Soylent Green is … Granite?

The word soylent is a mashup of “soya” and “lentils” and was coined in the 1966 novel Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison.  Soylent Green – from the 1973 movie of the same name – is, as everyone knows, people. The movie is a futurist look at an overpopulated, poverty-ridden Earth – a planet where food is scarce. New York City police detective Robert Thorn (played by Charleton Heston) discovers that the new high-energy plankton food product – Soylent Green –  being peddled by the Soylent Corporation is actually made of dead people.

So it came as a surprise when I discovered a local granite dealer with soylent green countertops in his color palette. Did the designer (or whatever one calls someone who comes up with color names for such things) intend this as some kind of inside joke for old cult film buffs? Or did Soylent Green just sound like an interesting color name?

Or a funny name? Humor is a funny thing. A bit of an aside. Here’s a list of marketing slogans that didn’t translate well. Hilarious in retrospect, but probably not so much when these products were first introduced to markets with their inadvertently humorous slogans translated:

  • Pepsi’s “Come alive with the Pepsi generation” translated to “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave” in China.
  • Coors Light Beer’s slogan “Turn it Loose” became “Suffer from Diarrhea” in Spain.
  • Parker Pens “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you” became “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant” in Mexico.
  • And finally, Schweppes “Tonic water” became “Toilet paper” in Italy.

As writers we know the impact of words, but we can’t always know the nuances that connect – positively or negatively – with our audience. Gender, life and cultural experience, geography, language. So many variables play into how people interpret what they read.

But remember, Soylent Green is people. Regardless of what the granite salesperson tells you.

Stationary; Stationery

Bear with me. You’re going to thank me if you stay until the end.

It was Wally Lamb who said everything you needed to know you learned in Kindergarten. According to this article, Kindgarten was around in Canada as early as the mid-1600s. Could be. When I was a kid, it wasn’t the norm to go to Kindergarten, at least in the circles I ran in. This was after the 1600s, in case you’re wondering.

I’m sure I learned a great deal of important stuff during my formal education. I learned to read and write and I learned some math. Enough math to get by. I didn’t learn geography, but that’s all on me. I think I’m directionally dysfunctional. Also, history. I learned what happened, but I’ll be damned if I can remember when it happened.

Lessons that come back to me with startling clarity are usually those that have something to do with the written word. No surprise there. In school, I was always the bookworm who spent lunch and recess breaks curled up in the locker room with a stack of freshly purchased books from the Scholastic catalogue.

Two memories in particular today, courtesy of Harley Richards, the boy who sat across from me in Grade 7. In that year’s Mother’s Day writing contest, my essay came in second to his. I can’t remember any of the details of the contest, not even my own entry, save that I came in second and his entry started with, “A man must work from sun to sun, but a woman’s work is never done”. Curse you, Harley Richards.

Ok, three memories.

The other two are word lessons. We’d just spent a class talking about mnemonic devices. Learning techniques that help you remember. Harley came up with a couple of great mnemonic devices and, forty years later, I still remember them. I’ll share them with you in the hopes that you too will remember them for the next forty years.

One. It’s stationAry as in stAy; it’s stationEry as in lEtter. Nobody spells these two correctly. Including a stationery company I used to order from for work. When I pointed out to their sales rep that they’d misspelled the word stationery on their website, I got a chilly silence in reply. They did correct the spelling on the website, so. There’s that. Cold comfort to a spelling Nazi. But comfort nonetheless.

Two. Is it independEnt or independAnt? It’s independent, as in Dent in De Pen. This one looks less brilliant in the harsh light of time, but hey, it’s helped me spell the word correctly for forty years .

Thanks Harley.