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Dot Wordsworth: Is M&S really 'Magic & Sparkle'?

Plus: I do believe there's a link between Ibuleve and I Can't Believe it's not Butter

16 November 2013

9:00 AM

16 November 2013

9:00 AM

‘Believe in Magic & Sparkle,’ says the Marks & Spencer television Christmas advertisement. The phrase is meant to suggest the shop, but it seems rather distant to me, either verbally or associatively (the shops, being lit by fluorescent tubes, are staring rather than sparkly). The popular name is Marks and Sparks, but merely as a rhyme.

There is already an outfit called Believe in Magic. ‘Believe in Magic is a charity,’ its website says, ‘that spreads magic to the lives of seriously and terminally ill children.’ It takes them on outings for a treat. There is little chance of Believe in Magic being confused with Marks & Spencer. There is also some stuff called Ibuleve, a gel for the relief of muscular and rheumatic pain, strains and sprains. The Ibu- bit is related to the active ingredient, ibuprofen. The –leve no doubt suggests ‘relieve’. But the two together sound like ‘I believe’. I don’t know if studies have been done into the power of suggestion of the name, and its possible placebo effect. My husband hasn’t heard of any, but I don’t suppose he would. Ibuprofen, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, has been available over the counter since 1983. It was patented in 1961, having been discovered by Stewart Adams, John Nicholson and Colin Burrows of Boots. The name Ibuprofen derives from the kind of isobutylphenyl propionic acid of which it is made. That isobutyl in turn derives from butyl, a name devised in the 1860s. This is all deep in the historical viscera of organic chemistry.


Words were wanted for newly identified compounds, and butyric acid had been named in the 1820s from Latin butyrum meaning ‘butter’. The Latin butyrum came from Greek bouturon, as if from bous ‘ox, cow’ and turos ‘cheese’, although the Oxford English Dictionary says loftily, ‘perhaps of Scythian or other barbarous origin’. The English butter was taken from Latin butyrum before the Norman Conquest.

Therefore, I am surprised to find, there is nominally a connection between Ibuleve and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. The latter is not butter either, but is sold as a butter-substitute. In the United States the name possesses an exclamation mark, and the stuff is available as a spray, just like Ibuleve in Britain.


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