Being Beta

Exercises in the higher banter with One of 26. Elsewhere called 'poet of adland'. By a whipple-squeezer. Find out why being beta is the new alpha: betarish at googlemail dot com

Monday, November 19, 2007

Commercial: The limits of quenching



Nike is one of those brands that has always known how to speak - that is use a tone of voice not only correct for its audience, but also imbued with its brand essence of 'winning', and more often than not hitting some of the subsconscious notes of the linguistic zeitgeist (the out and out boastfulness of the 1980s has softened greatly over the years, for example).

So perhaps we should worry about the standards of English like what it is taught in the UK, if the evidence of the latest display in the Niketown at Oxford Circus in London is anything to go by. Showcasing the new. shop-based version of their online 'design-your-own-trainers' service, Nike iD, one of their design consultants, Simon is quoted as saying:

Let me quench your thirst for originality
.

Which at first glance is all fine and dandy, if impossible when measured by the potential combinations of designs allows (54 different styles of shoe to choose from, plus hundreds of matrerials and colour options).

But hold on a 'mo. 'Quench'. 'Quench'? Are you sure? As in:

-satisfy a thirst
-snuff out: put out, as of fires, flames, or lights; "Too big to be extinguished at once, the forest fires at best could be contained"; "quench the flames"; "snuff out the candles"
-electronics: suppress (sparking) when the current is cut off in an inductive circuit, or suppress (an oscillation or discharge) in a component or device
-squelch: suppress or crush completely; "squelch any sign of dissent"; "quench a rebellion"

(definitions sourced from wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn via this metasearch)

It appears that someone decided that, as it stood, the phrase was 'too weak' or 'not sexy enough' or 'not working hard enough'. And so, in modern parlance, decided to sex it up.

Trouble is, now it conveys something something that actively works against the spirit of Nike iD. Try these substitutions:

Let me snuff out your thirst for origninality
Let me suppress your thirst for origninality
Let me crush completely your thirst for originality


Now, you could cavail and say that this is a wilful, and over-the-top, reading and that anyway the sentences don't make sense when 'thirst' is still used in them; that it's not Nike's fault that word-inflation is hitting even dependable adverbs like 'quench'; and anyway, everyone who reads it will get the idea, and basically know what it means.

But some people will read it and think: "So, if I use this service, Nike will destroy my orignality, and any sense of creativity that I might have had." Satisficing suggests that once the temporary thirst has been slaked, when it comes back, you'll need to drink again. Quenching suggests that you'll never need to drink again. Which to these ears translates as: less sales.

Which is why it is important that word-inflation is monitored and countered wherever possible. Frank Bruni in the New York Times has written recently (wincingly so, in fact, as Beta has been guilty of using this word a lot on behalf of a certain red financial services brand) about how restaurants in New York are abusing the word 'enjoy' to the point of insensibility:

Would I “enjoy coffee with dessert?” I don’t know; it depends how good the coffee is. I’ll have some, yes, then we’ll see.

Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. Egads. It’s a semantic pox, either getting worse by the moment or simply less bearable upon the thousandth exposure to it. And it’s a fine example of restaurantspeak, an oddly stilted language that has somehow survived the shift toward casual dining and that sounds even odder and more stilted in light of the new informality.


So, in the name of sense, and of messages meaning what they say, let us enjoin and enjoy the struggle to quench word-inflation.

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