Friday, 6 November 2009

Bumpits: On compounding and unhappy orthography

A (relatively) new product I noticed in the local CVS:

As I understand it, the "Bumpits" product is a plastic insert/comb that "bumps up" the hair, making it look fuller. The choice of orthographical representation for the product is very unhappy though...

At first glance, I read it of course as "Bum Pits". Pits often functions as a shortened version of "arm pits". And when pits is combined with bum--whether the latter is interpreted as bum, "a homeless person; a lazy and dissolute (and often unwashed) person", or bum "buttocks"--the result is not a product many people would want to purchase. (I'll spare readers visual representations of either of these interpretations...)

A Google search reveals that I'm not alone in finding the orthographic representation of "bump its" as "Bumpits" an unfortunate choice: see here, for instance.

The orthography problem is worsened, I believe, by the fact that function words, like pronouns, are not the most frequent members of compound words in English. So while both bump and bum are perfectly fine common nouns that any self-respecting nominal compound would be happy to include, pit, as a noun, is a much more likely candidate for nominal compounding than the pronoun it. So I think English speakers' natural inclination (at a subconscious level), when faced with a choice between "bump-its" and "bum-pits", is to choose the latter interpretation, since the Noun-Noun combination of "bum-pits" is a more typical example of compounding than a Noun-Pronoun combination like "bump-its".

What I don't understand is why the possibility of the unfortunate readings didn't occur to the "Bumpits" marketing people. I mean, the idea behind the name isn't bad, appealling to the sense of "bump it up (a notch)". And though, as discussed above, the pattern of compounding in English favours Noun-Noun over Noun-Pronoun, the former interpretation could have been effectively suppressed by means of a thoughtful choice of orthographic representation.

That is, why write it as a single word: Bumpits? Why not Bump Its or Bump-Its? Or, if they liked the idea of a single word, why not discourage the reading "bum-pits" in some other way, e.g. BumpIts or Bumpits?

1 comment:

  1. Bumpits can be easily trademarked (at least in the U.S.) whereas your alternatives cannot.