Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Pop goes a vogue. Powered by style?

Words and phrases have fascinated me all my life. I somehow manage to ‘sense’ a coming trend in usage as it’s catching on, more often than not. ‘Powered by’ is a vogue phrase I’ve often noticed in web writing but never really paused to think about. A while back, I read Ken Fasimpaur’s post, ‘Friday Forbidden Phrase: POWERED BY’, where he calls it “a fine illustration of linguistic devolution”. I’ll quote some of the interesting bits: “Some forbidden words are manifestly evil from the moment they're coined, created only as marketing speak or existing only to evoke faux novelty. (Webinar anyone? After all, ‘web seminar’ is so lengthy and unhip.) [A relevant digression with your leave, folks: ‘Faux’ too is a vogue word that ought to be verboten. ‘Verboten’ likewise, for that matter.] “In other cases though, perfectly valid pieces of language are slowly corrupted until there's scarcely any hope left for them,” he argues. About ‘Powered by’, he has this to say: “At first glance, it's a nice functional piece of language. In a statement like ‘Powered By Apache’ where it names the web server software that make (sic!) a site operate, it's quite descriptive.” With ‘Powered By Novell’ and ‘Powered By CNN’, though, there’s quite a serious problem. “Can an entire company truly be said to drive a web site? Is CNN a steam engine or a web server? A news engine?” is his legitimate query. Then, he gives an extreme example from “this wonderful ad from Cisco”: “The main headline, run across a picture of a newborn child and happy mother … [is] …‘8 lbs. 3 ozs. powered by Cisco’, That's right – your child's motive force is a router company who drives smart people into the arms of its competitors!” http://www.networkworld.com/community/?q=node/3574.

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