Authorize your dealer to be 100% informative

« previous post | next post »

It's always fun to spot lingquirks in ads, and this one, pictured in its natural habitat in Bancroft, Ontario, offers two of them for the price of a moment's attention:

My lunch companion, who first spotted the sign, speculated that authorize dealer in lieu of authorized dealer was an error made by someone from the company that printed the ad, perhaps while taking verbal instructions for the sign's contents over the phone and not being familiar with the phrase. But I suspect it's a bona fide example of language variation. It seems to me to be very similar to the non-standard usage of subsidize housing deriving from subsidized housing. The frequency of the collocation, I imagine, encourages a shift away from interpreting the phrase as a modified noun to a compound noun instead—that is, becoming less of a phrase and more of a word, with the -ed morpheme peeling away in the process as its semantic function becomes opaque. I'm guessing, for example, that the owner of the sign wouldn't refer to himself or anyone else as a "recently authorize dealer", just as one wouldn't say "I'm looking for heavily subsidize housing." (In support of the notion that this latter phrase is being reanalyzed rather than merely pronounced differently, many uses of subsidize housing seem to be referring to a program, rather than a type of actual housing: as in "I need to get on subsidize housing.")

In digging a bit afterwards, I found it interesting that although a written phrase like subsidize housing seems to pop up on the internet pretty much only in casual, non-professional contexts such as blogs and discussion forums, that's not so for authorize dealer. Aside from the sign in Bancroft, I found numerous examples within professional documents and business listings from the purveyors of the products in question. For example, you can fill in an Authorize Dealer Application form for a Florida-based security systems company. And Master Power USA, a company that sells turbochargers, posts on its own website a document titled Authorize Dealer and Warehouse Distributor Terms and Conditions. I'm wondering whether the fact that industry insiders encounter the phrase with particular frequency has accelerated the linguistic change for them beyond that of the general population. If so, it's an unfortunate marketing position to be in: to routinely use and accept a nonstandard form that your typical prospective customer is likely to see as a careless error.

The second quirk in the ad, of course, is the splendidly redundant 100% Digital Satellite TV. Star Choice Satellite TV, you understand, is not ever to be confused with those sub-standard satellite TV services that try to palm off on their customers satellite dishes that offer crappy reception that might be, say, only 87% digital, tainted with 13% analog signal.

Which brings to mind another sign I'd seen earlier on my recent travels through rural Ontario, obviously aimed at city slickers who have no idea what their food is really made of:

100% meat lamb for sale here

Share:



42 Comments »

  1. Mark Liberman said,

    August 29, 2011 @ 11:15 am

    For some morphological background, see "The population memetics of un-ed-ing", 2/20/2010.

    [(js) Excellent. Thanks for the link, Mark.]

  2. jfruh said,

    August 29, 2011 @ 11:30 pm

    I have no clear idea of how satellite TV works, but is it possible that you can get some analog channels and some digital ones via the same dish?

  3. Ethan said,

    August 29, 2011 @ 11:37 pm

    The issue is complicated by the likelihood that a satellite TV provider may well also offer satellite internet connectivity. And that can indeed be less than 100% digital, because the most common setup requires a land-line connection for outgoing information in parallel with the satellite connection for incoming information. So if you have an analog phone line then the package as a whole would be less than 100% digital.

  4. sam said,

    August 29, 2011 @ 11:41 pm

    Is this analogous to what happened to ice(d) cream and french(ed) fries, just with newer/less common stems? Or do you think it's the Latinity of subsidize and authorize that makes them more resistant to this kind of casual treatment?

  5. Robert T McQuaid said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 12:13 am

    The phrase teenaged boy has become nearly extinct, replaced by teenage boy.

  6. Charles in Vancouver said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 12:31 am

    Regarding 100% digital:

    I think they are placing that in opposition to plain old cable providers. For example you can get cable TV from Rogers in much of Ontario and it will contain some analogue channels transmitted over the coax cable and some as digital channels. Ergo the "digital TV" package you sign up for may not be 100% digital. Whereas Star Choice is 100% digital and this is being touted as a reason to choose it over conventional coax cable TV service.

  7. Chad Nilep said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 12:39 am

    "100% Digital Satelite TV" reminds me of the local politician's claim to be a "life-long native" of the state.

  8. Peter Taylor said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 1:21 am

    "100% meat lamb" could mean that it's an extremely lean cut and not on the bone.

  9. Frans said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 3:58 am

    @jfruh

    I have no clear idea of how satellite TV works, but is it possible that you can get some analog channels and some digital ones via the same dish?

    You certainly can, albeit satellite receivers tend to be either analog* or digital, so you'd need to have at least two in order to so so (and, at least over here, there are no channels in analog that aren't available in digital).

    * Not so much anymore, at least over here in Western Europe.

  10. Dakota said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 3:59 am

    Various fastfood chains have from time to time been accused of using sawdust or even worms as a "fiber" filler in their burger and taco meat.

