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Design Words A-No-No

June 19, 2010

Dear Mr. or Mrs. Merriam-Webster:

First, we would like to apologize if our salutation offended you, but for the life of us, we could not determine if you are a man or a woman. We are sure that you are a person because Merriam-Webster is definitely not the name of a city…We are getting incredibly off-track, so let us get to the point:

We are writing because we are concerned individuals. As lovers, practitioners, and patrons of design, we feel that we owe it to ourselves, our colleagues, and the public-at-large, to bring pressing issues of our times to the forefront of open discourse. The matter of concern is the names and labels attached to objects that people use in their homes on a regular basis. These may be one-of-a-kind items handed down through generations, or they may have been recently purchased at a local home improvement store. The one thing that they have in common is that have been given (or been forced to adopt) names that do not befit their splendor. Their names are so painful as to cause grown men to wince and babies to cry unrelentingly. These cringe-worthy, despicable names are:

1) Couch [kauch] n. and Sofa [sō-fə] n.

These terms are generally referred to as items with which to rest, lounge, and otherwise relax. They are also abhorrent. Have you ever said them out-loud and actually listened to yourself? We hardly believe that items of such magnificence should be named with such malice. We are instead proposing the following alternatives:

2) Sconce [skän(t)s] n.

This name is given to wall-mounted luminaires that are sometimes featured in pairs. They are not dry biscuits eaten at high-tea. Either way you slice it, it smells like spoiled clotted cream. Try these fresher names instead:

3) Chandelier [shan-də-ˈlir] n.

Yes, they may be gaudy and tacky, but they can also be stately and elegant. Why then does “chandelier” sound like some skin infection I would catch by visiting a dairy farm? This name needs to be quarantined. The following suggestions have been tested and have a clean bill of health:

4) Tray Ceiling [trā sē-liŋ] n.

With “tray” in the name, one instantly thinks of cold cafeteria food served up on Styrofoam plates by people wearing hairnets. Last time we checked, a tray ceiling can add splendor and drama to any space. Pull the curtain over “tray ceiling” and celebrate the following ingenues:

5) Wainscoting [skō-tiŋ, -ˌskä-, -skə-] n.

Where to begin. First, have you seen the plethora of pronunciations listed above? Someone seriously dropped the ball with this one. We aren’t even going to try and come up with solutions. Why? Because ANYTHING could be better than wainscoting! Pick a word. ANY word. Nova Scotia? Sounds great. No. It doesn’t have anything to do with paneling placed between base moulding and chair rail. But it doesn’t matter. Do you know that we actually wretch when we say the word? Wretch! Speech should never induce nausea!!! Instead try these smoothing names:

With that being said, Mr. or Mrs. Merriam-Webster, we hope you seriously consider the above recommendations. Don’t do this for us, do it for the future generations who will hopefully never have to hear “wainscoting” ever mentioned during their lifetime.

Sincerely yours,

James, Jessica, and Kiera

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