At the Poet’s Pub Brian is talking about the failure of language. Language is failing me at the moment, but the alert from Dictionary.com of a word new to me reminded me of a story I wrote back in 2008. Story, not poem. Sorry Brian. The new word is: Onomastikon, which is a list or collection of proper names, or a list or collection of specialised terms, as used in a particular field or subject area.
‘Now ladies and gentlemen, where was I? OH yes, the latest Gizmo plc product to be launched onto the market: we need a name for it. Something snappy, cool, unusual, whatever. I’m open ot ideas.’ Geoffrey Brund, marketing director at the giant conglomerate Gizmo & Widget plc, addressed the upturned faces of the latest gimmick: the staff think tank.
There was an uneasy shuffling of bottoms on the fancy boardroom chairs as the assorted accountants, secretaries, call centre supervisors and the odd representative from the factory floor attempted to dredge up something intelligent to say. Nobody wanted to be the first to look an idiot.
‘Erm…’spluttered Damon Forsey, the youngest at the table, on work experience from Slough College of Further Education. ‘Sorry to interrupt, Sir, but are you going to tell us what the product is?’
‘Oh, I don’t think that will be necessary, young man. I want fresh ideas, not preconceptions.’
There’s none so brave as a fresh-faced innocent thrown into a corporate hari-kiri meeting, so Damon wasn’t knocked back by this surprising statement.
‘But Sir,’ he ignored the disdainful stares of less naive employees. ‘How can we think of a name without knowing what it’s for. I mean, you wouldn’t want to call a new washing powder “Dark Solution,” would you? Or a kind of glue “Freewash,” or a bicycle “Holdfast”. It doesn’t make sense keeping us in the dark like this.’
‘Yes, well, we can move on from these juvenile fantasies, don’t you think?’ Brund’s sarcasm was not lost on Damon, who subsided into a blushing heap.
The nervous members of staff exchanged glaces, relieved that the sarcasm was not directed at them. Then one less timorous soul ventured to ask “Would it help if you gave us a clue – you know the sort of thing, animal, vegetable or mineral?’ A giggle from the secretaries was met with a stern frown.
‘This is not a game, Mr Cruikshank. This is a serious attempt to come up with a truly world-beating image for our new product.’ Silence broke out. The pause lengthened. A tentative hand was raised. ‘How about Whizz? ‘ from the HR assistant, known for her sense of humour. Besides she had nothing to lose – retirement was just round the corner.
Brunt threw a quelling glare over the top of his half-moon spectacles.
‘What about “Simply the best” from the advertising copywriter. ‘That should cover just about anything we can produce.’
‘Creep’ muttered Damon under his breath. A babble of low-voiced conversation broke out around the table.
‘If it was an umbrella we could call it “Up Yours.”
‘Or an insect repellent called “Buzz Off” would be great. And a handyman kit could be “Screw it.” Sniggers were swiftly stifled. No-one else was prepared to risk ridicule, and silence returned.
‘This is going nowhere. I don’t think you’re taking it seriously. ‘ The red-faced Brunt was starting to lose his cool, tapping his biro on the table in s. ‘We’ll break for lunch and I expect some sensible suggestions at two o’clock.’ There was a surge towards the door as the relieved staff escaped the oppressive atmosphere.
An hour later Damon emerged from the canteen and turned into the Gents. Recognising the factory rep engaged in the same occupation, he offered a friendly grin. ‘Right waste of time this is.’
‘Oh, I don’t know. I found it hilarious. Of course, I had to keep it to meself. Wouldn’t do to let on I knew what it was all about.’
‘Don’t tell me you know what the product is.’ The overalled man winked.
‘Well I’m blowed. You could have saved us all a lot of grief this morning, that’s for sure.’
‘Ah well, if you don’t let on as it was me as told you, it’s a fancy new alarm clock: wakes you gradually with gentle music and if you don’t turn it off it gets louder and shriller until you go mad and throw the darned thing out of the window. Stupid idea if you ask me, but it does look good.’
‘Well, you could have put us wise before and saved us all that aggro.
‘Not on your Nellie. I don’t want to lose my job.’
‘Phew! Why couldn’t the old fart have told us. I can’t see what’s so secret about an alarm clock – they’ve been around for ages – ever since the old Knocker-uppers with their poles to tap on the windows of miners’ cottages died out.
Damon’s brain went into a higher gear. There was some fun to be had from this, he thought.
The afternoon session repeated the pattern of the morning, with more daft answers: “Scrub it” for a cordless electric nail brush, and quick-drying paint was dubbed “Less Boring.” By 4pm everyone was thoroughly disenchanted with the idea of think tanks and marketing puzzles.
‘We’ll adjourn until another day, when you’ve all had a chance to give it some sensible thought. My PA will let you know the new date.’
‘But that’s it, Sir. Brilliant.’ Damon could hardly contain his excitement.
‘How do you mean?’ The marketing director was already halfway out of the room.
‘You’ve said it yourself, Mr Brunt. “Another Day.” Or maybe, yes, this is better, “New Day.” What d’you think?’ The factory rep groaned.
‘By George, you’ve got it. Just the job. Now the advertising department can get to work on the campaign. I can see the TV ad already in my mind’s eye…’ The director beamed at them all. ‘Well done, young man. There’ll be a job for you here when you finish at college.’