In this January of 2009, when horror stories of the moribund fate of Detroit car manufacturers jam TV news and clutter newspapers, it may be corrective to point out a few of the world auto industry’s more piquant bêtises. Sorry for the French, but whenever I get really snotty, certain exquisite French words of insult rise to clot the surface of my word pool like malignant pond scum.
Maybe you read about the GM brain trusters who came up with the Buick LaCrosse? To Quebec teenagers, the car’s name means ‘Buick Jerking Off.’ I put it to you that such a phrase is a not inaccurate summary of the Buick division’s business acumen over the past few automobile seasons.
But still, GM honchos, get smart!
La crosse is one term for masturbation in Quebec street slang. Se crosser is a colloquial verb that means ‘to masturbate.’ Un crosseur is a Quebec swindler or a wanker. GM announced last fall that the car would be known in Quebec as the Buick Allure. Now listen up, GM guys, are you quite certain that a-llure in Old High Outer Mongolian does not refer to congenital lack of foreskin in camels?
Once the earth’s largest corporation, General Motors had marketing executives, brand-handling employees and linguistic contacts throughout the globe. How could the negative meaning of a product name escape all those Armani-encased Einsteins? Easily, it seems.
It’s my bet that GM paid massive mounds of boodle to a “name expert” firm that coins brand names for big companies. These dudes are deft at charging big buck wad for making up names. What they don’t seem to do is international, multilingual research. Even a paperback Spanish dictionary would help. Check out these recent slips of the automotive-branding tongue.
Auto-neo-kako-nymia. Yup, fellers and gals, I had to coin a new word. A clumsy clunker of a neology too. It means ‘making up bad names for new cars.”
More Egregious Autoneokakonyms
• Never mind that Ford’s Pinto blew up if you exhaled too strenuously on its fender. In the Portuguese slang of Brazil, pinto means ‘penis.’ Oops! Perhaps they should have called their car The Ford Peepee.
Over the years Ford and/or its self-justifying minions have attempted to claim that Ford never sold any Pintos in Brazil, that the entire pinto=penis gefuffel never happened.
“The Pinto name was never used in Brazil ” states one official source imperiously. No kidding, pal?
Well, for 99 cents on my long distance telephone service, I asked a Portuguese friend to telephone the largest used car dealership in Sao Paolo, Brazil and ask them if they ever have Ford Pintos on their lot for sale. Remember the Pinto was introduced in 1971 and made until 1980. 30 years ago! The salesman not only laughed, he retold the pinto-penis story and offered to sell my friend one of three Ford Pintos he had right there for sale on his Brazilian car lot. This was November 2006. They were not cheap and they were not in good repair. But some Brazilian car collectors wanted them to park beside their Edsels.
Because you, reader, are not naïve, I don’t have to tell you that the world’s big automobile makers don’t like to look like letterless buffoons in the eyes of the world’s car buyers. But they do and they are. So, when you see notices that their silly, careless mistakes in language checking are merely urban myths, treat that too as a possible spin put on their own mistakes by the car companies themselves.
• What of the Ford Probe? Probe? Is it an automobile or a proctological procedure? As far as I am concerned, you can take the Ford Probe and shove it!
• Mitsubishi planned to bestow upon an eagerly salivating world car market a sleek new vehicle named The Pajero. They found out in time that, in some Spanish-speaking countries, pajero is an agent noun meaning ‘wanker, masturbator, jerk-off.’ Híjole. Do you note a disturbing predilection for terms of self-abuse among carmakers?
• Getting all artsy-fartsy and literary can trip up the errant car-namer, especially if, like so many Japanese “experts,” he hasn’t the slightest knowledge of western languages. Thus Mazda pimped the Mazda LaPuta, thinking it sounded sort of Lilliputian, small and trig like the elegant wee folk in Gulliver’s Travels who dwell in the land of Lilliput. Nah. La puta means ‘the whore’ in Spanish. Híjole.
• With castanets clicking, Toyota flamencoed forth its Fiera. ¡Olé, amigos! In Puerto Rico, fiera means ‘ugly old woman.’ Híjole.
• Rolls-Royce spread this model name: The Rolls Royce Mist. In German, Mist means ‘dung, manure, or pile of shit.’
• Opel proudly unveiled the Ascona. Ascona means ‘female genitalia’ in parts of Spain and Portugal. Híjole.
• My personal choice for most unfitting automotive moniker in history? I place the ivy garland, the victor’s wreath lightly upon the sweating brow of Honda’s namers who stepped forth with the Honda Fitta. Fitta means ‘cunt’ in Swedish. Well done, boys. To Honda’s credit, they quickly renamed it The Honda Jazz. And thank God, Lars, that’s an a in jazz, not an i.
Jazz as a car name? Well, maybe. Most musicians conversant with the history of American music know that jazz is a sex word. ‘Jazz’ was originally a Black American pronunciation of jism (gism or sperm or semen). In some dialects of Black southern drawled speech, the final letter /m/ was not stressed and so was eventually dropped, producing an elongation of the original vowel /i/ so that it sounded like an /a/. Then jazz and jazzin’ meant ‘having sex.’ The term was usually considered vulgar slang by whites. Eventually Afro-Americans applied the words jizzin’ or jazzin' to certain styles of New Orleans music . . . perhaps because it was fuckin’ good music, or because it was good fucking music.
Among the world’s car owners, defrauded and hornswoggled for years by a parade of lying Detroit grifters and wheedling local car salesmen, a certain Schadenfreude at the misfortunes of the big automobile manufacturers is understandable. Consequently a few urban myths about bad car names have arisen over the years—but remember my demurrer in the Pinto material above.
One false story claimed that Chevrolet could not sell its Nova in Latin America because no va in Spanish means ‘it doesn’t run’ or ‘it does not go.’ But that is not how you refer to a car not operating in Spanish. You might say, ‘Mi Chevito no funciona.’ As a matter of sales fact, the Chevy Nova did quite well throughout Latin America. In fact there is a Mexican brand of gasoline named Nova. And Nova in Spanish may suggest newness.
Yoni photographic transfer on a Volkswagen hood attains a level of pictorial literalism that may preclude the automobile’s use as a kindergarten taxi.
Is It Too Late to Awaken Detroit from its Slumber of Greed?
Never mind that Detroit car manufacturing is dying in front of our eyes. Never mind that bad design, shoddy assembly and criminal lack of innovation are 100% the fault of big American automakers.
Detroit schtarkers* and unsavory hatchetmen have spent 80 years buying up new ideas and burying them, for example new inventions for car engines such as replacements for the outrageously inefficient internal combustion engine. The find-and-destroy hoods make sure that such innovations are locked away forever. Hey, retooling costs money.
Now—boo-hoo-hoo—pesky foreigners like the Japanese and Koreans make better, safer, cheaper cars, even in North America ! Yes, God-fearin’ American car manufacturers may have frittered away too much of their swag paying off the thousands of Washington lobbyists who, year in, year out, suborn American congressmen and buyable senators to make sure these legislative sleazoids pass laws that favor Detroit carmakers and deal gently with their manufacture of unsafe vehicles. Perhaps Detroit should have spent its obscene pelf on improving model quality and finding out why large percentages of its glum work force show up for shift work stoned out of their gourds and pissed as newts? Hmm?
Bail-out for Detroit? Suck my mop pail, you brainless greedsters! I'm walkin' here.
* schtarker Yiddish ‘tough guy,’ ‘hood,’ ‘thug’
© 2012 William Gordon Casselman
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