David J. Peterson (dedalvs) wrote,
David J. Peterson

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Before you get the wrong idea, I'm a huge fan of Snickers. I can say—without exaggerating and without any trace of irony—that Snickers is the best candy bar. Period. Nothing else even comes close. If they made a dark chocolate Snickers*, it would be a dream come true. If they made a dark chocolate ice cream Snickers, I'm pretty sure I would die on the spot. But this only serves to further prove my point that Snickers is the best candy bar on the planet: The only candy bar that can even compete with it is a hypothetical candy bar. That's how superb it is.

Anyway, outside of the candy itself, its packaging has always been pretty decent (clean, simple logo set against a brown wrapper: solid). Awhile back, they felt they needed to jazz things up a bit, so they started coining words, putting them on the bottom of Snickers bars, and defining them on the inside of the wrapper. Here are some of the terms they came up with: nougatocity; peanutopolis; hungerectomy; satisfectellent. Not bad, as far as portmanteaux go.

The other day I had the good fortune to come into a regular-sized Snickers bar. On the bottom of the bar was written "Substantialiscious"—not a bad one! I unwrapped it, began eating, and then glanced at the definition and thought to myself, "No... That can't be. There must be some extra derivation that I'm not seeing." I finished the Snickers bar, fully unfurled the wrapper, checked twice, and then grabbed my phone to take a picture. I was not mistaken. It was...well, perhaps you should see for yourself:

A Snickers bar wrapper purportedly telling us the definition of 'substantialiscious'.

For those that don't do images, here's what it reads:

Substantialiscious \sub-'stan(t)-shu-'li-shus\ (noun). The weight of something when you weigh it with your tongue.

Native English speakers, please, share my pain! In what reality could that word possibly be a noun, and not an adjective?!

And actually, this is an interesting point to consider. How do we know that "substantialiscious"—a made-up word whose very meaning is difficult to pinpoint (substantial + delicious, maybe...?)—must be an adjective—and, in fact, could never be a noun?

To puzzle it out, let's start at the end of the word and work our way back. How many singular nouns end in /-s/? Quite a few: cyclops, cactus, abacus, Tetris, etc. How about /-us/? Again, quite a few: prospectus, syllabus, etc. (Most of these bad boys are going to come from Latin.) Now how about /-ous/? Getting tougher: couscous, and...maybe a French word? Now how about /-ious/? That would be none. /-cious/? Even noner. /-scious/? Noner still. And though there is no word other than "substantialiscious" that ends in /-liscious/, what about the more common /-licious/? Any nouns end in that? Again, no—emphatically so. In fact, if we focus purely on spelling, I will go so far as to say an English speaker will never accept a noun that ends in /-liscious/: it could only ever be an adjective.

Mind you, it doesn't take a background in linguistics to see the truth of this: all you need to do is be an English speaker. That said, unconscious knowledge of one's native tongue is far different from conscious knowledge. So let's try to figure out what went wrong here.

Given that Snickers is a major player in the world of candy, I'm guessing that the person who came up with the idea for creating words to put on Snickers bars is not the same person who actually came up with the words and definitions. Knowing how businesses operate (from TV and movies I watch [and TV and movies never lie]), it was probably a committee that came up with the idea of presenting a possible idea to a committee who presided over a meeting wherein the idea was presented, and then who sent the idea off to a subcommittee to discuss it with another subcommittee, and somewhere at the end of the line, the project got dumped on some department that had nothing to do with coming up with the "wordification" marketing strategy.

And the guy or gal who actually ended up writing the definitions? Probably someone with a degree in theater arts that's trying to break into show business, but who's stuck working at Mars, Inc. because their dad knows a guy who works with someone who needed to fill a position with someone who was "arty".

In short, this is someone who's undoubtedly a native English speaker, but who doesn't have much experience with language description.

Anyway, here's what I think happened. Notice that the definition up there refers to the "weight" of something. If you want to tell someone how much something weighs, you can do it in a number of ways. For example, you can say, "That book weighs two pounds." Another way of saying the same thing is, "That book is two pounds." Simple enough. Notice, though, what happens if you start treating "two pounds" like an interchangeable chunk. What can you replace "two pounds" with in that sentence? A noun: "That book is a humdinger." A participle: "That book is burning." And even an adjective: "That book is substantialiscious."

Now, this is just a theory, but what I think may have happened is whoever was tasked with "substantialiscious" noticed that it could follow the copula in English, and, since nouns can follow the copula as well, concluded that "substantialiscious" must be a noun. (And, let's be honest, to the average American English speaker, the noun is the most widely known part of speech. This is a guess, but I figure when comes to familiarity with parts of speech, it goes: noun > verb > adjective > adverb > preposition > conjunction.) Once they had the part of speech, they came up with a suitable definition, and you get what we have here today.

I will allow for the possibility that there may be another explanation (for example, they meant to write "substantialisciousness", but, for whatever reason, it didn't make it to print, and they forgot to change the definition [or they changed the definition, but forgot to change the word]), but I like to imagine they were thinking that, "Substantialiscious!" was an appropriate answer to the question, "Whoa! How big is that Snickers?!", and then confusion ensued.

[* Edit: O. M. G. There IS a dark chocolate Snickers bar! My plans for the coming day have changed...]
Tags: linguistics, lol
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