Sunday, August 17, 2008

Odder odds with still no ends in sight

My last column admitted right up front, “there is no theme here!” It was a brazen emptying of Mike’s Miscellany, and it felt terrific (for me, at least). So we’re doing that again today. Odds and ends, kids, and here we go.

An ugly arrived in the mail today, and it’s the last straw. I’ve had it with this particular language misuse, and to compound the injury, this mail is from an alma mater of mine — the University of Texas at Austin (actually from The Texas Exes, those of us branded as alumni). On the outside of the envelope it says this: “Now you can save up to $327.96 or more a year on auto insurance.” I have no trouble with saving money, of course. But do the good people at UT not realize that “up to” means that the figure about to be stated is the TOP, the maximum that can be reached? You can reach up to seven feet, for instance, or save up to, well, $327.96. But don’t then say “or more.” I mean, you can, but only if you want to appear idiotic.

Are you familiar with the company called Lands’ End? It was originally a sailboat equipment company, with the name Land’s End. But the misplaced apostrophe was a typo that appeared on promotional materials (or so the story goes), and the owner couldn’t afford to reprint them. So Land’s End became Lands’ End.

Being from Texas, I grew up drinking Dr Pepper (every kid in Texas must do so; it’s a state law). (Just kidding.) You may not have noticed it, but there is no period in Dr Pepper. The story is that the period was used sometimes and forgotten sometimes until the 1950s, when the logo was redesigned to include a slight slant. Because of the tilt to the letters, the period almost looked like a colon, so Dr. looked like Dr: (it has to do with how the “r” is shaped). Anyway, the Pepper people decided to drop the period permanently — partly so there would be no implicit medical claims, but mainly because it looked better.

One more product note from the 1950s: I remember when Lite products were introduced. Memories of my mother almost always include the image of her with a lipstick-coated bottle of Tab in one hand and an unfiltered Camel in t’other (ah, those were the days). I also remember how the spelling, Lite, incensed my young language-loving brain cells — “Lite? LITE?? Don’t people know how to spell ‘light’ these days?” We all had a role to play — marketing people were deliberately respelling “light” to indicate reduced sugar, rather than reduced weight; I was practicing for this column.

Let’s jump to today, where we have an area radio station telling us that we have a chance to win “400 dollars in free gas.” Oh boy. Free gas? Are they kidding? What is free gas, and if it’s free, how can we win 400 bucks of it? If it’s free gas, then it’s free! Come on, radio people, think for just one second before you run a promotional campaign. Maybe it’s Lite gas.

Tell me this: If you subscribe to a bimonthly magazine, how often do you expect to receive that publication? Twice a month? Once every two months? Most publishers agree that their bimonthly product is due every two months. However, some people receive a bimonthly paycheck, and that normally means twice a month. You’ll admit that twice a month is very different from once every two months, yes? But the word “bimonthly” has those two meanings. Same goes for “biweekly” — twice a week or once every two weeks.

Here’s the rub, though (in case it’s been too easy so far). “Biannual” means twice a year, period. Not every two years. So if you subscribe to a biannual newsletter, look for it twice a year. But remember — if it’s bimonthly, it probably will not appear twice a month! Hold on, we have one more in the mix. “Biennial” means lasting or occurring every two years. Isn’t that just flat-out too much to handle?

So, to recap for those keeping score: biennial is every two years; biannual is twice a year; and biweekly can be twice a week or once every two weeks, just as bimonthly can be twice a month or every two months. Whew.

Worn out? Me, too. Bi bi for now.