk and hen egg are two of his examples. And then there’s this:
Now that all manner of dessert-y concoctions are called martinis merely because they’re served in martini glasses, the menu-journalism community has had to invent the term classic martini. …
Then there’s the daiquiri. If you’re younger than 45, you probably don’t know what that really means. A daiquiri is rum, lime juice and sugar. … “Oh,” you big-city-cocktail-bar-frequenting youngsters are probably thinking right now, “you mean a Hemingway daiquiri!” Uh, right. That seems to be right up there with a classic daiquiri among efforts to indicate that a daiquiri is, in fact, an actual daiquiri.
Extra credit to Walsh for “menu-journalism community.” (I wrote about “The X Community” trope back in 2010.)