The [funny] art of naming a nail polish

The [funny] art of naming a nail polish

American Hustle (2013) is a peculiar movie. This highly entertaining flick is put together brilliantly. Don’t know how many of you noticed Jennifer Lawrence’s (Rosalyn Rosenfeld in the movie) obsession over her [supposedly] beautiful nails and the particularly beautiful nail polish she wears. In one of the scenes, half way through the movie, she goes on and on about her fragrant nail polish while she is dining in a restaurant with her husband and another couple. The sweet spot we are interested in this scene is the way she describes her nail polish. She says, ‘There’s this top coat that you can only get from Switzerland and I don’t know what I’m going to do because I’m running out of it but I LOVE the smell of it’. And then she asks everyone to smell her nails and describes it as ‘perfumey but also something rotten’.

Painting nails is not a new avocation. It has been there for centuries. The commercial practice of it started only in 1878. The first nail salon was opened in Manhattan during this time when women entered the workforce. It started off as an inexpensive luxury. It was so in demand that people bought nail polish even during the Great Depression. Back then, when asked what makes nail polish so desirable, women said that it makes them feel good about themselves. People certainly couldn’t disagree with this opinion as men had too many things to feel good about themselves. Later, Hollywood stars and advertisements propagated the appealing nature of nail polish and it eventually became a great topic to talk about among women.

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When people talk about something, they use names of people or places or events or anything related to it. However, initially, nail polish had only numbers for each shade. Each colour had multiple shades and the manufacturers didn’t think much about numbering each tiny bottle. The unpleasant fact is that we have only limited terms for colours and infinite numbers. Both are equally displeasing. A great thinker once said that to name something is to begin understanding it. Perhaps, Jennifer Lawrence attempts to name her nail polish only to fail, but ends up giving a glaring description. She understood it, but could not name it.

It is interesting to notice the way language restricts our verbal expressions. A linguistic study revealed that there are only 6-8 colours that can be recognized and associated universally with a set of words. Some tribal languages have only three colour terms – dark, light and all the others. Russian has two words for blue (wonder what they say to ask for a pair of blue jeans). Most Indian languages do not have words for colours like pink and purple. Some of the colour terms are even borrowed from fruits, vegetables and animals’ nomenclature. We have hundreds of colours and their respective shades, but only a few terms to represent them. But, all these linguistic barriers did not stop Suzi Weiss-Fischmann, the Hungarian-American businesswoman who founded O.P.I, from inventing new names for all the lovely shades she had produced in her company. She was so unstoppable that she named one of the shades ‘Lincoln park after dark’. The company is known for it’s hilariously witty, funny and innovative nail polish names.

O.P.I was originally Odontorium Products Inc., a small dental supply company. After it was sold out, Suzi and her partner turned this company into a nail polish manufacturer. They started giving funny names to different shades and every collection holds relevance. When the company plans a limited collection to be released in a particular city, Suzi flies down to that city, explores all the iconic places and makes notes. Later, she will be accompanied by her naming squad, typically consisting of people from different departments of the company, and they thumb through maps, atlases and books to arrive at a clever name. No wonder they came up with a name like ‘Sun, sea and sand in my pants’.

Suzi was hit with this idea of giving clever names to nail polish when she was at a Starbucks once. She wondered, when a coffee seed can be brewed in different ways and it could be sold with different names, nail polishes too deserve a new identity like that. Other nail polish manufacturers too followed their naming architecture and created a gorgeous industry. When asked about what she feels about nail polishes, Suzie said it’s a ‘personal experience’. It’s true. This experience comes alive when a friend or a stranger at the bar comes up to a woman to know the name of the nail polish shade she is wearing and the name the woman utters is what makes it tick. It circles in their social circles until the stock is sold-out.

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Here are a few names that didn’t leave our mind after we read them.

A butterfly moment | My Chihuahua bites | I’m not really a waitress | Crawfishin’ for a compliment | Don’t Bossa Nova me around | Can’t find my Czechbook | Alpaca my bags | Vant to bite my neck? | Don’t make me wine | Tea with the queen | Jealous boyfriend | Jamaican me crazy | Pet my peacock | Cougar attack | Don’t pretzel my buttons | Did you ear about Van Gogh

The last one is our favourite – not the shade, just the name.

There are two interesting stories worthy of sharing. Suzie was bitten by a Chihuahua when they were under the process of naming and hence ‘My Chihuahua bites’. A woman from the naming team was in a restaurant once and the waitress spilled some wine on her accidentally and said ‘I’m not really a waitress’ and that apologetic phrase turned into a name instantly.

If this is the way to name things, ‘Rotten flower from Swiss Alps’ would make a perfect name for Jennifer Lawrence’s nail polish in the movie American Hustle.

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