A lot of people worry these days about the English language, seeing its abuse as an index of the decline of Anglo-American civilization. A lot of other people worry about the quality of manufactured goods, taking the breakdown of their automobiles, refrigerators, and washing machines as an even more ominous sign for the Western world.
We are inclined to judge from a third point of view, somewhere between Ralph Nader and Edwin Newman. The problem, we submit, is not with words or things but with words and things.
The naming of things, we are prepared to argue, is a primary test of the vitality of a society, going right back to the Garden of Eden. And somehow the namers of things nowadays seem to have lost that knack.
What was the last car whose name could make your heart leap? Please don't answer, the Edsel. Or the Starlet or the Escort -- cars that sound, no matter what their merit, as if they had just rolled out of charm school rather than an assembly line.
It is not simply that our fuel-injection turbo-charged engines may be reluctant to start, or once started, to keep running. If only they had dignified names like Pierde Arrow or feisty ones like Stutz Bearcat as they sit there, lashed to the tow truck, we'd still have confidence in the 21st century.
The bankruptcy of the automobile industry -- the failure in design -- first got signaled, we contend, by a spate of banal or irrevleant names, and the christening blight hardly stopped there.
Let us imagine a little pot. That tow truck takes you and your car with the uninspired name -- Zephyr, Accord, or one of the tired old birds, it doesn't matter. Your destination is an Exxon service station.
Exxon: the sound of two prepositions clapping together.
Can you trust people to fix your car -- or even stumble upon an oil -- who thought they struck a gusher when they renamed their company Exxon?
Still, you and your dismally named vehicle have no choice. Besides, you're terribly thirsty, so you go to the station's soda machine to console yourself.
Tab, Sprite, Mello Yello. We ask you! One would have to be Sahara-dry to find these flat misnomers tempting.
You make your way home only to find you've gotten your shirt greasy while peering under the hood. With remarkable discipline -- all things considered -- you toss the shirt into the washing machine and add the latest cleaner. Solo, Era -- can there be any suds, can there be any meaning to names like these?
The tought of what today's bumbling namers are doing to everybody's zest for life quite takes your appetite away. You stumble to the kitchen and subtitute a candy bar for your meal. A Twix, or maybe a Go Ahead bar -- something with a really mouth-watering name like that.
In the end, one must conclude that these products cannot be half as bad as their names -- that's where quality control has truly failed.
Whatever became of all the ex-poets on Madison Avenue?
Maybe the solution to our verbal-mechanical crisis is for rest of the world to make the goods while the British name them. Things English may not run as well as they used to, but the gift for names has never faltered. What a privilege is must be -- to get back to cars -- to have a majestic name like Jaguar or Jensen Interceptor or Silver Cloud lashed to a tow truck!
Call us mystical, but we always sensed British motorcycles trying to live up to their valiant names, like Vincent Black Shadow and Rapide.
So don't tell us a rose by any other name smells just as sweet. Call your next rose a Twix or a Go Ahead and just watch that bloom fade.