Is the truth a bit too plain, even a trifle painful? No problem—just call it something else. This is the mantra of creative marketers, selfless souls all, whose purpose seems to be to save us from the harsher realities of life and get us to buy something at the same time.
Real estate agents, of course, have been doing this for years. Describing a house as having “loads of personality” means “we hope you won’t notice that there’s no closet space.” “Quaint” translates to “plumbing last updated in 1927.” “A view to die for?” It overlooks the cemetery.
This kind of creative renaming has expanded far beyond real estate ads. When, for example, did a movie become a “motion picture event?” Most often it’s a “major motion picture event,” unless it’s based on a literary classic or an incident from history, in which case it’s an “epic motion picture event.”
There’s certainly nothing wrong with calling a movie a motion picture. I can even live with “major motion picture.” After all, no one is going to invest the time and money to produce a film and then advertise it as a “minor motion picture.” But why tack “event” onto the end?
It seems to me that “motion picture event” more appropriately describes something that happens during a movie. Suppose you are at the theater, and the guy in front of you gets a call on his cell phone. He keeps yakking and yakking until finally you can’t take it any longer. You leap over the seats, grab the phone out of his hand, and use it to thump the bejeebers out of him. Now, that would be a motion picture event.
Since such behavior would probably get you banned from the theater, you’d have to entertain yourself at home. You might choose to read, perhaps enjoying that descendant of the humble comic book, the “graphic novel.” Or you might watch TV—where a movie, of course, is a “major television event.” If you did, you’d never see something as blasé as a mere rerun of an earlier program. Instead, you might watch that crowning glory of creative euphemism, the “encore presentation.”
If an encore presentation of last year’s reality show doesn’t hold your interest, you might decide to go shopping. The renaming game is alive and well here, too, especially when it comes to clothing.
The current trend is to describe clothes by what one is supposed to do in them. You can buy sleepwear, loungewear, activewear, sportswear, leisurewear, and careerwear. But what if, in the privacy of your own home, you decide to sleep in your loungewear? Or lounge in your activewear? How are they going to know?
Oddly enough, something we don’t buy any more is plain old “underwear.” Instead, we shop discreetly for “intimate apparel.” Nor does any woman today have to subject herself to the kind of intimate apparel once known with such uncomfortable directness as a “girdle.” She can now hold herself together much more gently with “shapewear.”
Slacks and blouses have been dumped into the all-purpose categories of “bottoms” and “tops.” This terminology is not without its risks; a while ago I saw an ad for “plus size women’s bottoms—half off!” Don’t we all wish.
That particular ad, with the incredible breadth of its vision, has inspired me. Instead of deploring this creative renaming game, I’ve decided to join in it.
For example, last summer my garden was a dismal failure if you considered it a place to produce vegetables. I renamed it a “grasshopper habitat.” It was instantly a thriving operation—as well as a perfect complement to the back yard “dandelion refuge.”
Using this same logic, the dining room table becomes a “newspaper and junk mail deposit area.” My desk, once a surface cluttered with piles of paper, is now a “horizontal holding facility for documents needing attention.” My untidy daughter used to have a bedroom with clothes all over the floor. Now she inhabits a spacious “walk-on clothes closet.” And since that space under the bed is now a “dust bunny sanctuary,” I certainly can’t disturb its ecosystem by vacuuming.
This renaming has its place outside the home, too. When I rear-ended someone a while ago, I wasn’t being careless—I was just practicing “overly-assertive merging.” Want to escape the stigma of overdrawing your checking account? No problem—you’ve merely done “anticipatory pre-deposit spending.” Have to give a speech? Those butterflies in your midsection aren’t a sign of stage fright. You merely have “oration-induced intestinal activity.” I used to be a procrastinator—no longer. Now I can proudly say I have a “deadline-driven work style.”
This is only the beginning; there are some real possibilities here. I’ll have to come up with them later, though, because I need to go get dinner started. I’m sure it’s going to be a satisfying gastronomic event—we’re having an encore presentation of last Tuesday’s meatloaf.