I get confused when I see certain words assembled into newly coined terms that mean almost the opposite of what they once meant.
In some cases these little nostrums are efforts to blunt the pain of paying for a product. Sometimes, they’re just someone’s attempt to be clever. In both cases, they’re just silly.
Let me give you some examples:
Payment coupon — Back in the day, a “coupon” was a good thing, a piece of paper entitling you to a price reduction. Coupons were desired — revered even. People clipped them out of the Sunday paper. Children had their own scissors, sat with mom around the kitchen table, rescuing the family from ruin, ensuring solvency, driving bargains.
Now, the term “coupon” has become associated with pain, pain over the realization that I owe someone money.
Do you know what companies used to call these little slips of paper at the bottom of a bill?
They didn’t have a word. And everybody was happy. They kept their mouth shut, tore the stupid thing off and mailed it back with a check, then forgot about it.
Salad kit — This one really threw me when I first saw it on supermarket shelves, again back in the late 1990s.
Most people above the age of 20 associate the term “kit” exclusively with a model airplane or car one assembles from parts. It was a fun word when I was a kid.
But it wasn’t just toys.
I helped my dad assemble a tube amplifier kit when I was 8. I didn’t know what I was doing, because he hooked it up to a microphone, ran wire and speakers into our upstairs bedrooms and used it to wake us up for school every morning.
There he’d sit, down in the kitchen, sipping coffee and howling on the microphone. Sometimes, he’d sing, accidentally stumbling on the ultimate cure for childhood narcosis.
Convenience fee — C’mon.
How does one chart the degree of insult in this term? I’d put it at a 10 on the Richter scale of effrontery.
I couldn’t come up with a better way to say: “Thanks for your loyalty, now here’s a little something extra on your bill for inconveniencing us.”
I pay my cell phone bill each month by driving to a retailer conveniently located down the street. I can either fork over the cash to a teller or use my debit card in an ATM-like machine in the corner. Either way, it’s a burden to them because they charge me $3 extra as a “convenience fee.”
Inactivity fee — A friend showed me his February bill for his home equity line of credit. It included a $50 inactivity fee.
He called the bank and, after several minutes, spoke with a “team member” who explained the charge comes when the customer goes a year without charging something against the loan. Each month, my friend pays the interest, plus a little on the principal and forgets about it.
As he explained it to me, he took the loan to make home improvements. Since then, he’s been committed to paying the loan back — not adding to it.
After the “team member” explained the fee, here’s how the conversation concluded:
Team member: “Is there anything else I can help you with today?
My friend: “No, I guess not, unless you can erase that inactivity fee.”
Team member: “Let me see what I can do.”
Guess what. The bank removed the fee with a stern warning that it would pop up again if the credit line wasn’t used within 12 months.
Marketers have always taken liberties with the truth, often promising something more than they can honestly deliver. Usually, though, it was done to sell a product. Now they’ve extended it to include paying for it
It’s all a little Orwellian to me.
I look forward to the day when I receive a bill for an online order that says: “Thanks for purchasing our salad ingredients. Our cost was $5. Yours is $6.50. Use the return slip for your payment.”