Wordwatch Towers

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

Deceptively drinkable

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Tanglefoot, from Badger Brewery (they don't br...

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Sometimes words are deceptive and sometimes beer is drinkable. Badger beer is both: its label proudly proclaims it is ‘deceptively drinkable’. I tried a sip or two and can report that it most definitely is. Of course, you still don’t know whether to buy any because as Oxford Dictionaries explains, deceptively is a deceptive word having two opposite meanings:

  •  to a greater extent than appears; or
  • to a lesser extent than appears.

I’ve discussed the confusion that can arise from use of the word ‘deceptively’ in a previous post which you can read for free. But please note I may send you an invoice as the phone company Orange has apparently changed the definition of ‘free’ to mean ‘we’ll trouser your money’ and I have decided to follow its example. A prominent advertising poster recently spotted at an Orange phone shop simply reads:

Now free from £10.50 a month

A classic piece of Orwellian doublethink, methinks.

All this talk of beer and Orwell reminds me of a wonderful piece the author wrote for the Evening Standard in 1946 about his ideal pub, the poetically named Moon Under Water, in which ‘…everything has the solid, comfortable ugliness of the nineteenth century‘. Unlike most pubs, Orwell explains, the Moon Under Water ‘…sells tobacco as well as cigarettes, and it also sells aspirins and stamps, and is obliging about letting you use the telephone’

For free at a reasonable cost, I hope.

 More on alcohol-related wordsmithing


Written by Wordwatch

04/01/2012 at 5:09 pm

4 Responses

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  1. I believe we’ve had this conversation before, Deborah, but this is another fine example. Words chosen for the purpose of impelling product sales are less successful if their main virtue is logic. Good adverts should strive for musicality, for poetic, romantic, or comedic effect. They exist to provoke a positive emotional association quickly, hypnotically. It’s about making sense to the part of us that does NOT choose sensibly, with restraint or thoughtful consideration.

    In this case, the wordsmiths are aiming at a younger audience of new legal drinkers for whom the taste of beer, after years of consuming overly-sugared soft drinks, is at first bitter, icky, “undrinkable”. Using the double-d slogan counters this simply, by saying “No, it tastes better than you expect” in alliterative fashion.

    Invisible Mikey

    04/01/2012 at 5:34 pm

    • Hi, Mikey

      Yes, we did discuss this before; it’s an interesting one and thanks very much for commenting again. I think you are right in your analysis of its use in this instance, particularly the need to make a positive emotional association; that’s so true. Generally speaking, it works, and alliteration is always powerful. A non-word-nerd pointed this one out to me because its ambiguity made him laugh – so it even works in that way, making the brand more endearing!

      But ‘deceptively’ is definitely a word to be wary of when used in other forms of writing, I think. Oxford Dictionaries advises against its use in certain contexts to avoid confusion.(Not drinking beer helps with that too.)


      04/01/2012 at 6:29 pm

  2. Wow – a new post! Happy New Year, Deborah!

    And oh dear, please don’t use methinks – it confuses the the hard of thinking who believe it’s pronounced “me thinks” – which they clearly don’t – rather than m’thinks.

    So there.


    04/01/2012 at 6:22 pm

    • Hi, Ron! All good wishes for 2012 to you too.

      Yes, I have finally emerged from Christmas and needed to find out if the odd glass of wine or two I consumed to be sociable had affected my ability to string a sentence together. Looking at the one I’ve just written, it probably did.

      Anyways, I consider myself proper told off about using ‘methinks’ and pronouncing it wrongly to boot. (I confess to thinking it was pronounced ‘me thinks’.) Forsooth, I promise not to use archaic words again.


      04/01/2012 at 7:07 pm

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