A rose by any other name…

As Shakespeare said in Romeo and Juliet ‘a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’. So I hope Jacob Rees-Mogg will forgive me calling him ‘Jonathan’ in the last Daily Paradox. I am sure his strong personality can handle it. But then, it makes me pause and wonder if Shakespeare, for whom I have the highest regard, was actually correct. At the time of writing I’ve no doubt about it. Since then we have learnt a lot more about how associations and feelings affect each other. So much so that I am not sure if a rose would really smell as sweet if called a cow pat.

Or, indeed, any of the other vulgar words we hear so frequently on the liberated media. Yesterday I counted twenty-seven things on a variety of media identified as ‘f***ing’. I have not led such an innocent life that I don’t know that none of them is capable of the act depicted by the word. Even my vivid imagination is hard put to it to associate the object with the adjective. As for a perfume called… but let’s not go there. I’d rather reduce the misuse of words than add to them.

So how important is a name? Very, I would say, but only at the launch of a person, project or product. The current United States Secretary of the Treasury is called Steven Terner Mnuchin. I am sure he rejoices in the name but it could have been easier. ‘Mn’ is not a simple pronunciation, especially if you speak Swedish. But then nothing is very easy if you speak Swedish. On the other hand beware of making your name too simple. Hoover regretted its proprietary name being turned into the generic description of a carpet sweeper. Dyson had somewhat the same trouble.

Massive and complex research is conducted into naming a new product. Is it worth it? I am not sure. A recent shampoo launch required the association of herbal ingredients, apparently to make it effective or credible. The voice-over in the commercial, however, aspirated the ‘h’, producing the rather harsh sound ‘erbal’, like a sort of early Victorian Yorkshire Calling Name being shouted by a fishwife. I notice they removed it quickly. Now we get the softer ‘herbal’, more Lancashire and closer to a cuddle than an argument.

During my advertising years a drink called Bols was launched. To this day I don’t know where the idea for it came from. A clever copywriter turned it into a commercial where, sitting at a bar, you could see all the drinks in front of you, And, yes, they were ‘All Bols’. A bit of permitted vulgarity, I think. Guinness once used a bird called a Toucan in their advertising. (‘Two cans’ – you get it, I’m sure.) It’s a lovely creature but they had to drop it when people started ordering Toucans instead of Guinness. Such a historic name could not be allowed to be replaced by a bird.

Bovril got it right. Say the word slowly and deeply and you’ll get a sinking feeling. So they advertised it as ‘preventing that sinking feeling’. I always think ‘marshmallow’ is a very descriptive word, too. You can taste it. Although at first sight Google might not seem the best, it actually is. We’ve always googled things – or at least we think we have now. Huawei, on the other hand, might need some attention. Samsung is fine. Anything associated with singing goes down well.

So you start to get a feeling for words. Their shapes, their looks, above all their sounds transmit ideas of pleasure or pain, comfort or anxiety. A decent prayer is undoubtedly restful for the soul. ’More money, now, God’ on the other hand is more distressing than pleasing. A hammer on an anvil making a horseshoe sounds beautiful. Gold coins dropped into an iron bowl sound hideous. Horses hooves are a travelling sound; coconut shells don’t impart the same feeling.

What is your favourite phrase or word or piece of music? Does it have an association with someone you love or a place or time when you felt at peace with the world? Is it a memory or a wish? Does it make you think kindly of others? If an effort of imagination, is it exciting? If a sigh of relief, is it comforting?

In a world of shortcuts, of too much to do and too little time in which to do it, can we pause now and then to relish the feelings that language can give us. Can we let words wash round our mouths like good wine imparting a frisson of stimulus and a panacea of peace?

And do enjoy your Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

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