    Reminds me of a short-lived McDonalds campaign back in the 80s. Signs at a midwestern branch claimed McDonalds cared about the food quality so much they supervised the production of the fries "from seed to potato". If they were aiming for credibility, they didn't get it. None of the locals had ever seen a potato seed–they propagate potatoes from tubers.

  11. Vicki said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 6:47 am

    I suspect that "100%" signifies "real" or "good" to some people, in the same way that "quality" is taken to mean good (the term "poor quality" would, I suspect, seem odd to many people now).

    The "100% meat lamb" may be a word order issue, with the sign trying to emphasize that the meat is 100% lamb, not a mix of lamb and whatever other meat is cheap this week. Or, perhaps, that there is nothing but meat in there, even their ground lamb is all meat, not some kind of meatloaf mix with crumbs and maybe spices and who knows what else mixed in.

  12. BobC said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 7:11 am

    TV networks invariably advertize an "all-new episode" of a show.

  13. Ethan said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 7:26 am

    "In digging a bit afterwards, I found it interesting that although a written phrase like subsidize housing seems to pop up on the internet pretty much only in casual, non-professional contexts such as blogs and discussion forums, that's not so for authorize dealer"

    I would imagine that part of why "Authorize Dealer" is more common than "Subsidize Housing" is phonetic. The [d] at the end of "authorized" get's merged with the beginning of "dealer" in conversational speech, and that eventually gets reanalyzed by people not familiar with the phrase.

  14. Brian Throckmorton said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 7:26 am

    My favorite sign of this ilk, seen near Pigeon Forge, Tenn.: "Homemade Fudge Factory Outlet."

  15. Spell Me Jeff said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 7:44 am

    The first analogue that came to my mind was "king-size(d)" and its cousins.

  16. Jon Weinberg said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 7:52 am

    I think Charles in Vancouver has it exactly right on "100% digital". FWIW (@jfruh and Frans) it's still possible in North America to receive some unencrypted analog satellite signals on a six-foot (or larger) C-band Big Ugly Dish, and I think there may still be a small number of dinosaurs offering analog subscription C-band programming for which you'll need a BUD, but — *almost* without exception — satellite programming offered today in North American on a subscription basis by a commercial provider is digital and Ku-band, designed to can be received on a dinner-plate-sized antenna. So "100% digital" doesn't distinguish Star Choice from its DBS competitors, although it does distinguish it from some cable systems.

  17. ENKI-][ said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 8:47 am

    It is in fact entirely possible to have a signal that is less than 100% digital. Arguably, television signals (even if the content is sent digitally) are transmitted in an analog manner, and satellite signals even more strikingly (all sorts of error correction mechanisms are built into the modulation, and have to be, because you are sending a signal into space and back; I suspect some mechanisms are also there to correct for the doppler effect, since that had to be done for moon bouncing, but if the artificial satellites are in geosynchronous orbit then maybe not).

  18. Ellen K. said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 8:52 am

    @Brian Throckmorton. I don't see how "Homemade Fudge Factory Outlet" is analogous to anything discussed here. Looks to me like a lovely example of something that's self-contradictory. How is that comparable to anything discussed here?

  19. Dan Milton said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 9:29 am

    re Sam above: Is there any documentation for "frenched fries" (potatoes cut into strips and fried) rather than simply "potatoes fried in the French style" (or actually Belgian, I've been told)?

  20. Dan T. said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 9:55 am

    I've always interpreted "king-size bed" as a bed that's the size of one a king might use. Is "king-sized" more grammatical for this? (Incidentally, a tour guide at Versailles mentioned that, in 18th-century France, the queen slept in a bigger bed than the king (they had separate bedrooms), so technically "queen-size" ought to be bigger.

  21. JHH said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 10:26 am

    ice tea.

  22. Brett said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 10:29 am

    @BobC: The use of "all-new" for episodes airing for the first time seemed pretty unremarkable to me, until I saw I used to advertise a clip show, which was maybe 10% new.

    @Brian Throckmorton: When I was a smart-aleck-y kid, I asked the waitress at a diner what "homemade" meant in the context of their meat loaf. She didn't have an answer. I suppose it's just a code for "made from scratch," but I don't really know what that means either; I assume they don't raise, butcher, and grind the meat themselves. I pretty much ignore the phrase now, although I've also seem the signs for the fudge factory in Pigeon Force, and the fact that I remember that fact means their oddity must have made an impression on me.

  23. Julie Sedivy said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 10:29 am

    Just to add to the discussion along the lines of Vicki's comment: my take on the use of 100% in these examples is that it's there as adspeak shorthand for "this is really good". You won't be astonished to hear that consumers rarely devote much attention or analytical thought to advertising messages. This fact can actually increase the effectiveness of empty calorie language such as "100%" or "all-natural" or "all-new". Apparently such words do result in more favorable responses from consumers, who likely process them in their peripheral attention as general-purpose markers of quality. Silly as these phrases might seem in context, I understand that copywriters are still often encouraged to use them.

  24. Robert Coren said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 11:18 am

    @Dan MiIton: Yeah, I wondered about "frenched fries" too. Wikipedia says "It is unlikely that 'French fried' refers to 'frenching' in the sense of "julienning", which is not attested until after 'French fried potatoes'; previously, Frenching referred only to trimming the meat off the shanks of chops."

