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.