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‘Better’ Days Are Here

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The company I worked in the ’80s employed as chief accountant an older man (probably younger than I am now) named Ed. Ed was known as a card. When you encountered him in the hallway and asked how he was, his answer was always the same:

“Better.”

This was amusing the first time or three, but eventually grew so wearisome that I determined never to say, “How are you?” to him again, but instead make a noninterrogatory greeting (surprisingly difficult to carry off).

Ed has been on my mind lately because of the newest subtrend of the trend of anthimeria in advertising. As I’ve discussed before, anthimeria is the rhetorical figure in which one uses “a word as a different part of speech than normal, as in Turner Classic Movies’ ‘Let’s Movie’ and Nutella’s ‘Spread the Happy.’ (Movie, a noun, is being used as a verb, and happy, an adjective, as a noun.)”

The trend shows no sign of slowing down, to the extent that I’m now more surprised to encounter an advertisement without this gimmick than one with it. Here’s a Shutterfly holiday ad (which combines the most egregious Christmas cliché with the rhetorical cliché of anthimeria):

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And a commercial on Sunday’s Super Bowl announced that Muuna cottage cheese is “a new way to cottage” and “the way to eat delicious.”

(When I alerted the language blogger Nancy Friedman, a fellow anthimeria obsessive, to the ad, she noted that the verb to cottage has a very different meaning in certain circles.)

New parts of speech are being anthimeria-ed, as in Optum’s slogan “The Pursuit of Healthier.” And Nancy has collected in the wild a rare example of a triple-play:

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But the reason for this post — and my reason for bringing up my old colleague Ed — is not to note the way the cliché is spreading its wings but rather the way it’s turning inward, forming a cliché within the cliché. That cliché is better. In my earlier post, I noted four separate slogans containing this word: Sears’ “Where Better Happens”; Michelob’s “For Friends Who Reach for Better”; Citizen Watches’ “Better Starts Now”; and Verizon’s “Better Matters.”

You would think that at that point, copywriters would leave well enough alone. You would be wrong. A few weeks ago, I was watching an NBA game on ESPN where, breaking into commercial, an announcer informed us that the broadcast was sponsored by Verizon (the aforementioned “Better Matters”) and Hyundai (“Better Drives Us,” which doesn’t even make sense). Subway has adopted the slogan “The Search for Better” and Lilly Pharmaceutical’s new campaign is “Lilly for Better.” And can I just say, “Et tuNew York Times?”

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What is going on in the minds of copywriters who come up with a Better tag line and run it up the flagpole? Are they somehow not aware it’s such an awful cliché, or do they just not care? Or is the whole thing some kind of inside joke, with cynical Mad Men and Women vying to see just how many times they can get away with this chestnut?

I have no idea. What I do know — in this time of little sunlight, madness in the halls of power, and threadbare tropes on the airwaves — is my answer, the next time I encounter a colleague who asks how I’m doing:

“Worse.”

 

 

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