Sydney First Fleet Cataraman Ferry - Scarborou...Image via Wikipedia
The "Scarborough" - it's not actually my ferry!
Catching the ferry into the city on Friday I noticed something that’s becoming more and more ubiquitous and really bugs me. The use of the word “my” in advertising speak. As I went to the machine to buy my ferry ticket I was given four options on the touch-screen, I could buy “MyFerry ticket single”, “MyFerry concession single”, or “MyFerry” ticket or concession return. What on earth is the point of throwing the word “my” in front of “ferry ticket”? But this marketing is being used more and more, I checked previous train and bus tickets as well (these can live in my wallet for weeks before they’re all thrown-out in one big purge of accumulated wallet-junk!) and sure enough “MyBus” and “MyTrain”. As an aside, I also dislike the way that a space (“ ”) is omitted when the word “My” is tacked onto the name of a product. Back in my University days, I also remember having “My Student Log-in” and likewise working at the NSW Department of Education and Training I have to access “Our Intranet” through “My Portal” log-in page where I can access “My Applications”, “My Training”, “My Websites” and “My Profile”.

You may note that it seems government bodies are particular culprits in this type of language bastardisation (should that be a surprise?). But I first noticed the trend when working at “My Store Myer” back in my student days. Myer may well have begun the awful fad with their, “My fashion must-haves”, “my store for electrical” and “mystyle”, “mytoys”, “myhome” and “mychristmas” catch-phrases and catalogue titles. I’ve recently changed phone companies for my mobile phone and I’ve noticed that when checking my account balance with Optus my new phone provider a computerised voice will say to me in that stilting stop-start way that computers have when they mix and match different snippets of a prerecorded message:

Your Optus Prepaid balance is one hundred and thirty dollars. Which is made up of twenty-eight dollars worth of MyCredit and one hundred and two dollars worth of MyBonus.”

What do you mean my balance is made-up of twenty eight dollars of your credit? So whose credit is it then? Yours or mine? Surely it would just be simpler to drop the redundant “my” and tell me that I have $28 credit and $102 bonus.

Doesn’t this gratuitous use of the word “my” just grate on everyone’s nerves when they hear it? It’s ugly from a language point of view and I think it’s ugly from a societal point of view too.

Incorporating an unnecessary determiner (in this case “my”) into the proper nouns for different products and services, a determiner which is devoid of all meaning in its new home, is ugly from a language point of view because unlike adjectives, determiners (such as articles, the, a, etc.; demonstratives, these, those etc.) are meant to carry a specific contextual meaning which can differ in different sentences notwithstanding the fact that the determiner might be preceding the exact same object. For example is it you referring to the object or me? Is it one of a kind or one of many? Do you own it, do I own it or does someone else own it?

MX advertisement - Myer Spring Racing EveningImage by avlxyz via Flickr
An advertisement in the
publication mX for the department
store "Myer"
But I also think it is an ugly use of language because it reveals a “me, me, me” society. A society that glorifies in its own self-obsession and encourages a strident careerism and selfishness with no-regard to other people. It’s not “our” ferry, or “our Christmas” and it’s certainly not somebody else’s. With the possible exception of fragrances, which in a concession to the sanctity of marriage, or perhaps the sanctity of the designer couple, are labelled “his” and “hers”. The “his” and “hers” designation isn’t nearly so annoying, because generally, the fragrance labelled “his” will in fact belong to a “him” and the fragrance labelled “hers” will generally belong to a “her” - although it still creates confusion if it happens to be my “his” fragrance, or yours, or if it’s just “some” “his” fragrance, still sitting on the shelf in the department store.

“What cologne is that? I might take it.”
“That’s His?”
“Whose? Oh, sorry, if I knew it belonged to someone else I wouldn’t have taken it?”
“No, it’s His - that’s the name of the fragrance.”
“It’s His by Calvin Klein.”
“Now that sentence has only one grammatically sensible meaning and it implies either two men achieving something which I’m certain is biologically impossible or that Calvin Klein is in fact a woman!”

But I’m getting side-tracked. The real point that I want to make is that this horrible trend of tacking a “my” onto the name of all sorts of products and services is ugly and stupid because despite the best efforts of advertising executives we’ll still have to recognise the sad fact that not everything in the world belongs to us. And thus, if we spoke as admen and marketing types would have us speak, then we’d be forced to add another determiner in front of theirs. Just so we know that it’s my MyPetpeeve and not your MyPetpeeve - if you have any MyPetpeeve that is, or if you were going to get some MyPetpeeve for your sister, even if she didn’t want any of the MyPetpeeve because then with our extra determiner we would be sure it was her MyPetpeeve and not think that everyone else was stealing what I thought was my pet peeve!
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Serkan Ozturk said...

Best column ever!

JJ said...

Akseli: Considering your current state of mind, it is probably best not to comment on your thoughts. After all, they are yours. On this side of our globe, however, we are sorry, you are peeved.

Love us.

misha said...

I think one of the pioneers in the field of bastardising the English language has been Apple with its line of iGizmos: iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad... You've probably seen this already, but here it is anyway:

Akseli Koskela said...

Thanks Serkan and thanks JJ for your concern - just wait if companies aren't putting "my" into the names of things yet over your way then they will be soon!

I liked that link Misha - I'll think I'll post it on facebook.

Chibi Janine said...

I try to put blinkers on when it comes to advertising. Sometimes it is kind of fun to look at in a subjective manner.

Thanks for stopping over ay my blog. I look forward to reading your work.

Akseli Koskela said...

I know exactly what you mean Chibi - we'd be overwhelmed if we paid attention to every ad blaring at us from all corners!

Judie said...

Yes, they're MINE! All mine! You can't have them! So just get your own.They can be known as YourWhatever!

Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment. I am marking YourBlog as a favorite and will be a follower. Thanks for a very entertaining post.

Akseli Koskela said...

Haha! Yes it's ridiculous Judie!

Except I want my things to be called the MyWhatevers - and you can have the YourWhatevers!

Judie said...

O.k.,yeah, whatever!!

Yikes! We need to get a grip on reality! Let's try to whip these illiterates into shape before Babel becomes any higher!!

delia hornbook said...

I just wanted to say Hi and thank you for your lovely comment on my blog. Good luck with your travels. Dee ;-)

#167 Dad said...

Didn't Abbott and Costello have His playing second base???
I feel your pain, brother.

Judie said...

OMG! We are dooomed! Sara Palin's mispronounciation is now officially a word!! What is this world coming to? Just how much dumbing down can we take? Why?? Why did this happen????

Akseli Koskela said...

Yes, refudiate! Isn't it awful?

I heard her trying to compare herself to Shakespeare in coining a new word - except the big difference was that Shakespeare actually knew the meaning of the words that he used and wasn't getting real words that already exist wrong!

Arto said...

Hi Tom!

To add to your extensive set of evidence for bastardisation of language:
We (Linn & I) just finished watching Season 4 of Prison Break on DVD where we heard a pearler of a word used on a couple of occasions. Instead of using the already fairly accurate & well-known word acclimatise (British/Aussie spelling), one of the scriptwriter's had decided to dict up the amazing new word of 'aclimate' (pronounced "ack-li-mate")!! Whilst I'll be the 1st to campaign that language is organic & is meant to be changing constantly - just why this new twist on a perfectly good word was required is beyond me! :-)