“Limited Edition,” “Iconic,” “Novelty” . . . A Short Rant On Overused, Abused, And Misused Words
The Swiss watch industry’s marketing machinery seriously overuses a lot of bloated marketing terms; a rethink of the way brands describe their new products may well be in order.
With the first digital edition of Watches & Wonders behind us, I’m again reminded that one of the most badly hijacked English words in the history of appropriating foreign words is more widespread than ever before.
But the worst part of it is that I can’t help but continue to feel more annoyed than ever as I discover more and more native English speakers perpetuating it.
I have studied a few languages in my lifetime and understand that languages both evolve and appropriate words from other languages. Many, if not most, English speakers went to kindergarten and some may even say Gesundheit when someone else sneezes, even though they don’t live in Germany.
However, when I moved to Germany in the 1980s, I thought it was kind of funny that the German language also appropriates English (and other) words. A lot. It was amusing to me until I ran across my first example of an appropriated English word that the Germans use in a different way – meaning that the word is English in origin, but it is not being used in the original way, giving it a slightly different meaning.
What does this have to do with anything?
Although the morphing meanings of words is not a new phenomenon, it is one that has continued to irritate me over the years as the abuse and misuse of the word “novelty” not only continues, but has perpetuated to the extent that I find English speakers writing it without shame on social media feeds and, yes, even in blog posts.
I once read the term novelty in a printed magazine article, and you had better believe I made my opinion of that known to the offending writer, a native of New York City. I note with some satisfaction that that individual has not done it since.
The word “novelty” is an example of something I have dubbed “Swisspeak” (marketing language as it pertains to watches), even if its use is no longer solely characteristic of Swiss watch marketing.
Origin of the “misuse” of “novelty”
As a journalist striving to provide unbiased reporting to the best of my ability, I don’t as a rule let a press release color my opinion of a watch or a brand. Press releases are tools to obtain information. However, as somebody who also often translates texts, I find myself automatically judging the quality of translations, not the watches, just the translations.
While translators cannot possibly know every horological technical term, they should at least know where to go to find the proper meaning. That should be a general prerequisite for the job.
However, the fact that many translators continue not to be able to translate the simple word “Neuheit” (German) or “nouveauté” (French) to end up with “new product” or “new watch” is a mystery to me.
I started seeing “novelty” used in this context in the early 2010s, and my entire problem with it today is that this mistranslation has caught on and is now used in every single press text – and no longer only those coming from Switzerland.
While one meaning of the word “novelty” in English dictionaries is “the quality of being new, original, or unusual,” for the majority of Americans, Brits, and Australians the first thing that comes to mind are cheap toys, chattering teeth, plastic dog poop, or whoopee cushions because the word also means, and is more strongly associated with, “an article of trade whose value is chiefly decorative, comic, or the like and whose appeal is often transitory.”
Any self-respecting writer with English as his or her mother tongue should literally cringe when confronted with the awful usage of this word. However – and this is the astonishing part – the incorrect usage of it is spreading and perpetuating as a look at Watchville during and after a fair highlights.
A note to English speakers: regardless of how many press releases you see using this word, don’t fall into the trap. Do what I do and retranslate it in your head before it comes out your mouth (or your keyboard).
What’s the next “novelty”?
A discussion with Ian back in 2012 brought another of these terms to light (where I was one of the guilty parties!): “pink gold” versus “rose gold.” French speakers use the term or rose for both 4N (pink) and 5N (red) gold, whereas in English pink gold and red gold are specific terms. Ian was even able to pinpoint the translator who probably first translated or rose (Roségold in German) into rose gold instead of the more usual “pink” gold in use at the time. Because I found “rose gold” more poetic, I tended to use it. Today the term “rose gold” is used ubiquitously for both pink and red gold, so the reader has no idea if it is pink or red gold. And don’t get Ian started on using “silicium” instead of the more common and widely understood English word “silicon.”
While those might seem like minor things, what is more important in journalism: poetry or correctness? With “novelty,” you have neither.
Much more serious in these press releases, however, is the repeated use of the word “iconic.” How can so many watches be described as iconic? Doesn’t the word actually preclude a certain exclusivity?
Then there’s the seemingly unlimited number of “limited editions” – the use of this particular luxury marketing term is also out of hand, resulting in a loss of meaning.
Have “limited edition” and “iconic” become the new novelty? If so, then don’t sit on them or, like whoopee cushions, the air might just noisily escape like their original meanings.
Or has it already? Let us know your thoughts and pet peeves in the comments below.