Enjoy the Go

From Nancy Friedman (who writes on “names, brands, writing, and the quirks of the English language”), passed on by Ben Zimmer, this site for a recent campaign for Charmin brand toilet paper: the Charmin Go Nation, with the slogan (apparently first floated in 2009) “Enjoy the Go”.

Ok, that’s the go of go to the bathroom/toilet/restroom/…, nouned and with the mention of toilet facilities elided (as in the plain verb go, used with similar meaning: “I need to go really bad”), so that go here means something like ‘going to the bathroom’, but without any explicit reference to toilet facilities.

Of course, go to the X in these uses is already doubly indirect: it’s a metonymic reference to defecation/urination, with the place reserved for such purposes standing in for the acts performed there (but now semantically detached from those places, so that it’s possible to say things like “The kid went to the bathroom in his pants”); and the various fillers for X are themselves originally euphemisms. The Charmin slogan distances things two more steps, by removing X from the expression and (via nouning) by making the expression less action-oriented.

The new campaign is indeed focused on enjoyment, on the pleasures of going to the bathroom. Auditions were held in New York City five days ago to select five “bathroom ambassadors” (at $10,000 each!) for the temporary Charmin Bathroom site in Times Square, scheduled to open on the 22nd and be in operation for five weeks. Prospective ambassadors had to answer questions like “Why do you enjoy the go more than anyone else?”. The winners will work inside the place, blogging, sending messages to social media sites, and sharing “family-friendly video from the restroom space and surrounding areas.”

The family of expressions go to the X have the interesting property that they’re neutral as to what acts are being performed. That is of course socially useful, but the Charmin people are primarily interested in their product as used for wiping behinds. I don’t know if talking a lot about the pleasure of urination would have disqualified candidates from the competition, or if failure to emphasize the pleasure of cleaning up after defecation would have.

Toilet paper presents an interesting design problem. The stuff needs to be soft enough to avoid irritation — Charmin ad campaigns have always stressed softness — and absorbent enough to do its job well and thick enough not to dirty your hands, but it also has to break up quickly in water, so as not to clog toilets. Toilet paper manufacturers are forever tweaking their products to achieve the right balance, or at least to appear to be improving them.

A final linguistic note, with a story about my colleague Paul Kiparsky, who long ago in Cambridge, Massachusetts, confronted an American supermarket while on a search for toilet paper. One after another, he inspected the choices, noting that they claimed to be “facial quality tissue”, eventually complaining forcefully, “I don’t want facial quality tissue, I want RECTAL quality tissue”. (You have to imagine the Finnish accent.)

7 Responses to “Enjoy the Go”

  1. Ben Zimmer Says:

    There’s been a “going” trend in drug commercials aimed at incontinent Baby Boomers (thanks to prostate problems, etc.). I think the trend started in 2006, when Avodart launched its “going, growing” campaign:


    http://www.mmm-online.com/events/section/89/

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    Nancy Friedman’s e-mail response: “You go, Arnold!”

  3. Fritinancy Says:

    Excellent post, but you seem to have overlooked the fact that those of us of the XX persuasion do, in fact, use toilet tissue after we go #1.

  4. Brian Says:

    Hi Arnold — interesting closest-noun verb agreement in your sentence “The family of expressions go to the X have the interesting property ….”, à la Bock et al. in LANGUAGE (2006??) — something to write about in a future blog, perhaps?!

    Your blog gives a whole new meaning to “Go Buckeyes!”,

    –Brian

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Hi Brian — sigh, I’ve written a number of times on Language Log (maybe here as well) on agreement with the nearest, but now I see that I sometimes do it myself.
      Though in this case I could maintain that for me, family has joined the huge list of collective nouns in partitive constructions that are transparent to number for the purposes of agreement. The list is forever growing.

      In any case, I guess I just went with my ear.

      But let’s not get into more uses of go!

      For the rest of you, Brian is at Ohio State, and I am sort-of, distantly, too. That’s where the Buckeyes come in. (Brian, ordinary readers can’t see your real name or e-address. Only your nick.)

  5. The Ridger Says:

    Thirty-five years ago now (can it be that long? actually it was 37, now I count it up…) an army captain was getting annoyed in a staff meeting at the Defense Language Institute because Headquarters Company was using more than twice as much TP as A or B companies. He wanted that stopped, dammit! At least until somebody pointed out to him, a bit haltingly, that HHC was. well, where the women student-soldiers were, unlike A and B, which were all men. Thirty-seven years and I can still remember the look on his face. The times had changed but he had not changed with them. Or at least noticed.

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