Any self-respecting copywriter has a decent mastery of ambiguity. It’s a staple of advertising, but it takes some skill. It’s not that ambiguous language is difficult to find or construct—on the contrary, it would be no easy task to avoid using language that contains potential ambiguity. The trick is to use ambiguous language in such a way that a) the audience becomes aware of the ambiguity, perhaps at a specific, crucial moment in viewing the ad, and b) the two meanings rub against each other in a stimulating manner.
Archive for Language and advertising
There's quite a fuss in China these days over a product that is called niúròu sōng miànbāo 牛肉松面包 ("beef floss bread"). The problem is that there is no beef floss in the bread. Even the ingredients state that whatever meat is in the bread is chicken.
Tom Mazanec has been seeing a series of strange ads all over the Shanghai subway. They're for a company that does one-on-one oral English practice over Skype, called 51talk.com.
Here is an interesting picture that Francois Dube took today in a cakeshop in Yinchuan, capital of the Ningxia Hui (Muslim) Autonomous Region, People's Republic of China:
Guy Freeman sent in this photograph of a beer advertisement in Hong Kong:
While watching the Danish show Borgen last night I noticed that Kasper, when talking about ordering a smoothie, first said [smu:di] and then later said [smu:ði]. The first form in particular but also the variation pleased me, so I asked Anna Jespersen about it and look at this bonanza she came up with! (What follows is a paraphrase of what she sent me.)
Smoothie is a newly borrowed word, and I think it's the only one we have encountered with a non-initial [ð]. Consequently, there's a lot of variation. [ð] and [d] would be the most common variants but there are lots of other options. Check out these two ads from McDonald's:
i. In the attached print ad, the line below the smoothies reads "Try our new, refreshing smoothies (no matter how you pronounce them)".
I received the following message from David Moser on 6/2/11, but it got lost in my inbox until just now when I was able to retrieve it while cleaning out a bunch of old and unwanted messages:
Wow, talk about digraphia! I just got this text message on my cell phone here in Beijing:
In China (and around the world among China watchers), everybody's talking about this ungainly syllable. "Duang" surfaced less than a week ago, but already it has been used millions and millions of times.
"The Word That Broke the Chinese Internet" (2/27/15) by Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian
"'Duang' is Everywhere on the Chinese Internets, Here’s What It Means" (2/27/15) by Charles Liu
"Chinese netizens just invented a new word, and it's going insanely viral" (2/28/15) by Ryan Kilpatrick (English text part of the way down the page)
Felix Sadeli sent in this list of colossal mistranslations of food names. We've already seen several of these and explained a number of them on Language Log:
- "Puke " (10/8/10)
- "Gourmet Chinese cookshop " (1/27/14) — "Soup for Sluts" (in the comments)
- "Combating the monolithic tree mushroom stem squid " (5/3/10) ("The jew's ear Juice" — also in the comments)
Here I'll just give brief explanations for four of the droller items in Chinese and Japanese on the list. Perhaps Language Log readers will be inspired to follow suit for some of the remaining items, especially those in other languages.
Joshua Harwood sent in the following photograph taken at a Samsung display in the major shopping center of Xinyi District, Taipei:
Nathan Hopson spotted this gem in Bangkok while recruiting students this past weekend:
Richard W sent in this photograph of the packaging for a keyboard / case that he recently bought to go with his iPad: