Tuesday, 1 September 2009


Those meerkats have got a lot to answer for. Back in May, I wrote a blog about the origin of the animal’s name, noting that an advertising campaign had brought this curious creature to public attention. Now it appears that the advertisements have been so successful that they are even influencing the way that people are using English.

The advertisements in question feature a Russian-accented meerkat called Aleksandr, who professes to be amazed at how many people confuse the words ‘market’ and ‘meerkat’, and ends his demonstrations of the difference between the two by saying, ‘Simples!’

Influenced by the wit of the advertisements and the intrinsic cuteness of the meerkat, people have taken to repeating Aleksandr’s catchphrase as a humorous way of saying that the explanation they have just provided is easy to understand. At the recent World Athletics Championships, for example, British athlete Phillips Idowu was interviewed after winning the gold medal in the triple jump and made light of his victory with the words, ‘Hop, step, jump, 17.73. Simples!’ A petition has even been launched on a popular social-networking site to get the word ‘Simples’ included in a dictionary of English.

There is ample precedent for advertising slogans being adopted in English speech. Plenty of us have pronounced meat to be ‘bootiful’ in homage to a noted turkey farmer; and for a period around 2000 the greeting ‘Whassup?’ – borrowed from the adverts of an American beer company – threatened to become as common as ‘Hello’, before the craze disappeared as quickly as it had arrived.

It is precisely the ephemeral nature of such crazes that is the biggest barrier to ‘Simples’ making it into the dictionary. While television is very good at getting people to repeat phrases in pubs and playgrounds, few of these slogans have great staying power. The Chambers Dictionary has resisted the urge to include earlier television catchphrases such as ‘Cowabunga!’ (popularized by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), ‘Fandabidozi!’ (The Krankies), ‘Flobbadob’ (The Flowerpot Men) and ‘Scorchio!’ (The Fast Show). Perhaps ‘Simples’ will prove to have more legs, but it is a little early to tell.

Ian Brookes

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Olive Baboon said...

Great that meerkats are once again taking centre stage on Clishmaclaver. But why no name check for Sergei, Aleksandr’s long-suffering friend and IT consultant, and his opponent in the now-infamous game of scrabble which prompted the launching of the "Simples" petition (http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=55085907066&topic=12586)?

Rogatien said...

Cowabunga originated with the Howdy Doody Show, long before those turtles.

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