Fun and funnerer

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Today saw the release of the anxiously awaited T-Mobile G1, the first phone to use Google's Android software. On T-Mobile's website, the first ad for the phone was unveiled, and it's packed with jocular comparative adjectives: smarterer, connecteder, funnerer.

This isn't just an homage to Dumb and Dumberer, the even more dim-witted sequel to Dumb and Dumber. Rather, it's being recognized by many in the techie community as a pointed jab at Apple honcho Steve Jobs, who recently enthused about "the funnest iPod ever." (That's still the tagline on the website for the iPod Touch.)

The to-do over Jobs's use of funnest has been covered elsewhere, notably by Grammar Girl, who began her podcast two weeks ago with news of this dire "grammar emergency": "Steve Jobs said funnest on Tuesday in his keynote address about the new iPods, and people all over the Internet freaked out." Grammar Girl provided a history of how fun became an adjective, and recently Neal Whitman of Literal-Minded offered a rebuttal. (For earlier discussions of funner and funnest, see Arnold Zwicky's post on the American Dialect Society mailing list from May 2006 and Jan Freeman's column in the Boston Globe from last March.)

Since the Google Android phone is seen as a direct assault on the supremacy of Apple's iPhone, the appearance of funnerer in the T-Mobile ad sent a dog-whistle of sorts to young technophiles. But perhaps the dog-whistle was too fine-tuned? Engadget made the connection to Apple's funnest pitch, but its fellow techie-blog Gizmodo just saw "Blatant Hostility Towards the English Language":

The first G1 ad has hit, and it's so sassy! It like, totally doesn't care about using proper English! It's just so much, uh, funnerer than other mobile ads. You know, because that's how the kids are talking these days. Incorrectly. Oh, T-Mo, you're so hip and with it. No wonder you wheeled out the Google kings on rollerblades today.

Clever quasi-grammatical stakes-raising or pathetic attempt at hipness? You decide.

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16 Comments »

  1. Tayloj said,

    September 23, 2008 @ 4:03 pm

    Yet it could have been worse. Suppose he'd called it the "most funnest" iPod ever. Or said that it was "more funner" than all the other iPods.

  2. Oskar said,

    September 23, 2008 @ 4:23 pm

    I think it's fun! I'm generally of the opinion that language freak-outs are silly, and I don't consider this is an exception. It's a clever little dig at Apple, and it's certainly much nicer and more light-hearted than the "Get A Mac"-ads.

    And to answer Gizmodo, it's not like kids actually talk like this. Any person over the age of 9 knows that "connecteder" isn't standard English, and I doubt that many use it in regular conversation. The death of the English language is greatly exaggerated. It's just advertising, after all.

  3. sleepnothavingness said,

    September 23, 2008 @ 4:38 pm

    Surely such jocular mangling is nothing new? My American (linguist) wife imported the word "funnest" to our household (along with many other tortured adjectives), and claimed usage dating back to the late '60s or earlier. Unless this is an instance of Inverted Recency Illusion …

  4. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    September 23, 2008 @ 4:48 pm

    Oskar: I believe that was Gizmodo's point, sarcastically made: kids don't talk like that, which is why the ad is a failed attempt at hipness.

    sleepnothavingness: No, funnest is nothing new, as discussed in the commentaries from Neal Whitman, Arnold Zwicky, and Jan Freeman linked above. But since so many people continue to reject funner and funnest as non-standard (or dismiss them as "jocular mangling"!) they continue to have an air of novelty about them.

  5. Stuart said,

    September 23, 2008 @ 5:14 pm

    Oskar: I believe that was Gizmodo's point, sarcastically made: kids don't talk like that, which is why the ad is a failed attempt at hipness.

    Is it a failed attempt at hipness? It might be, or might be an attempt to make sure people are talking about it in non-tech circles. The release of another phone is no big deal for most non-geeks, even if it's a "googlephone". The obviously exaggerated comparatives have certainly made sure the release gets a whole lot more free publicity. I work in market research and I would say that it was not a bad move at all.

  6. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    September 23, 2008 @ 5:20 pm

    Stuart: Agreed. (The "failed hipness" bit was Gizmodo's point, not mine.)

  7. rpsms said,

    September 23, 2008 @ 5:26 pm

    I found it playful and light-hearted. It seems to poke fun at the hyperbole surrounding such products.

    Everyone gets in an uproar about funner but never seem to look at the claim. Is using an iPod or other music device really /fun/ to begin with?

  8. sleepnothavingness said,

    September 23, 2008 @ 5:29 pm

    My point was that the late Mrs Sleepnothavingness attested to earlier usage than discussed in the cited linked commentaries, as part of a fashion for deliberate adventure with the language for cute effect. When I complained that her English was going from badder to worstest, she counter-claimed that I was the grumblingest. I suspect Steve Jobs was trying to tap the same source of uber-cuteness, and pulled an Epic Fail.

    The novelty of funnest remains intact purely because this Ivy League fad of four decades ago never caught on in the mainstream. Pretty much the way that the provenance of the word "Okay" was shrouded in mystery for so long – fashions come and go, but occasionally they leave a residue.

  9. Nathan Myers said,

    September 23, 2008 @ 5:40 pm

    Wait, "connecteder" isn't a word?

    I encounter this scrap of less defensible commercialspeak every day:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/orangecats/2482331708/

    I'm tempted to improve it with a big white question mark, after which it might be taken down entirely, a much better outcome than changing s/thou/thy/.

    (Oh, "commercialspeak" isn't a word either?)

  10. John Cowan said,

    September 23, 2008 @ 5:45 pm

    The only thing that's hip these days is failing to be hip.

  11. GAC said,

    September 23, 2008 @ 7:21 pm

    The Buzz Out Loud crew apparently doesn't like the ad. One of the "Molly rants" ends up being a peeve rant.

    (off-topic: in the same episode, I'm interested to hear Molly Wood say "long-lived" as long-l[aj]ved — is this a common pronunciation?)

  12. anansigirl said,

    September 24, 2008 @ 1:46 am

    Pathetic attempt at hipness, definitely. Advertisers will be the death of our language, I tell ya.

  13. Sili said,

    September 24, 2008 @ 10:36 am

    Iono – I think it's kinda cute. My own use of 'regular comparatives' is certainly jocular, but I don't see the 'danger' in them. Don't the prescriptivists always appeal to logic? "Funner" is more logical than "more fun" (cf. "smaller"/"more small"). And hey! it's funner too!

  14. Ralph Hickok said,

    September 24, 2008 @ 10:38 am

    @GAC: I've always pronounced it that way, since I derive it from "long-lifed." But I've never looked it up anywhere, so I might well be wrong. Again.

  15. Ralph Hickok said,

    September 24, 2008 @ 2:41 pm

    Sili said, "Funner" is more logical than "more fun" (cf. "smaller"/"more small").

    Except that, originally, "more fun" was a noun phrase, not an adjectival phrase.

  16. Katie said,

    April 10, 2009 @ 11:21 am

    I think Google’s use of “funnerer” is very clever. Playing with different, albeit incorrect, forms of grammar is an effective marketing campaign when done in an intelligent way. I also think it’s interesting that Google’s dig at Apple is geared towards their grammar, not their product. In terms of “funner” and “funnest,” I think it’s only a matter of time before these become completely acceptable. Everything else can be measured by varying degrees (i.e small, smaller, smallest), so why not fun too? I personally like the “funnest ipod ever” and the fact that Apple would be willing to risk grammatical incorrectness in public to reach their target audience says a lot about how the company perceives the evolution of language.

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