I was in the shower when I noticed something on the shampoo bottle that got me all in a lather. The label promised “volumized, full-bodied hair.”


 

 

I was in the shower when I noticed something on the shampoo bottle that got me all in a lather. The label promised “volumized, full-bodied hair.”

“Volumized”?

It’s a common ploy among language manipulators to add “-ize” to a noun to create a verb, sometimes with satisfactory results. Not this time.

Anything that occupies three dimensions has volume. Hair, for example. Even “flat hair,” which this product promises to bulk up: “up to 50 percent more volume.”

You won’t have more hair; it will just take up more space.

I’m happy to report that “volumize” hasn’t made the cut with Webster’s, not even in the unabridged version.

The day after writing the above section, I received an e-mail from Jason King of Arlington, Va., asking what I thought about “vanitized” for describing a motor vehicle “embellished with a vanity license plate.”

I confess I hadn’t encountered that one. I don’t have vanity plates on the rust bucket I drive. If there were such a thing as load-bearing plates, I might be interested.
King worked with author Stefan Lonce on a survey that found that 9.7 million vehicles in the United States do bear vanity plates. After results of the survey were released, “a number of media outlets” used the term “vanitized” in their reports.

The next day I received an e-mail from Lonce. He doesn’t claim credit for coining “vanitize,” but calls it “my favorite neologism.”

(A “neologism,” a direct descendant of the French “neologisme,” is simply “a new word or a new meaning for an established word.”)

The main appeal of such inventions is that they reduce wordiness. “A vanitized car,” for example, is more concise than “a car with vanity plates.”

The key question in considering a new term’s value, says Theodore M. Bernstein in “The Careful Writer,” is, “Is this word necessary?”

The use of “-ize” has “helped the English language grow,” Bernstein says, but it also has “helped it grow stuffy or grotesque.”

Applying the necessity test “will readily weed out a large proportion of the coinages that clutter the language.”

So what does the future hold for “volumize” and “vanitize”?

I see more hope for the latter. Not only are millions of motorists participating, but also there’s the fun factor in creating the messages on the plates.

Of course, vanity is associated with “volumize,” too. What else would drive the desire to have hair that appears to be more voluminous than it is? 

More Volume

The word “volume” comes from the Latin “volumen,” meaning “a roll, scroll, hence a book written on parchment.” It retains this connection with reading material as a synonym for “book,” and as a word for “any of the separate books making up a matched set or a complete work” and “a set of issues of a periodical over a fixed period of time.”

In addition to its specific reference to cubic magnitude, “volume” also can mean “a quantity, bulk, mass or amount” and “a large quantity.”

It’s also the term we use for “the degree, strength or loudness of sound.” The excessive volume of the music in a vehicle, for instance, “speaks volumes” about the driver’s attitude toward other human beings.

Barry Wood is a copy editor at the Rockford Register Star. Contact him at bwood@rrstar.com.