Why English tends to lend a little sparkle to an ad

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The Independent Online
THE vocabulary of the English language is said to be larger than that of most languages, because it draws heavily on the heritage of two different linguistic store-rooms, Germanic and Romance. The vocabulary of French, for instance, is overwhelmingly derived from Latin. But English was fed by the twin waters of Teutonic and Latin influence, with the result that very often we have nearly equivalent pairs of words for the same thing, one German-derived, the other Roman-based.

And the result of this is that English is the best language for marketing and advertising.

If, for instance, people seem to become resistant to the word 'help', then succour at hand. Why would people become resistant to the word 'help'? Oh, but 'help' is the most useful word in advertising. If advertisers want to persuade you that their product keeps out water, but are uneasily aware that the product only tends to keep out water, they do not say: 'Raintex tends to keep out water]', but: 'Raintex helps to keep out water]'. Millions of products help us to do things. They don't do the thing, they just help to do the thing. So many things are doing so much helping that sooner or later advertisers look round for another word - and there, lo and behold, is 'aid'] Help is a German-based product, while aid is of French origin. Lucky old advertisers.

I sometimes wonder if the marketing and advertising trades once got together to decide what to call water with bubbles in it. 'Bubbly water' is good, but it isn't very glamorous; nor is 'fizzy water'. On the Continent they talk about gas - when you ask a waiter for water, he tends to ask 'Con gas o sin gas?' - but nobody has had the courage to try to sell 'gassy water' or even 'gaseous water'. Luckily, someone had the brilliant idea of calling it 'sparkling water'. There was a time when only dry things sparkled (your eyes, your diamonds, the stars) but those days are gone, and sparkling is now an activity confined to water and to wines that the maker wants you to think are almost as good as champagne.

(The French equivalent of 'sparkling' is 'petillant', a word I like because it not only has overtones of crackling, but it is also a derivative of the word 'peter', which means 'to fart'. I think I am right in saying that no English derivative of the word 'fart' has ever been big in the advertising world. The French are obviously more relaxed and less uptight about these things than we are; there is a wonderful expression in French for a type of light waffle: 'pet-de-nonne' - 'As light as a nun's fart' - what a great slogan])

I once wrote an article in which I said that too much British advertising was jokey, as if the agencies were trying to make each other laugh. I received a furious letter from an advertising executive saying that it was true, but we weren't to say so, as someone might notice and get serious, and then our advertising would become like the Americans'. I have kept quiet ever since, and it is still jokey, but it is also, I have noticed, full of unanswerable claims.

If you are told that a beer reaches places that others don't, or that it's what your right arm is for, the claim is clearly so trivial that nobody thinks of taking it seriously. This tendency reached some kind of record level recently with the birth of a slogan from the Kiwi wine industry: 'New Zealand grapes . . . the first to greet the sun each day]' The more you think about that, the more worried you are that grown-ups could have thought it up and put it out.

Meanwhile, if you are still not worried by advertising, ask yourself these questions:

1. What does 'naturally carbonated' mean?

2. Why do advertisements for talcum powder never tell you what talcum powder is made from?

3. Why are things called 'shower-proof' when they could be called 'rain-proof'?

4. How can a thing be 'unnaturally' carbonated?

5. What do you think talcum powder is made of?

6. Why does a restaurant serving New Orleans-type food call itself 'Old Orleans', when old Orleans is actually a town in France?

7. Did you ever meet anyone who had actually seen a jojoba growing?

8. If you look up 'talcum' in the dictionary and find that it is a kind of rock, does this mean you anoint your body with powdered rock?

9. If you learnt which country's grapes were the last to greet the sun each day, would you stop buying its wine?

10. What is your left arm for?