  25. Philip said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 12:16 pm

    "Ice tea" is a common example, as is "old-fashion." The Hawaiian version of a snow cone is called "shave ice."

  26. Keith Ivey said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 2:17 pm

    I think teenage(d) and king-size(d) are different from the other examples here. There's no verb involved. It's just that modifier+noun and modifier+noun+-ed are both possible ways to construct such adjectives: longhorn cattle, big-mouth bass, fine-tooth(ed) comb, big-eyed girl, rubber-soled shoes.

  27. Andy Averill said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 2:18 pm

    Also, "skim milk" has pretty much ousted "skimmed milk", although that may have happened a long time ago. Little Buttercup was already saying "skim milk masquerades as cream" in 1878.

  28. Rodger C said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 2:22 pm

    Stain glass.

  29. Stitch said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 7:09 pm

    Wax paper.

  30. Ben said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 7:52 pm

    @Julie Sedivy

    Enjoyed the post. But I do not think that 100% means a generic "really good" in this context. I think it means, as other commenters (Charles) have pointed out, that 100% of the channels you will receive from this service will be digital, which is not true of many cable packages (the competition). I think this is a common theme in advertising for satellite TV.

    [(js) You may well be right.]

  31. Joe Fineman said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 8:59 pm

    "King-size" & "king-sized" are equally grammatical, tho their grammar is different. The first is merely the attributive use of the noun phrase "king size"; the second is (probably) the result of adding the adjectival suffix -ed to that phrase, analogously to "sloe-eyed" etc. I say "probably" because one might conceive of "sized" as the participle of "to size"; then a king-sized bed would be a bed sized for a king — but I doubt it.

    My impression is that in such constructions "-sized" is more popular than "-size" (it seems to be almost universal in journalism), but I myself prefer "-size" as being more in accord with the idiomatic usage for such phrases made with names of quantities ("large-area", "high-voltage", "car-length gap", etc.). I suspect that "high-priced" gave the analogy; but there, I think a verbal interpretation *is* plausible: high-priced booze is not merely expensive; it has been priced high, to appeal to people who have money to waste.

  32. Janice Byer said,

    August 30, 2011 @ 9:18 pm

    Stir-fry cuisine.

  33. Mar Rojo said,

    August 31, 2011 @ 2:35 am

    I kinda get the feeling "Authorize Dealer" is intended to be imperative. Especially as it's followed by "You Have a Choice".

  34. Mar Rojo said,

    August 31, 2011 @ 2:40 am

    Mind, if I heard the expression on the phone, and in my region, I might mistake it for "authorised healer", as we often drop our h. ;-)

  35. Paul said,

    August 31, 2011 @ 4:34 pm

    My otherwise bright students have begun to make a similar error that has crept into several dozen papers over the past few years. They write something like "this person is being bias towards others" when they mean "biased." It's the only dropped -ed I see regularly in formal essays and I have no idea why this one word would function like this when there are so many words with relatively silent -ed suffixes in spoken English.

  36. SharonZ said,

    August 31, 2011 @ 6:49 pm

    Dan Milton, Robert Coren, sam:
    While the Wikipedia article referred to cites the OED as the source of "french" unlikely as originally referring to the cutting style, I don't have access to the OED to check this. (It's Wikipedia, after all. It's seldom a week goes by that I don't succumb to the urge to fix a grammar or factual error in something I've run across.)
    But it seems unlikely that it means "fried in the French style" since French green beans are thinly sliced (lengthwise) standard green beans which are simply cooked in water. And the canned version of those, with their godawful all-flavor-leached-out taste, have been around by that name for more than 50 years.
    Perhaps because that slicing style is "julienne," it began to be referred to as "you know, that fancy French-style of cutting"

  37. Andrew John said,

    September 1, 2011 @ 12:41 am

    @Brian, @Brett: At the risk of propagating a digression (which I know is a Language Log sin), on a recent plane trip I was given a cookie that had the words "Home Made" proudly and prominently displayed on its cellophane wrapper.

  38. Ken Brown said,

    September 1, 2011 @ 5:24 pm

    @SharonZ, here in England French beans are a variety of bean, contrasted with e.g. runner beans. You can buy packets of French bean seeds.

  39. John Burgess said,

    September 1, 2011 @ 9:25 pm

    Depending where I saw the "100% meat lamb for sale here" sign, I might take it to mean they were using a variety of sheep raised for meat rather than for wool.

  40. Rodger C said,

    September 2, 2011 @ 7:43 am

    Late, but I just saw it today: Return Check Policy.

  41. David Walker said,

    September 2, 2011 @ 1:03 pm

    I wish I could put a stop to the practice of offering discounts on "select items". Arrrrgh! That seems just as wrong as "authorize dealer" or "subsidize housing".

  42. Rodger C said,

    September 4, 2011 @ 12:15 pm

    I dunno, I think of "select" as an adjective derived from a Latin passive participle. You don't say "the elected and the reprobated," do you?

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URI

Leave a Comment