Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

I spy a wrongly used word

with 14 comments

James bond - quantum of solace

Image by titlap via Flickr

Usually, I don’t mind when a word is used in a new way to mean something completely different; the result often seems so right that you wonder why it wasn’t co-opted sooner. A good example is the use of ‘toxic’ to describe debt that will probably never be repaid. ‘Toxic debt’ has been included in the latest edition of the Oxford Dictionary of English (ODE).

However, some words just sound plain wrong when used outside of their normal context. On a recent TV programme about British writers, the narrator referred to Fleming’s series of novels about James Bond as his ‘franchise’. Franchise? Here’s the not very interesting definition of ‘franchise’ as given in the ODE:

An authorization granted by a government or company to an individual or group enabling them to carry out specified commercial activities.

It also has various other meanings including the right to vote. But the various other meanings don’t include ‘an author’s collected works’, or anything remotely related to such a thing.

(Interestingly, you’ll see a correct use of the word ‘franchise’ in relation to the Bond novels if you follow the ‘James Bond’ link above.)

Are newly coined words worse than being electrocuted?



14 Responses

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  1. Morning Deborah,

    Isn’t “the Ian Fleming franchise” covered in the James Bond link in all probability what was meant by the reference to Ian Fleming’s James bond Franchise?

    OK, it’s not Fleming’s franchise per se – it’s his estate’s or his publisher’s franchise – but I can live with that.

    I can see a clumsy usage, I can’t see one that’s wrong enough to attract ire.


    18/10/2010 at 8:24 am

    • Hi, Ron — no ire! It just made me prick up my ears because it sounded so wrong and sent me to my dictionary. The speaker wasn’t referring to the films or merchandise — just the books. Just a small thing that’s nevertheless distracting (to me!).

      Thanks, Ron, for your interesting additional query about the use of ‘ire’ — which also sent me to my dictionary. ‘Ire’ means ‘anger’ (obviously), and so I think it must be possible to ‘attract’ ire, as well as ‘evoke’ it, or, as the Oxford Dictionary of English has it, ‘provoke ire’.


      18/10/2010 at 8:38 am

  2. Er – evoke ire, maybe?


    18/10/2010 at 8:34 am

  3. “The speaker wasn’t referring to the films or merchandise – just the books.”

    But that’s my point, Deborah. There is a substantial, and official, book franchise. A whole raft of writers has cobbled up sequels and prequels galore over the years since Fleming’s death.


    18/10/2010 at 9:31 am

    • Yes — that’s true. But the remark was just referring to Fleming’s oeuvre. Ah — now there’s a word the script writer could have used — ‘oeuvre’. Or perhaps just ‘collected works’. Or ‘total output’. Or ‘books’. Or… I need to make tea.


      18/10/2010 at 9:40 am

      • And I need to make gravy.

        Cooked a nice hunk of brisket in my new slow cooker last night, now I need to strain the liquid, de-fat it (not totally – fat enhances both taste and mouth-feel), and reduce it until it’s suitable for gravy, then thicken it, portion it and freeze it.

        Firing up the espresso machine might be good, too.


        18/10/2010 at 9:45 am

  4. Interesting point – I come from the franchise industry (McDonald’s, Jiffy Lube, Etc) and the word franchise does seem to be used more and more to describe things such as a good player on a sports team to a film series. I suppose we could protest this, but in the grand scheme of things I don’t know that it’s the biggest deal in the world!

    • Hi — I couldn’t agree more. Definitely not the biggest deal in the world! Just a minor point of interest.


      18/10/2010 at 12:36 pm

  5. I kind of get that usage, but maybe I’m under the influence of hearing it used so much in that way. You wouldn’t speak of the “Dylan Thomas franchise,” because there aren’t any (or many) movies, T-shirts, lunch-pails, records, posters, etc. Plus, with Fleming, his estate has been particularly vigilant to protect his copyright. It’s the extended, protected, commercial nature of the artwork that leads into franchise territory.

    Michael Farrell

    18/10/2010 at 3:19 pm

    • Hi, Michael — yes, exactly. But ‘franchise’ isn’t the right word when referring purely to a writer’s collected works. I just think it’s stretching the use of the word too much. And as there are so many accurate alternatives, it’s an unnecessary stretch, imho.


      18/10/2010 at 3:26 pm

  6. Hi, I think I’ve seen ‘franchise’ used to describe movies too. Though when I think franchise, I think McDonald’s.

    Sorry about not replying to your reply a few days ago. I forgot to check the comments subscription box as I was replying.
    Actually I meant the reporter, not Christie. I’ve only read one of her books, I think it was called The Man in the Brown Suit but it didn’t feature any re-occurring characters. I really enjoyed it.
    Great post as always!


    19/10/2010 at 5:18 am

    • Hi, Lisa — do you know, it’s been bothering me since I replied to your last comment because I strongly suspected you meant the journalist. The more I thought about it, the more I thought I must have misunderstood you. Sorry about that! Thanks for dropping by again — I’m always glad to see you here.


      19/10/2010 at 7:11 am

  7. I also agree that “franchise” as applied in your example is a crossover term from films (more popular than reading right now) being affixed retroactively to a body of literary work. Other franchises would include most pulp fiction genres and B-novels such as Hammett’s Philip Marlowe books and Len Deighton’s series with the spy Harry Palmer, four of which have been filmed starring Michael Caine.

    Invisible Mikey

    20/10/2010 at 3:34 am

    • Hello, Mikey — how nice to see you again! I know how busy you’ve been, so thanks very much for dropping by. Yes — a crossover term, and one that doesn’t work too well, imho.

      Hope all is going well with you. While you’re here, I can’t resist taking the opportunity to mention this lovely post you did — I hope more people get to read it.


      20/10/2010 at 7:09 am

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