Friday, March 30, 2012

Still Life With Robin: Hardr2Read

Photo by CoolCeasar via Wikimedia Commons
by Peggy Robin

There was an article in last Sunday’s New York Times about a huge online repository of scientific papers called arXiv, pronounced “archive.” I know I ought to be impressed by the size and scope of this amazing resource, but in truth my first and lasting reaction is annoyance…at the spelling: small “a” to start, followed by small "r," and then an upper-case X in the middle, which is supposed to be pronounced like a K. What marketing wizard came up with that?

I should concede right now that I’m making this complaint thirty-odd years too late. I think the blame for the upper-case-in-the-middle phenomenon (also known as "CamelCase") dates back to 1979 when Master Charge rebranded itself MasterCard. Another decade passed before a merger of publishers gave us HarperCollins. Four years later, Federal Express officially turned itself into FedEx. Now there’s ExxonMobil, OnStar, PayPal, PetSmart, CareFirst, and YouTube, to rattle off just the first half-dozen that come to mind.

Since the practice has been around for so long, you might think I would be used to it by now, and I suppose I should be; but I confess I find it just as annoying in 2012 to type HarperCollins –one word with a “medial cap”—as I did when I typed that company name for the very first time. I felt, and still feel, this overpowering urge to hit the space bar before hitting the shift key to type that capital “C.” My annoyance before the upper case letter is amplified if I have to begin typing the brand name with a lower case initial -- as in “eBay” or “iPad.”

I think it’s safe to assume that this feeling of irritation is a conditioned response seldom evoked in someone who grew up using these product and seeing these spellings from childhood on. If you are young enough to be in this category, you probably never capitalize anything if you can avoid it.  So you fiddle with your ipad, or better still, ur ipad and i dont need to mention how much faster u can text when u do it this way. (It speeds things up to omit all the punctuation, too.)

That’s not all that can make a brand name bad to type. Throw in a number, and it’s so much worse.  Take Car2Go, the new car-sharing service in DC. Not only does it have the middle-of-the-brand-name upper-case letter, and a numeral used in the name in place of the word “to,” but there’s the final indignity: inconsistent usage. On the company’s website in other cities it appears in a variety of forms: Car2Go, Car2go, car2go, and CAR2GO.

Which brings me to the one brand name that I think wins hands-down for the most annoying way to write its own name. And the winner is (drumroll with an Allen wrench):  IKEA – a company that styles itself in all caps, although it’s not an acronym for anything related to furniture or home décor.  (Curious about those four letters? You can find out what IKEA stands for here: (  People also commonly write it Ikea.  I’m dreading the day (who knows when this will happen?) when they decide to remake themselves as a high-tech logo and become iKeA…or ikeA, or, who knows, maybe iK3a.

I hope I didn’t just give IKEA’s marketing department the ID3A!

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