I caught the last half of a fascinating episode of ‘Word of Mouth’ investigating how brand-names are invented (I was going to say, ‘come up with’ and then I thought, there must be a better way of saying it than that. And there is…) This is something I find both fascinating and repellent, involving as it does both the creative use of language and its manipulation for commercial gain. As a student I briefly considered going into advertising: if I’d been able to hack the culture I’d probably have been pretty good at it. I’m certainly good at coming up with names and slogans for groups I’ve been involved in. Drink and Think – that was me. And I came up with the title of this term’s philosophy course, though I’m not actually going. It’s ‘What Do We Know?’
Anyway, in the programme they talked about inventing words; whether based on actual vocab, like the perfume L’Occitane:
or totally made-up, like ‘Xerox.’
Of course one of the famous disasters is the Ford Edsel, named after Henry Ford’s son. Then there’s Consignia, which tries to say everything but merely sounds pretentious, which also flopped. And do you remember the diet tablets called Aids?
Sometimes the derivation of names is obvious. A blackberry is a black berry: it does what it says on the tin. And the phone is so called because it’s black and with all its buttons it looks like a berry. Plus, it’s both homely and friendly, and at the same time different. But to go back to the fruit: why is an apple called an apple? Or an orange called an orange? Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet or would it not? If a rose was called a cabbage would it still be as fragrant?
OK here’s a test for you, to assess your word-sensitivity. Here are two invented words, vip and vop.
One of them refers to a heavy object; one denotes a light-weight object. Which do you think is which?
Comment below please…