Words at Work by Kathy McIntosh: Business wordplay can enhance or complicate names and slogans

Boise author, speaker and freelance editor. Owner of A Well-Placed Word.August 20, 2013 

Kathy McIntosh

A few weeks ago I received a flier in the mail promoting remote well-site generators. Its receipt stimulated a question and a conclusion. The question was how to spell those paper handouts we receive: flier or flyer. The AP Stylebook says flier is the word to choose, whether you are referring to an airplane pilot or a pamphlet.

Other sources, however, state that both are correct. Choose one and stay consistent.

What was my brilliant deduction after reading the flier? Be careful with your words, especially when naming your business. Don’t rely on a simple punctuation mark to save you. My company name is A Well-Placed Word. In today’s Internet world, the hyphen often disappears. So someone thought my business had something to do with wells, rather than words. Or maybe they thought I spoke my words from the bottom of a well instead of a podium. I am a writer, an editor and a speaker.

What I thought was an intriguing name confused the generator company and some people who have called me about placing ads for them.

Consider the name Marjorie’s Leads. Is it a business that provides lists of names for sales organizations? Or does Marjorie sell a variety of the soft metal, atomic number 82, perhaps for plumbers or stained glass artists?

Unless you make a blatant grammatical error, some ambiguity in naming a business may be a benefit. It draws attention. Boo’s Liquor Store, C’est Cheese, Knit-Wits and Wizard of Paws are clever ways to play with words and draw attention. I particularly like the name Knead to Relax Massage, from Traverse City, Mich. Knit-Wits and Wizard of Paws are Boise businesses.

However, I don’t believe double entendres, with a second, risque meaning, work well, because they can antagonize people you want to draw to your business. I won’t provide examples.

I will, however, share something I learned in researching triple entendres. The cover of the 1981 Rush album “Moving Pictures” provides an excellent example.

The left side of the front cover shows a moving company carrying paintings out of a building. On the right side, people are shown crying because the pictures carried by the movers are emotionally “moving.” Finally, the back cover features a film crew making a “moving picture” of the whole scene. Now I have more reasons than its music to like the band.

Ambiguity can be useful. The General Electric slogan “We Bring Good Things to Life” means both “we make good things come alive” and “we add good things to life.” The slogan for New York City mattress store Sleepy’s, “For the Rest of Your Life,” promises both refreshing sleep and long-lasting products. The 1964 Blake Edwards Pink Panther film “A Shot in the Dark” was about a murder and also about a bumbling detective trying his best.

The following corporate slogans succeed because of thoughtful word choices. You’ll recognize most of them.

Æ “When your shoes shine, so do you.” Kiwi Shoe Polish.

Æ “Making Life Richer for the Pourer.” Bargain Booze.

Æ “Business is our middle name.” IBM.

Æ “Nothing runs like a Deere.” John Deere.

Æ “Taste. Not waist.” Weight Watchers.

Æ “Great potatoes. Tasty destinations.” State of Idaho.

Never underestimate the power of a word.

kathy@awellplacedword.com

Idaho Statesman is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service