The (short) parade of unfortunately-named items (with audio)

upright mamon

Listen to this blog post (read by me) here

I don’t believe you can ever make enough fun of products that are named unfortunately in your language. For example, I was recently in Mendoza, Argentina where I discovered a shampoo called “assy” and a perfume shop called “maggot.” Now isn’t that funny?

But I’ve got the sheer joy and luck (and damn hard work) of also being a Spanish speaker. Which means double the fun, like when I laugh about this lotion sold in the United States, named the equivalent of “mange.”

On a recent trip during which I became glassily and icily entrapped in Seattle (but before the glassy ice arrived, and all we could do was put on two pairs of pants and shuffle down the street in measured steps), Pam and Mr. NEV took me to this crazy import store they know in Seattle, a warehouse of a location, with slimy sodas with things floating in them and products galore, on pallets, in boxes and just generally staring out, begging to be photographed.

Like this beauty (which, in addition to being mamón tostado, is also de lado, or sideways, because my computer doesn’t want to play nice, and I’m at a disadvantage with a dead trackpad and a stupid external mouse and don’t judge, you know how to turn your head to the side). And so we have, mamon tostado.

A mamón is a mamma’s boy, a whiner, nobody’s friend. Tostado means toasted. Or it could also mean angry. I don’t know what an angry mamma’s boy would look like, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be a bag of crackers. Your mileage may vary.

After the mamon, we also have a brand of something or another called Mama Sita. This is probably uniquely funny to me and anyone I know, as when I lived in DC, I used to classify neighborhoods by their “mamacita” factor, the frequency with which I’d be called “mamacita” while walking down the street. Here in Chile the piropos lean more towards mijita, mi reina and preciosa, which, when I first heard them made me laugh, because they seemed so innocent. But have someone hiss preciosa in your ear as you pass by, and you’re suddenly wishing they’d call you mamacita from across the street. Or, you know, buying you this thing:

And then there’s this, which isn’t really unfortunately named, but it reminds me of the word gazebo. When I was a child, I had never heard the word gazebo. I lived in a city, surrounded by Orthodox Jews and the one token Catholic family and then the Greek Orthodox Church and two friends named Teresa and Mary, who lived next door to one another over the candy store and corner market in apartments on Ocean Avenue whose windows should have had grates on them, but didn’t, whose parents would throw coins down to us through straggly trees to buy ice cream from the ice-cream truck when it passed by.

I didn’t know about gazebos.

When I went to summer camp, I had to learn a whole new vocabulary in Hebrew, as different items at camp were called different things. The tzrif was the bunk, the kikar was the giant field between my tzrif and my sister’s, the migrash kadorsall was the basketball court. We didn’t have swimming, we had schia, and if we were lucky schia chofshi (free swim). So when I learned the word gazebo, I assumed, like all the other new words, it was Hebrew.

Living where I did, there were always new words for different items, and many of them I believed to be specific to the person or language group that was saying them. My mother often ate canned fish, mixed with chopped onions, spread on a bagel. She had sardines (the skinny ones), and the fat, headless ones she called sprats. I have to admit, I assumed this was a family word, had never heard it used elsewhere. Until we went to the import store, and I saw this:

So it turns out, gazebo is not Hebrew, the mamma’s boy is mad, you can buy your own Mama Sita, and my mother did not invent the word sprat.

And so ends the parade.

Author: Eileen

Living in the "wrong" country for nine years now, I bike, photograph, write, eat and talk about language, but not in that order. Chile is home now, and probably will be for a while. I was raised in Brooklyn, and in response to a question I've been asked a couple of times since I've been here, no, I am not carrying a knife (most of the time).

7 thoughts on “The (short) parade of unfortunately-named items (with audio)”

  1. I love words so! Big girl doesn’t share my fascination, and looks at me through slitted eyes when I comment… maybe it’s a grown up family thing 🙂

    1. nah, she’s just not into it. She also pines for makeup, pretty purses and cloppity shoes. We just have to let her be, I suppose. Did you listen to the audio?

      1. I did — with much interruption by the little boy, and scolding by the husband (of the boy, not of you or me…) BTW, Mamaj’s use of sprats causes me great trouble when I hear of people wearing “spatz.” Fish? On their shoes?

  2. Šprotes! That’s what sprats are called in Latvian… and they are quite the local thing… though, I never ate them.

    1. Yeah, I figured it was something Slavic, from the label on the other side (I think it was in Cyrillic). I figured it was Yiddish or made up! No sprats now in Laos? Enjoy your mangoes!

  3. Hilarious! I liked the audio. A nice touch for a topic that’s tricky to do justice in print.

    The best example of Engrish I’ve ever seen was in a hotel lobby bathroom in Shanghai. Next to the sink, there was a sign that said, “Engage a Cock.” To this day I am sad that I did not have a camera on me to take a picture. I have no idea what the sign writer was going for, and there were no Chinese characters on the sign, but merely thinking about it makes me laugh!

  4. I forget to add, that I saw some diapers for sale in Thailand on Friday. The brand name? G.oon Don’t know why the full stop after the G, but, I did not buy any Goon diapers for Beni. 🙂

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