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Mind your language

Sweaty Betty, Acne: the fashion for nasty brand names

5 October 2019

9:00 AM

5 October 2019

9:00 AM

On my way to a party in Ealing I saw a shop called Pan Rings. A mental image popped up of a saucepan with marks from milk round the sides. It is, in fact, a jewellery shop.

Fashion outlets happily attract attention with negative names. Nasty Gal was founded in 2012 and has I think been taken over by Boohoo. Nasty is a word that Swift used in poems of scatological curiosity. In one, Celia’s ‘basin takes whatever comes: / The scrapings of her teeth and gums, / A nasty compound of all hues, / For here she spits, and here she spews’. One of Swift’s resolutions for becoming old was: ‘Not to neglect decency, or cleenlyness, for fear of falling into Nastyness.’

Swift’s Celia might like the sportswear shop Sweaty Betty. Simon and Tamara Hill-Norton founded it in 1998. ‘It’s a very ugly name, verbally,’ he said, ‘and it’s extremely polarising between the sexes. Women get the joke; 90 per cent of men don’t. Women do sweat when they exercise.’


Even nastier must be another fashion name, Acne. It is said by its Swedish founder Jonny Johansson to stand for Ambition to Create Novel Expressions, though another founder Tomas Skoging says it stood for Associated Computer Nerd Enterprises.

A company best known for making fridges, Smeg, can’t have intended a disgusting name if its own account of its origins is reliable. Smeg stands for Smalterie Metallurgiche Emiliane Guastalla, after the town of Guastalla in Reggio Emilia where it was founded in 1948.

In English smeg was popularised in the late 1980s as an expletive by the television series Red Dwarf, to which I never took. Even if it was then an invention, smeg came to be taken as an abbreviation for smegma.

Now I find a bar has opened on the site of a Chinese restaurant at one end of the Grosvenor Hotel at Victoria, and it is called The Soak. There was a film in 1937 called Good Old Soak. The plot is of a small-town drunk beating a teetotal banker guilty of a shady transaction. It starred Wallace Beery, shown on the poster embracing a lamp-post. If my husband is late home I shall imagine him in The Soak.


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