(12 February 1993) Have you noticed that there is no word meaning "something for which a name has not yet been found"?
If we can be bothered to have a word like "eponym," meaning a thing named after the person who inspired it, you'd think that we would have a word meaning "a thing for which a name has not yet been found."
You can say, "The film Lawrence of Arabia, with Peter O'Toole playing the eponymous role." If you're looking for a laugh, you can even say, "The film of Breakfast at Tiffany's, with Audrey Hepburn eating the eponymous rolls."
Mark you, you won't actually get a laugh with that particular line. At least, I never have. But what you can't say is, "That thing over there is a ..." and then a word meaning "something without a name." Anonym, perhaps? What brings this fit of petulance upon me is the study of what has been happening recently to our toothpaste tubes.
I don't mean the fact that they are all made of plastic nowadays, and therefore never roll up crunchily as you use them but instead bounce back into shape, so you never have any idea how much is left. Nor do I mean the way they have been mucking around with flavours. (Lemon-and-mint, I saw the other day. I mean, would you mix lemon and mint when cooking?)
No, it's the thing on the top of toothpaste tubes I'm talking about. Have you noticed that they have changed the designs radically in recent years?
Nobody ever consulted us, but they have changed, all right.
Years ago it was called the cap, or top, and that's all it was. "Who's left the top off the toothpaste?" you would hear people cry – sometimes, in the case of my mother, crying with near-to-real tears. The top was a thing that you unscrewed and left off, allowing the paste to ooze out, slightly. This ooze would then dry into a small peppermint-flavoured brick, which was no good for brushing your teeth, though very good at blocking up the tube entrance.
Well, the design has changed recently, and all the toothpaste tubes I have seen now have a cap which you can not only unscrew but also flip open.
The top of the screw-top has acquired a flip-top. This is ingenious because there are now not one but two ways in which you can leave the tube open and start the paste-drying process. In our house we prefer to leave the flip-top open, thus creating a small peak of solidified toothpaste, like Mont Blanc in the setting sun.
I haven't heard anyone mention this. Nowhere has the toothpaste-top revolution been mentioned. In no pub I know has anyone said: "Hey, what do you think of that amazing design change in our bathrooms?"
Not even in our house has it been talked about. Do you know why? I'll tell you why.
Because nobody knows what to call it. Nobody knows the name for a tube-cap that can both screw and flip.
So we can't talk about it. Oh yes, I expect the toothpaste manufacturers know what it's technically called, those dentifrice kings who have ingeniously worked out TWO ways of drying up our toothpaste so that we have to buy more toothpaste, more often; but I'm not talking about them, the people who are making a fortune out of us, I'm talking about us, the suckers who buy the stuff and give them the fortune. I'm not against tube-cap technology per se.
For instance, I quite admire those caps that have a little sharp point hidden in the top so that when you want to pierce your tube of tomato or garlic puree, you simply reverse the cap and screw it in until the point goes through the thin metal shield and sends the stuff spurting out. That's fine. I would have mentioned it before, except that I don't know what to call that, either. Because they are all, for want of a better word, anonyms. They have no name.
In a perfect world, we would be told their names.
When a manufacturer devises his new gadget, he should be forced to label it, or put up posters saying: "There's something new on top of your toothpaste tube. It's a screw-flip. We hope you like it. We do, because it's going to make us a lot of money.
"Thanks for reading this! Have a nice day! And don't forget to leave your toothpaste open, so it dries up and you have to buy some more!"
But this is not a perfect world and we are forced to buy things we can't talk about. We haven't even got a word for a thing that we haven't got a word for! Let's call it an anonym, then. At least we can agree on that.