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main index   ©   Jeff Matthews    entry Oct 2002


A
dvertising and the English Language!



Enough ESL (English as a Second Language), EFL (English as a Foreign Language), and ESP (English for Special Purposes)! I am going to start a school for EBL (English as a Broken Language) and use the billboard ads near my house as a text.

First of all, if you advertise it in English, that fact, alone, says something like, "We are international," "We are fashionable," "We appeal to the cosmopolitan person of today". It is entirely in keeping with the de facto presence in the New Europe of English as an international language. The French don't like this, but that's tough.

OK, the one in the photo (above) is correct. But on an adjacent billboard is a picture of a woman shaving her legs. (Only my 19th-century sense of propriety keeps me from letting you see it!) Actually, all you see is the woman from the hips down. She is seated and you see the bottom part of the "fashionable" pair of shorts she is wearing. A red brand label is visible on the shorts. Then, you don't see all of the legs, just the part she is shaving, the upper thigh. Her delicate hand is holding an equally delicate-looking but very modern, abstract razor that looks like it could double for some gizmo on Star Trek. Before I saw the text, I thought it was an ad for women's razors. Silly me. Then, I look at the text below the ad. It reads:

            No superfluous. Just Exyn. Fashion and Blue Jeans Collection.


It's all in English. The incorrect form "no" for "not" is in the original. (In English, "no" negates a noun, as in "No Smoking". "Not" negates an adjective, as in "Not superfluous". In this case, Italians commonly think that "no" is used in both cases in English. It is part of their version of "international English". It is also the same as the Italian word "no," to mean the opposite of "yes". It is close enough to what would be the correct Italian negative, grammatically, in this case: "non". The word "superfluous" is equally similar to the Italian form, "superfluo". In Italian, thus, the expression would be "non superfluo". Why say it in English? Well,  "We are international," "We are fashionable," "We appeal to the cosmopolitan person of today". They are selling fashionable clothes, so it fits. If they were  selling toilet plungers, probably not. The ad continues with "just". That's not Italian, but close enough to "giusto" to have a dual-language pun. "Giusto" means "correct" in Italian and that might be called up in the mind of an Italian reading the ad.

The last part, "Fashion and Blue Jeans Collection" is fascinating. I am old enough to remember when blue-jeans were not fashionable. They were regarded as work clothes. You put them on to go work or play rough. "Don't wear your good pants! Put on those old jeans!" Mommy used to say. The idea that jeans would someday be included in a "collection" never would have occurred to me: "Presenting Armani's new collection of Autumn jeans at the Grand Hotel," or something like that, still amazes me. Jeans have been elevated in a way that other American cultural icons such as rock 'n' roll and fast-food have not—that is, elevated to a state of elegance. This may have to do with the Italian love of the "bella figura"—looking good. It has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not blue-jeans are functional clothing. In any event, jeans are part of the cultural invasion by the United States of the rest of the world.

So—nothing superfluous. The woman is shaving what is obviously superfluous pubic hair below the line of her fashionable shorts. Whether or not a woman shaving up there is (1) necessary, or (2) fashionable, an ad like this works, obviously, only in those places that make cultural assumptions about what hair is desirable and where. Message: there is nothing superfluous about our line of clothing, either. Just Exyn: non-superfluous, functional but good-looking and fashionable clothing.


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