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January 11, 2006

Product Naming: Reclaiming Negative Language and All that Spazz

Leave it to the Californians to put a positive sociological spin on what is clearly a major business blunder.

California-based company recently selected the name Spazz to brand their new wheelchair offering - explaining that the name means, "wild and crazy."

Spazz.gifI think that's an interesting observation, given that there are 11 Urban Dictionary definitions of , all of them negative and none of them remotely close to "wild and crazy." But to be fair, I took our research a step further and consulted two of the PhD linguists on the Strategic Name Development staff, and I drew another blank. Spazz, more often now means, "freaked out" or "irrational" in U.S. vernacular. To speakers of American English, Spazz is derogatory in every way.

And there's more. Spazz is being marketed internationally. That means in countries like Great Britain and New Zealand, the potential buyers may be the ones "freaked out" since in the Queen's English, Spazz is a derogatory word for a person with Cerebral Palsy.

Yet Colours in Motion's president, John Box, claims he wants to "provoke people to think differently." And although he admits that Spazz has a negative meaning in the U.S., he sees it as part of "moving the bar" and reclaiming negative language.

I, on the other hand, did not reach that conclusion during my with Radio New Zealand. Reclaiming language takes a generation or more. I've seen no evidence at all that spazz, spass or spastic is in that genre. The company simply acted in bad taste. Now they need to work on reclaiming that.

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Posted by William Lozito at January 11, 2006 10:43 AM
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