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Jack Smith

Pitchmen Don't Often Throw Strikes

May 25, 1988|Jack Smith

Marvin H. Leaf is annoyed with advertisements that say, "Priced from $500. . . . " He wants to know, "To what?"

This is an old gimmick in advertising, especially in real estate ads. We are always being invited to inspect some new tract of townhouses or condominiums that "start at. . . , " with no top price given. A full-page magazine ad says condominiums in "California's premiere high rise" are priced "from the low $400,000s. . . . "

It is enough, I suppose, to know the bottom price; if one can pay more, he is free to inquire. There is a danger, though, that when one inquires, the lowest-priced units will already have been sold.

This lowest-price pitch evidently has replaced affordable, a word that had its vogue a few years ago, but which did not say "affordable" to whom? Today, when millions of young couples cannot afford to buy a house, the word seems ill-advised.

Leaf also points out a few other advertising words that bug him: Decorator colors, for one. He wonders whether non -decorator colors sell at a large discount.

He is also dubious about articles advertised at "a fraction of the original cost," pointing out that a fraction may be five times as much as the original, since 5/1 is as much a fraction as 1/2 or .

He also dislikes for a limited time only, arguing that it implies we might otherwise think the offer was open in perpetuity.

Leaf also professes to be baffled by world class and state of the art, observing that "I haven't the foggiest notion of what those mean."

World class is a term used mostly in sports, and it means an athlete who is good enough for international competition. It has of course pervaded other fields, so that we now hear of world-class poets, rock stars and even pedagogues.

I have never quite been able to define state of the art, but I illustrated it once by noting that I had bought a "state of the art" videotape recorder, which I never learned to operate.

Eric E. Fuller of Culver City recalls that in the 1950s, when he first came to this country, the phrase gracious living was used in reference to the many products alleged to be necessary for its achievement. Today, anything that starts in "the low $400,000s" can be assumed to provide gracious living.

These phrases come and go. I am glad to see that a new concept has finally slid into oblivion. For a while, every new or slightly revised product from a shampoo to an insurance policy was hailed as "a new concept," thus disposing, in a word, of all previous concepts.

C. Church (Bill) Moore of Vista deplores another advertising word that won't go away, designer. He rightly complains that its use to describe such articles as jeans is ridiculous, since "everything we own--our homes, autos, furniture, clothes, appliances, tools, electronics and even utensils--was designed by someone."

Zoe Thomas Poland of Sherman Oaks complains that the use of inappropriate has become increasingly prevalent and infuriating. She points out, correctly, I think, that the word is used to cast an aura of innocence over every kind of licentious conduct.

"The most outrageous acts are deemed inappropriate . When some folks cheat, dissemble, lie and steal, their behavior is termed inappropriate . People think they sound lofty, well-educated, elegant, restrained and clever when they say inappropriate . On the contrary, they're being cowardly, cautious, prissy, priggish, namby-pamby and supercilious. I can visualize their pursed lips and arched eyebrows."

If you don't believe her, notice how often treed politicians dismiss embarrassing questions as "inappropriate."

Meanwhile, since I recently reported a number of erroneous usages in The Times ( pouring for poring ; tow for toe ; taught for taut ; tired for tiered ; peaked for piqued ; allusions for illusions ; donned for dawned ), several others have turned up; among them: shoe-in for shoo-in ; fair for fare ; undo for undue ; and shown for shone .

The last appeared in a column about Ojai: "The sun shown down through a chimney in the clouds."

Shown for shone is absolute, unmitigated illiteracy, and none the less so because I wrote it.

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