Fellow namers and word nerds, have Christmas and Hanukkah come early? Merriam-Webster, America’s “leading provider of language information,” recently announced its top 10 words of 2022.
We delight in the challenge of distilling a message or emotion into one or two words that truly evoke a brand position. So, it’s only natural we love the original lover of words: Philitas of Cos, or simply, Philitas.
Zinzin believes that language is alive and on the move. It’s like a living, breathing organism – always changing, morphing, evolving. Cultures change too, and names come and go over time. But some don’t. Why has one naming practice, in particular — brands named after different Indigenous cultures — lasted so long in America? And how is it changing? Let’s take a look at some American brand names derived from Indigenous peoples and cultures.
Imagine a software company that makes a sophisticated and complex product. Presumably, it has a marketing department and an engineering department. Now imagine the employees of each department giving each other specific advice on how to perform their jobs. Having trouble imagining that one? Yup, us too.
The employees in the marketing department would never dream of telling the engineers how to program the company’s software, and the engineers don’t meddle in the company’s marketing business.
However, when a company decides to name (or rename) itself, dynamics can change quickly. Seemingly everybody, from the CEO to the security guard’s second cousin, wants to weigh-in, haggle, argue, condemn, and second-guess the company naming process and proposed names.
What do humans, bottlenose dolphins, sperm whales, and green-rumped parrotlets have in common? Any guesses? Need to phone a friend? Give up? Ok, I’ll tell you: it’s learned language, even naming! In this sense, I’m talking about the ability to create a signature call, like a name, and communicate with it. (But if you ever hire a green-rumped parrotlet to name your company or product, let us know how it goes.)
While Zinzin knows just how important names are to human animal identity and culture, we’re fascinated by the way they impact nonhuman animals as well. Why? Well, I guess the short answer is that we namers at Zinzin are a curious bunch and love language. We revel in the fact that language is alive on the move: it’s a living, breathing organism, always changing, morphing, evolving. By understanding how other species create and use names in their worlds, perhaps we’ll learn more about ours too.
This happy ice-cream imbiber appeared in a pro-sugar ad that appeared in the May 10, 1971, issue of TIME Magazine. Below this photo, the ad helpfully suggested: “Enjoy an ice cream cone shortly before lunch.” Then the ad launched into some positively Orwellian copy about the glorious benefits sugar can provide you, the
unwitting dupe thoughtful “consumer”:
Attention all language purists! Stephen Fry is “an English actor, screenwriter, author, playwright, journalist, poet, comedian, television presenter, film director, activist, and board member of Norwich City Football Club” (Wikipedia).
In this video, Fry’s rant about language has been typographically animated by Matt Rogers. Fry and Rogers have created a beautiful and funny visual and verbal feast about the joy of playing with language.
Language is, after all, just a game that shouldn’t be taken so seriously. Language is messy, and playing with language is fun. Let’s play!
Kurt Schwitters (1887 – 1948) was a German artist who “worked in several genres and media, including Dada, Constructivism, Surrealism, poetry, sound, painting, sculpture, graphic design, typography and what came to be known as installation art. He is most famous for his collages, called Merz Pictures.”
Schwitters fled Nazi Germany in January, 1937. He went first to Norway and finally to England, where he remained in exile until his death in 1948. His collage work often included found fragments of commercially printed text, and his move from Germany to England precipitated a corresponding shift to English language found text in his collages, as seen in Cottage, from 1946, above.
The recent New Yorker science fiction issue, their first ever, included a great essay by Anthony Burgess from 1973, The Clockwork Condition. Burgess discusses his most famous book, A Clockwork Orange, and the “very close film interpretation” by Stanley Kubrick. Most interesting is Burgess’ description of the origin of the title, as well as the various lexicographical connotations of the antihero’s name, Alex:
This Alcoa ad, which appeared in April 2, 1960 edition of The New Yorker, proves the point that they don’t write ’em like they used to. Not a value judgement, just an observation. Our age is too cynical for such flights of poetic fancy. We obsess over the Mad Men depiction of that era, but this is the real deal, the kind of ads those mad, closet-poet ad men were actually churning out way back then. Take a closer look at this inspired ad copy:
Drive doughtily to salty Fort Lauderdale…(Falcon’s grille is aluminum)
Let it rain, let it snow, let salted streets splash and briny breezes blow! Corrosion’s passé with the aluminum grille and brightwork of your new Ford Falcon. Anodizing is the reason–an Alcoa process that makes aluminum sapphire-hard and sapphire bright. To preserve this royal sparkle year after shining year, merely wash down occasionally with plebeian soap and water.
Elsewhere in the Falcon–in engine and transmission, to be precise–strong Alcoa Aluminum alloys trim off the pounds while adding speed and mileage. Look for aluminum in your next car. Aluminum Company of America, Pittsburgh 19, Pa.
Alcoa Aluminum…for lasting Gleam and Go!
Obviously, whoever wrote this was a poet, trying to make ends meet as an adman by day. It’s also likely that this anonymous scribe (or, likely, team of scribes) never set foot in a South LA sweatshop that actually anodized aluminum (I have), or his metaphors might have tended more toward Dante than Tiffany. And in case you were wondering, doughtily is the adverb form of doughty, pronounced “dou-tee,” meaning brave, bold, intrepid, fearless, dauntless. Not a common word today, and perhaps no more common in 1960, but what a great rhetorical flourish to combine it with “drive,” “salty,” and “Fort Lauderdale”–to create this poetic gem of a headline: Drive doughtily to salty Fort Lauderdale… Now that’s copywriting with lasting Gleam and Go!
Don DeLillo is arguably the greatest American novelist alive. Who else is simultaneously as intelligent, risky, and willing to explore new and different material in nearly every book? I just discovered a great 1993 Paris Review interview with Don DeLillo by Adam Begley, which, in Paris Review author interview tradition, is very deep and well-constructed.
Everyone interested in writing, thinking, and recent American culture and history (Americana!) should read this interview, regardless of whether you are a fan of DeLillo’s novels or not. It’s as relevant today, perhaps even more so, as it was in 1993, in the fading light of the 20th century.
Just go read the whole interview, right now. But if you want a teaser, here are some moments that especially struck me: