Purity, Excellence and European- the true meaning behind brand names

Heinz, Starbucks, Sony, Kodak. These are just four of the hundreds of brand names we often see televised, bill-boarded, and purchased by ourselves on a daily basis. But how much do we actually know about these names and all the rest? After scouring the internet for answers, here are a few of my personal favourites:

  1. Häagen – Dazs
    If someone was to ask me to guess the reason behind this brand name, I’d say it was because it was a rich Danish guy’s creation. Clearly it had the intended effect, since the brand is entirely American and not Danish at all. Although the name does make the product feel more premium, the American’s lived up to their stereotype of ignorance by overlooking the fact that Danish doesn’t even use umlauts. Oops.
  1. Adidas
    I had to mention this one, as around the age of 10 somebody convinced me it stood for ‘After Dinner I Did A Shit’. Another more believable and popular belief is that it stands for ‘All Day I Dream About Sports’. Unfortunately neither is true, and the famous sportswear brand is actually a portmanteau of the founder’s name- Adolf (Adi) Drassler. Although a small part of me was hoping for the former, crude explanation I came across, I think anyone who owns an item from the brand is glad they’re not walking around sporting the name ‘Adolf’ in big bold letters.
  1. Nivea
    Niveus is apparently Latin for Snow White, and they wanted a name that reflected the colour of their signature skin cream. What better than the image of purity to go with white? So if you’re looking to feel better the morning after a night before, you can’t go wrong with a bottle of purity priced below £3.
  1. Venus- Gillette
    Gillette named their razor targeted at women after the Roman equivalent of Aphrodite- who we’re all aware of as being the Greek Goddess of love, sex, and fertility. If I’m honest, I could have done without the action of putting a razor to my skin being sexualised, but I am guilty of buying them for the pink handle.
  1. Durex
    An abbreviation of Durable Reliable Excellence. This had to make into my top 5 just for the contrast to the American bestselling condom brand Trojan, which brings up more imagery of viruses than the virility of the Trojan people they were aiming for.

By Natasha Nayga

Yo, Baby White!

Names have always put me in a bit of a quandary. I’ve never been one for nicknames, unless I’m being highly sarcastic (which if you know me well, is in fact most of the time). ‘Imogen’ seems to be abbreviated to all kinds of horrors; ‘Imy’, ‘Imo’, ‘Imy-G’, even ‘Starkinator’. I recall one time being mistaken for an ‘Emma-Jane’, but I’ll save that complaint for a future post. Being blessed, or perhaps cursed, with a surname like Stark, it’s difficult for me to stray from the world of Iron Man and Game of Thrones. Whilst I appreciate the witty nature of the pop culture references, the many times I’ve been asked if Tony was my dad or if winter is coming can get a little repetitive.

To be honest though, I’ve gotten away quite lightly with Stark. My other names (Imogen, Laura and Elizabeth) are all pretty standard these days, despite that they’re so ridiculously posh. Occasionally, I come across someone who compares me to the infamous Imogen Thomas from Big Brother. Just brilliant. (Please do not sing her jingle to me. Ever.)

Consider the poor sods who’ve been named after Disney’s latest fad, Frozen. Whilst Anna has been acceptable for quite some time, Elsa’s on the rise, and who’s to say whether or not a little Olaf will make an appearance soon?

Any Game of Thrones fan will know that Khaleesi and Daenerys are popular girl’s names since the series has hit new heights. I’ll admit that I quite like the two but I can’t imagine a world in which my daughter is called Daenerys Stark. Imagine the uproar about Targaryen vs Stark!

My largest disgust with baby names and pop culture stems from Peppa Pig. Any child named Peppa has now most likely been named after a pig. A cartoon pig. Who snorts. A lot. Really?!

However, I don’t have much opposition to Hazel, Augustus and Isaac from The Fault In Our Stars, probably because John Green is a literary god and any name his characters don will be acceptable. Likewise, Piper from Orange Is The New Black to me is fine… if you want your child to be known as the pretentious drug trafficker who had pie thrown for her. If OITNB is as popular as we think it is, are we going to see names such as Poussey and Crazy Eyes on the rise? Maybe Chocolate and Vanilla Swirl or Dandelion will make an appearance in future primary school registers.

