Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New Coinages of the Realm

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New Coinages of the Realm

Article excerpt

I've been paging through a new book by Alex Frankel, "Wordcraft: The Art of Turning Little Words Into Big Business." It's introduced me to the world of naming consultants, the people who get paid to help entrepreneurs come up with just the right monikers for the latest hot new products and companies.

Frankel, a San Francisco journalist who has filled in for William Safire in the "On Language" slot of The New York Times Magazine, ran his own naming business, Quiddity, for a time before the dotcom bubble burst. Much of the change in language is gradual and unintentional. "New words" are generally just old words mangled so badly they get repackaged with a new meaning - the old French "couvre le feu" (cover the fire) eventually became our English "curfew," for instance.

And so the idea of a corporation paying a collection of professional wordsmiths big bucks to mint a new piece of coinage is interesting. It's the appeal of intentionality over accident. It's also to some extent the continuing triumph of the idea over the thing, but also of words as things, as products.

A lover of language looks at a new coinage the way a fan of architecture will look at a new building: Is it aesthetically pleasing? Does it fit well on the site, into its surroundings? Does it do the job it's supposed to?

My favorite chapter in "Wordcraft" discusses the naming of BlackBerry, the handheld messaging device produced by the Canadian firm Research in Motion. "Blackberry" is an actual word; it was modified by "intercapping," the internal capitalization so common nowadays in corporate names. Because berries grow on vines, BlackBerry suggested "networks," but in an accessible sort of way. And you can be sure that something called a "BlackBerry" is not going to come with a 200-page manual.

There are whole fields that seem to have done well over recent decades at coming up with energetic, effective new coinages, and other fields that have not. …

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