French brand name gender

Une note sur le genre grammatical des noms de marque. Qui n’explique pas pourquoi le Nutella est masculin.

Here’s a scan of the top of a yoghurt I ate this morning:

Le Nature yoghurt brand

The noun nature, like nearly all feminine nouns that came directly from Latin, has feminine gender: la nature. But we aren’t talking about nature as such here, but about a product name (of the supermarket chain Casino’s house brand). In this case, gender assignment works differently: the brand or product name’s gender is the same as the gender of the noun that denotes the generic product category:

  • generic noun: voiture (car) — feminine; thus: la Jaguar, la Twingo, la Taurus (even though jaguar, the name of the animal, is masculine and the other two car makes have masculine-looking endings)
  • generic noun: montre (watch) — feminine; thus: la Swatch, la Rolex
  • generic noun: fromage (cheese) — masculine; thus: le brie (even though la Brie, the region where brie is made, is feminine)

Yaourt being masculine, we get le Nature. Though I imagine this might confuse some elementary school children, especially given the typesetting, which is reminiscent of the handwriting taught to young pupils.

(I should add that there is a double sense in there: used attributively, nature means something like unflavoured or unadulterated. So un yaourt nature means an unflavoured yoghurt, which actually should be free of added sugar as well. This doesn’t only apply to yoghurt. Une crêpe nature is a pancake without topping, une brioche nature isn’t covered in sugar or chocolate bits, des pommes de terre nature are simply potatoes, raw or cooked, without anything else, like sour cream or cottage cheese.)

The system isn’t perfect: I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything but le/un Snickers, le/un Kitkat, le/un Twix, despite the generic term, barre chocolatée, having feminine gender.

And none of this explains why Nutella is masculine.

Commercial ties

J’ai reçu du spam d’un important éditeur qui m’a demandé de publier des liens vers des articles publiés sur son site. Il se trouve que ces articles sont sans aucun doute d’un grand intérêt pour les amateurs de la linguistique. Or, leur propositon de faire de la pub gratuite pour eux me semble rien d’autre qu’une campagne de spam ciblée, vaguement insultante d’ailleurs.

From Anggarrgoon:

I was contacted today [on a recipients suppressed list] by email by a fairly large publisher who was drawing my attention to some articles with a linguistic theme on their site. They were suggesting that I post links to their site. It’s an interesting type of product placement. I will be intrigued to see a) if anyone does, in fact, take them up on their offer, and b) whether they say how they came by the link.

I received what I presume was the same e-mail. It gave me a pause, and I’d considered blogging it even before I saw the post on Anggarrgoon.

Regardless of the articles being without any doubt of linguistic interest, this e-mail was no better than spam in my opinion. I’m running this blog as a non-commercial project. Ads on general-interest sites happen to annoy me, which is why I don’t even want any ads over at the Eggcorn Database, where they would arguably be more justified than on my private playground.

But even if I were open to forging commercial ties, the proper thing would have been to propose payment. The publisher in question can certainly afford it and does advertise in other venues. There is a huge difference between another non-commercial blogger approaching me about some interesting stuff they have written or made available, and a media magnate doing so.

Beyond these matters of principle I felt insulted. See, my interest in language and linguistics currently has no more than very rare and occasional ties to my livelihood. On some levels there are only very few things I’d like more than for this to change — and the reasons it doesn’t are, as these things go, personal and complicated — but as things stand my interests have arguably done more harm than good to my professional outlook. Without breaking out into foul language, I am annoyed that a rich company doesn’t exercise proper care about whom they are asking to do their free advertising. The culture of mutual back-scratching is a pernicious thing, for those of us outside the back-scratching circuit. So no, Sir, I won’t scratch yours, thank you very much, and in particular not for free. You may claim that you “have been reading my site and enjoying it”, but allow me to have some doubts about that as well.

The links have, by the way, been posted on BoingBoing, where a certain Kestrell is credited with recommending them. I’m going to forward a link to this post and to Anggarrgoon’s, to make BoingBoing aware of the spammy context in which they are being promoted. In any case, by getting boingboinged, the goal of the e-mail has been more than achieved.

About that other Superdome

Une pub d’une chaîne de télévision spécialisée dans l’histoire. Trouvée à côté d’un article sur l’aide aux victimes de l’inondation à La Nouvelle Orléans.

On peut s’interroger sur le bon goût, mais aussi sur la justesse historique pratiqués par The History Channel.