Will Anastasia and Christian follow suit bearing in mind the unfortunate popularity of the recent 50 Shades franchise? Imagine knowing your name was chosen all because your Mum (or more worryingly, your Dad) read some cheesy sex novel?

Most importantly, can we just take a minute to think about the prospect of a baby Walter White or a little Jesse? Psycho Skyler and purple-obsessed Marie? Think about a young Hank whose first word would most definitely have to be “minerals”.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that most names these days have any number of connotations to some kind of pop culture reference, whether it be positive or negative. I’d be curious to find out the name of the next person you meet; think of any pop culture reference possible that’s related to their -perhaps unfortunate- name. Let me know in the comments if it tickles you!

Imogen Stark

What’s the measure of size zero?

tape measure

At 5’10”, I, Imogen Stark, stand tall and proud in saying that I have a ‘size zero’ waist. Defined by the fashion modelling industry as being between 22 and 24 inches, my waist is smaller than the circumference of my head. Whilst this may sound absurd, I can assure you it is 100% true. Is it wrong of me to be so proud of my measurements? How does this incredibly small size define me?

Recently, fellow linguist Jade posted about her opinions on the term ‘plus size’. For me, it raises issues at the opposing end of the spectrum: To what extent do measurements matter? How do terms such as ‘size zero’ and ‘skinny’ project certain ideas?

The term size zero in itself simply doesn’t compute with some people; how can a size be nothing? Is it even a real size? If not, when are you considered a ‘size’, or perhaps more interestingly, a ‘plus size’?  If we feel the need to use the term plus size, then does it call for an opposing term? What about “negative size” or “minus size”? Are the connotations which follow from these latter terms any better than those which follow from plus size? Consider victims of eating disorders and those who, like myself, are naturally slim.

It’s important to remember that these are of course, gendered terms and are hardly ever used to refer to men. Would defining a woman by her size as they do for men by using S, M, or L be better, or should we follow the common tendency for plus size women to refer to themselves as ‘real’ or ‘natural’ women? I quite clearly don’t fit into the category of being ‘plus size’ so does that mean that I’m not a ‘real’ woman? Should I not embrace my naturally slim figure? Should I be shunned for feeling confident about my size? I understand that there’s an audience who feel a stigma confronted by labels presented to them when shopping for clothes, but I can’t help but feel that there’s an ever growing judgement on those at the ‘skinny’ end of the spectrum. Take a Victoria’s Secret model, for example. Are they ‘real’ women? Should they be confident in their size? They’re not holograms; of course they’re real women. Of course they should be confident.

Whilst the terms ‘real’/’natural’ women aim to show respect and that size doesn’t matter, think about what you’re doing to those women like me at the opposing end. If you’re not happy to use the term ‘plus size’, would you be happy in using the term ‘negative size’ to refer to me? Am I to be considered a ‘real’ woman? What’s the measure of a so-called ‘size zero’ woman like me?

photo credit: Day 22/365 via photopin (license)

13 Punctuation marks you never knew you needed (but SO do)

by Imogen Stark

Do you ever get the feeling that full stops, commas, hyphens, dashes, colons, semicolons, apostrophes, quotation marks, question marks, exclamation marks, parentheses, brackets, braces and ellipses just aren’t enough to satisfy your everyday language needs? Here are some little-known punctuation marks which I (personally) think we should all be using. For those of you who are really keen, I’ve also included the keystroke keys so that you can go ahead and show off. 

THE INTERROBANG: We’ve all experienced the feeling of shock and question simultaneously (“You don’t know about The Definite Article?!”) which is normally signified with one exclamation and one question mark. It can, however, be replaced with the interrobang.

Keystroke keys:

  • HTML: &#8253
  • Unicode: U+203D
  • Word: Alt + 8253
  • If all else fails: `:-O / :O`


THE RHETORICAL QUESTION MARK/ PERCONATION POINT: Simply a backwards question mark, proposed all the way back in the 1580s by Henry Denham.

Keystroke keys: 

  • Unicode: U + 2E2E
  • If all else fails:`;-.`


THE IRONY MARK: Although it may appear very similar to the previous perconation point, it’s actually ever so slightly elevated, a little rounder and smaller. Unlike most punctuation marks, it also precedes the statement so that it is read as initially intended. Hervé Bazin proposed it in 1966, alongside 5 other (soon to be revealed) marks.

