Der Migros-Sprecher Gabriel Zwicky

In the Swiss German-language daily Blick, a 10/6 story by Marc Iseli, “Neues Gastro-Konzept kommt nach Zürich: Migros bringt den Metzger zum Anfassen” (‘A new gastronomic concept comes to Zürich: Migros makes the butcher accessible’), about a new program — some combination of Retail, Gastronomie und Event — that is somehow supposed to bring the consumer closer to the producers of food (the butcher, the baker, the fisherman, the farmer), at least in the giant supermarket by the main railway station in Zürich:

(#1) From the butcher’s hands to yours, in the new “Meet Food” (yes, with a name borrowed from English) program (note: I didn’t choose this photo; Blick did; I will, however, inventory it in my files under “Phallicity: The Wurst”, where it deserves some sort of vividness trophy)

The story is about this still not fully defined program, but its primary interest for me is that it comes from der Migros-Sprecher (‘the Migros spokesperson’) Gabriel Zwicky, who gets his name in the news quite a lot, Migros being a very big thing in Switzerland. Zwickys, we are everywhere.

From the beginning of the story (which came to me first in a laughably awkward English translation):

Die Migros lanciert in Zürich ein neues Konzept. Es soll mehr Nähe zum Kunden schaffen. Der orange Gigant reagiert damit auf einen neuen Food-Trend.

… Neues Konzept in Zürich [“Meet Food”]: «In der Nähe des Hauptbahnhofs Zürich verfolgt die Genossenschaft Migros Zürich ein neuartiges Konzept», bestätigt Migros-Sprecher Gabriel Zwicky auf Anfrage. Es handelt sich dabei um «eine Kombination aus Retail, Gastronomie und Event». Die Bezeichnung sei «derzeit» noch nicht definitiv.

I know nothing more about this Gabriel Zwicky. This being Switzerland, where Zwickys are generally thick on the ground (especially in the German-speaking areas), there are at least three Gabriel Zwickys in the Zürich area alone; no doubt there’s a small flurry of them in Canton Glarus. But this one gets his name in the newspapers all the time, so he’s notable.

Linguistic note 1. The English agent noun speaker (roughly ‘someone who is speaking’, based on the verb to speak) has a great many specialized senses and uses — a speaker in a sound system, a native speaker of a language, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and so on — but it lacks one of the two most easily available senses of the German agent noun Sprecher (based on the verb sprechen): the basic agent-noun sense, and the sense ‘spokesperson’ (someone who speaks for an organization or individual).

Linguistic note 2. An odd factoid that came up in conversation with Don Steiny on Monday: there are apparently small but statistically significant associations between the first letter of one of your names (personal or family) and various other personal facts. Being close to the beginning of the alphabet seems to have an association with certain measures of success or prominence — so, Arnold really good, Zwicky really not.

And there is said to be a bit of a tendency to gravitate towards living places with the same initial as your last name. Zwicky is pretty much out of it in that respect, American placenames in Z being very rare indeed. One list:

Zachary (LA), Zanesville (OH), Zapata (TX), Zeeland (MI), Zephyr Cove (NV), Zephyrhills (FL), Zion (IL), Zionsville (IN), Zumbro Falls (MN), Zuni (NM)

Zanesville is the only place I’d ever heard of before, though I might have guessed that there’d be a Zuni in New Mexico.

American family names in Z are somewhat more common. Here are a few that are reasonably frequent:

Zac(h)arias, Zapata, Zeller, Zerbe, Zhang, Ziegler, Zimmerman

Maybe there are more Zimmermans in Zanesville than you’d predict, but all of these names are too infrequent for an effect to be detectable. Now, the letter S, that would be more fertile territory.

In Switzerland, things are different. It’s a tiny country, but it has three well-known cities in Z — Zürich, Zermatt, and Zug — and a ton of little places in Z. And there are lots of German family names in Z. But it might conceivably be that the sheer frequency of these names swamps any letter effect, making it again undetectable. Nevertheless, Zürich is packed with Zwickys (as I note every so often on this blog).

Background 1: Blick. From Wikipedia:

Blick [‘glance, look’] is a Swiss German-language daily newspaper, published by Ringier in Zürich. Blick was established in 1959. The newspaper was the first Swiss tabloid publication.

The format of Blick was broadsheet until 2005 when it was switched to tabloid.

Background 2: Migros. With some more linguistic notes. From Wikipedia:


Migros [founded in 1925] is Switzerland’s largest retail company, its largest supermarket chain and largest employer. It is also one of the forty largest retailers in the world. It is structured in the form of a cooperative society (the Federation of Migros Cooperatives), with more than two million members.

… The name comes from the French “mi” for half or mid-way and “gros”, which means wholesale. Thus the word connotes prices that are halfway between retail and wholesale. The logo of the company is a large orange M. Migros is often referred to as “der orange Riese”, i.e. “the orange giant” …, an expression presumably borrowed from Germany, where Deutsche Telekom is often referred to as “der rosa Riese”, i.e. “the pink giant”. [note der orange Gigant in the Blick story]

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