When I read the AFP wire US declines Swedish water sanitation aid on Yahoo! News#[1], the ad I’ve reproduced here was shown next to the article. (You’ll probably see a different ad if you click on the link; the original file is here (gif file).)

History Channel ad - The World's First Superdome

So what’s wrong with it?

  1. I don’t know how many other US sports stadiums are called “Superdome”#[2], but for the moment, the name calls to mind the New Orleans Superdome and its scenes of suffering.
  2. If the Colosseum (the German Wikipedia entry is actually quite a bit better, for once) was a “Superdome”, what went on there? Well, public entertainment, except that it was cheaper (free admission for Roman citizens, as opposed to the $90 ticket price I’ve seen quoted for the New Orleans football games): fights between animals (venationes), combats between gladiators (munera), public executions, in particular the killing of prisoners by animals (noxii). And mock naval battles (naumachiae) — in the beginning, the basement of the Colosseum could be flooded. Estimates vary, but several hundreds of thousands of people died there during these extremely blood-thirsty spectacles. The Colosseum is a contender for the top spot on the list of single places that saw the killing of the gratest number of human beings, in known history.
    At this point I start seriously wondering what kind of association The History Channel is aiming for in its ad.
  3. If the Colosseum, or Amphitheatrum Flavium, was the biggest Roman amphitheatre, it wasn’t the first such venue. It was inaugurated in 80 C.E., whereas the second largest, in Capua, was at least begun, if maybe not completed, in Augustan times (i.e. before 14 C.E.), and for the third largest, Verona’s Arena, usually a date of around 30 C.E. is given. Both seated tenths of thousands of people and were used for similar forms of entertainment, so they should qualify for the “Superdome” label.
    Not to mention much older great amphitheatres, with their religious and properly theatrical festivals,
  4. I find the reference to chariots puzzling. Either they are thinking of visitor parking — in which case they would be quite far off the mark. The masses of Rome certainly didn’t arrive in chariots. As for parking space outside the Colosseum, have a look at this scale model (the Colosseum is the near-circular shape at the top of the image, about two fifth in from the right edge). Imperial Rome was a crowded city of up to a million inhabitants. Not much consideration was given to chariot parking lots.
    Or were they thinking of chariot races? Like in Ben Hur? Those didn’t take place in the Colosseum, but in the Circus Maximus, among other places. (In the image, the Circus Maximus is the oblong race track to the right of the Colosseum.)

I am unfamiliar with The History Channel and have no idea of its overall quality. This ad doesn’t precisely give me a favourable impression of its concern for historical accuracy, or good taste, for that matter.

[1]: Refusing water sanitation aid doesn’t strike me as a particularly bright idea, given the immense need. Still, the Swedish official who is quoted in the article leaves the question ultimately open: “They couldn’t accept the aid today (but) we’re still waiting for word that they may need our help.” (UPDATE — not to let this stand: a few hours after this was posted, news wire stories came in saying that the US is now indeed asking for help. Good. [2]: There’s a fair amount of confusion in the European media between “Superdome” and “Superbowl”. After all, a bowl is just a dome turned upside-down. The Colosseum, for what it’s worth, does look more like a bowl than a dome.

Mon pin’s est greenz

English translation in preparation. This post explores a specifically French phenomenon: the extraneous z, which, pseudo-English like, keeps cropping up at the end of words in the most unlikely fashion.

Ça y est, j’ai décidé de me mettre à la collection des z superfétatoires, ces lettres à valeur plus ornementale que grammaticale, qui s’accrochent, sorties d’on ne sait pas bien où, à la fin de mots et ponctuent les panneaux publicitaires et autres écrits de l’espace publique. Si vous me connaissez vous savez que je n’ai […]

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Branding: IPA and exotism

L’API et les langues étrangères, ça sert a rendre les produits plus intéressants car exotiques. Un example particulièrement frappant est l’abus d’accents et autres signes diacritiques dans la pub sur le marché anglophone. On pourrait dire la même chose du pseudo-anglais dans la pub en France et ailleurs en Europe continentale.

My brain and mind, as I have mentioned before, feel these days like something that stayed too long in a hot frying pan. So I have quite a number of planned or partially written posts on language topics, and just can’t seem to be able to finish them. The question is: should I first […]

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Minimalist Kitkat

Comment un slogan publicitaire anglais est «traduit» en français, loi Toubon oblige.

As you probably know, there is a law in France, called “loi Toubon” after the former minister of culture who sponsored it, that requires all product descriptions and adverts (“be they in spoken, written or audio-visual form”) to be in French. If several languages are present (read: if the slogan is in English) the French […]

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