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Warren Clements: Word Play

Word Play: It may simplify, but should we dignify snackify? Add to ...

You may by now be familiar with snackify and drinkify. They have acquired widespread attention as the latest in “ify” words (codify, quantify, sanctify) or, in this case, iffy words.

Indra Nooyi, chief executive officer of PepsiCo Inc., sprang them on an unsuspecting world in a Dec. 2 press release. The makers of Pepsi had announced their purchase of two-thirds of Wimm-Bill-Dann Foods, a Russian company with a line of dairy products. “Dairy has a huge, untapped potential to bridge snacks and beverages,” Nooyi said. “We see the emerging opportunity to ‘snackify’ beverages and ‘drinkify’ snacks as the next frontier in food and beverage convenience.”

Her speech attracted notice. On Jan. 13, with his usual tongue in cheek – cheek-tonguifying, if you will – late-night entertainer Stephen Colbert said, “We are constantly innovating in the field of fat and lazy. ... We may finally achieve John F. Kennedy’s dream of a chuggable pretzel.”

But what of the words themselves, in all their ungainly glory? As far as I can determine, Nooyi may have coined “snackify,” but “drinkify” has made at least one earlier appearance.

In Scotland’s Aberdeen Press & Journal on Jan. 15, 2003, columnist Norman Harper wrote despairingly of many grating neologisms in the car industry. “Who can possibly have imagined that ‘ergonomify’ would make a decent transitive verb?” he wrote. “Judging by a Pontiac press statement in 1998, it appeared to mean ‘to design a car’s interior in such a way that it is the most comfortable, most logical and least physically stressful for driver and passengers.’ I'll agree with anyone who points out that ‘ergonomify’ is a much shorter way of saying all that, but brevity isn’t everything if it mangles the language along the way.”

After tackling a few similar examples, such as “trajectorize,” Harper signed off with what must have seemed a wild parting shot. “Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to encupulate some coffee, reprofile myself into a relaxious condition and drinkify it with a fancy piece.” (In Scottish dialect, a piece is a portion of bread or similar snack.)

Little did he suspect that his nonce word – a word coined for use on a single occasion – would find new purchase in PepsiCo. Chances are he wouldn’t thankify Nooyi for this.

The “fy” in such words comes from the Latin facere, to make or do. As Michael Quinion wrote in his 2002 book Ologies and Isms, the temptation to create new verbs with the help of “fy” is so great that few can say “fie.” Verbs “are sometimes created with humorous intent,” he wrote, “as in trendify, to make trendy or fashionable, and yuppify, to make an area attractive to yuppies. Others of similar kind are cutify, uglify and youthify.”

To amplify this trend would doubtless horrify many, and the world would have to identify a way to dignify the process so that, once certified, it might better satisfy the ear and eye. Speaking of which, the “i” in “ify” is there strictly for convenience, and is replaced by an “e” in such verbs as liquefy, which is another way of saying drinkify, and may yet catch on in the boardrooms of PepsiCo.

Speaking of companies and odd wording, has anyone else noticed the strange exchange in a current television commercial for Dr. Scholl’s Skin Tag Remover? A mother and daughter are frolicking in the pool when the daughter notices a protruding flap of skin on her mother’s neck. In the next scene, the clump is absent, having been zapped by the sponsor’s product. The daughter says, “Mummy, where did it go?” The mother responds, “It’s gone.”

The daughter might be forgiven for shouting: “Of course it’s gone. Why would I have asked where it went if I didn’t know it was gone? What do you take me for, a fool?” Instead, the mother and daughter both chuckle. Very odd.

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