Keystroke keys:

  • Unicode: U + 061 F
  • If all else fails: `;-p`


THE LOVE POINT: With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, this is surely going to reach its peak use. Consisting of two exclamation marks, one of which is mirrored (but both sharing the same point – n’aww) it’s another of Bazin’s proposals intended to indicate affection. Although it’s probably been replaced by the very 2007-esque <3, it’s a sweet proposal.

Keystroke keys:Love_point[1]

  • Word: Alt + 3
  • If all else fails: `<3`


THE ACCLAMATION POINT: Another of Bazin’s designs, he described it as “the stylistic representation of those two little flags that float above the tour bus when the president comes to town”. How thoughtful. It represents the idea of welcoming someone, so might be used in the context of “I’m so happy to see you [acclamation point]”

Keystroke keys:Acclamation_point[1]

  • If all else fails: `:-D`


THE CERTITUDE POINT: Bazin’s at it again with this punctuation mark used to end declarations with steady conviction.

Keystroke keys:

  • If all else fails: `]:-|`


THE DOUBT POINT: The opposite of the certitude point, this one can be called upon if you ever need to end your sentence with a note of scepticism.

Keystroke keys:

  • If all else fails: `(:-/`


THE AUTHORITY MARK: Bazin’s last proposal, the authority mark is used to give your sentences an air of expertise, or to indicate when advice should most definitely be taken. “Read The Definite Article [authority mark]”.

Keystroke keys:Certitude_point[1]

  • If all else fails: `):-|`


THE SARCMARK: My favourite of them all, this was proposed by Paul Sak, who branded it as “The easy-to-use punctuation mark to emphasize a sarcastic phrase, sentence or message.”

Keystroke keys:

  • If all else fails: `:-,`


THE SNARKMARK: An alternative to the Sarcmark, this is again used to indicate that a sentence should be taken beyond its literal meaning. However, UNLIKE the Sarcmark, this one isn’t copyrighted, and it’s also a lot easier to type. You’re welcome.

Keystroke keys:

  • If all else fails: `.~`


THE ASTERISM: This was once used to divide subchapters within books and indicate breaks in long periods of text, but it is now almost always shunned in favour of the (far less funky looking) triple asterix (***). Definitely think we should bring this one back

Keystroke keys:

  • HTML: &#8258
  • Unicode: U + 2042
  • Word: Alt + 8258
  • If all else fails: `***`


THE EXCLAMATION COMMA AND QUESTION COMMA: Last but not least, these two hybrid marks allow you to be excited or inquisitive without having to end a sentence. Ingenious, eh?

Keystroke keys:

  • If all else fails: `:-o`


(Piece adapted from http://mentalfloss.com/article/12710/13-little-known-punctuation-marks-we-should-be-using)



The Great Language Game


As an avid follower, lover and subscriber to Mental Floss, I often find myself scouring their pages for interesting language facts or articles.  Their Youtube page (which can be found here) also features frequent videos hosted by John Green, who I find incredibly appealing in all his cool I’m­-an­-author ways.

In a recent prolonged session of procrastination (whoops), I came across a game devised by data scientist and fellow language-lover, Lars Yencken. Appropriately named ‘The Great Language Game’, it sets out to test your knowledge of 80 world languages by playing short samples of speech and asking for educated guesses as to the language being spoken. At first the game seems easy and you can find yourself getting caught up in the excitement of correctly identifying exotic, previously unknown languages such as Tigrinya and Khmer. Unfortunately, the rounds do get tougher and it inevitably comes to a momentous and upsetting end (which ultimately leads to you restarting the game again and again until you’ve beaten your current high score). However, after a few tries of tuning your ear to these mysterious speech sounds,  it seems that not only does following your gut instinct have a profound effect on your inner linguist’s ego, but also that you can begin to identify specific characteristics of the languages such as intonation and rhythm based on your previous trials and triumphs.


I’d like to say that I’ve surpassed my expectations as a great linguist by achieving a score in the thousands, but unfortunately not. Well, not yet, anyway. With more procrastination will undoubtedly come more attempts at beating The Great Language Game, which you can try for yourself here.

PS. I know you’re just dying to find out where Tigrinya and Khmer are from; Tigrinya is an Ethiopian language and Khmer is just a fancier name for Cambodian.