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Shades of Meaning


“Coloured is better!” proclaims the ad for an Italian fabric dye. It blares this concept in English, after a scrawny white guy in saggy underwear gets stuffed by his disgruntled wife in a washing machine only to emerge, much to her evident pleasure, as a black body builder. (Quicktime version here.)

Victor, a British transplant here, brought the ad up while we were trying to explain to an Italian the difference in English between saying that someone with a nice tan had some “color,” not that they were “colored,” which is closer to what you’d say in Italian.

Words carry so much weight. Unless you explain the background, conjure up images of separate drinking fountains, it’s very hard to understand why one word is OK and another is definitely not, why you wouldn’t say “colored” but you could say someone is “of color.”

Out of these dictionary definitions, only the fourth one says outright that you wouldn’t want to use that word. And how many people are going to look at all of them?

The ad people have no excuses, of course. They should be forced to attend some kind of conscious-raising seminar and possibly intricate, painful brain surgery that prevents them from carrying out ideas this patently obnoxious.

Victor and I share a love of bad English and there’s quite a lot of it here. Last Christmas, we had a friendly contest to see who could find the T-shirt with the worst or least grammatical slogan.

It was a tough call between “Sweatheart” (for your perspiration-challenged lover) in funky ’70s letters over a rainbow and the cryptic “I heart Knowin’.”

And the stores: Many unwitting brides purchase their gowns at the Hymen Wedding Dress store (hazarding a guess it’s a family name, I see the billboard and wonder every time I’m on my way to Malpensa airport) or Happy Lay, a knickknack place in my neighborhood.

There’s a consulting business in here somewhere…

Share  Posted by Nicole Martinelli at 4:56 PM | Permalink

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