Ad and marketing creatives

Edward Gelsthorpe, Father of the Cran-Morph

The passing of New York Times language columnist William Safire has been well noted here (by VT executive producer Ben Zimmer) and elsewhere. The death of Edward Gelsthorpe, who died September 12 and whose Times obituary appeared directly beneath Safire's on September 28, has been less commented on. Yet in his way Gelsthorpe had almost as powerful an influence on the world of words as did Safire.

Even if you don't recognize Gelsthorpe's name, if you live in the United States you're  probably familiar with his work for companies like Bristol-Meyers, Ocean Spray, and Hunt-Wesson. Here's one example from the Times obituary:

Mr. Gelsthorpe, a salesman turned marketer, was known for his ability to sniff out consumer desires and get new products into stores quickly. At Bristol-Meyers, for example, when an amateur inventor walked into the company's Manhattan headquarters proposing that deodorant be applied like ink from a ballpoint pen, he bought her idea on the spot; Ban, introduced in 1955, became one of the company's most successful toiletry products.

The Times obit doesn't mention it, but Gelsthorpe was also a pioneer of what's now called corporate social responsibility. In the early 1970s, while he was president of Hunt-Wesson, he launched a number of programs that were well ahead of their time, including a partnership with Ralphs Grocery Company in Southern California that helped poorer customers get the most food value from their limited budgets. He was also an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War.

For language mavens and branding folks, however, Gelsthorpe's biggest contributions were Cran-Apple (a juice blend invented to sell cranberries year round instead of only at Thanksgiving) and Manwich (Sloppy Joe sauce in a can). Between them, the two brand names created linguistic ripple effects that continue to this day.

The introduction of Ocean Spray's Cran-Apple in 1964 represented the first time cran- detached itself semantically from cranberry and became a free morpheme: a meaningful unit of language. In due course Cran-Apple begat Cran-Grape, which paved the way for Cran-Raspberry, Cran-Pomegranate, Cranergy, Crantini, and other cran-beverages. Linguists eventually took notice of this phenomenon and dubbed it "cranberry morpheme," which got shortened to "cran-morph." In 2006, Ben Zimmer wrote about cran-morphs on Language Log:

The segment cran- in cranberry is opaque, though it looks like it's a modifier for the transparent morpheme -berry. Indeed, cranberry was only ever fully transparent in the Low German dialects from which the term was borrowed, where it was kraanbere or 'crane-berry.' Since English underwent the Great Vowel Shift, the semantic connection between the cognate forms cran- and crane has been lost. But the opacity of cran- has allowed for a reanalysis of the morpheme to "stand for" cranberry in new compounds like cran-grape and cran-raspberry. Such cran-morphing has yielded many productive suffixes in the 20th century: -burger, -(o)holic, -(o)rama, -(a)thon, -(o)mat, -(o)nomics, -gate, etc. (In the case of -burger, the new morpheme quickly became lexicalized as the standalone burger.)

As for Manwich, introduced in 1969 by Hunt-Wesson, it's both a cran-morph — -wich standing in for sandwich — and possibly the ur-man-word. Without Manwich, could we now have mandles, manbags, ManSoap, mancession, or manscaping? I suspect not.

So take a moment, if you will, to honor the life of Edward Gelsthorpe, man of vision and vocabulary. Hoisting a Cranpagne and Mansinthe cocktail seems to be the appropriate gesture, doesn't it?

Rate this article:

Click here to read more articles from Candlepower.

Nancy Friedman is the chief wordworker at verbal-branding consultancy Wordworking, and the author of a fine blog on naming, branding and more called Fritinancy. Nancy has named a venture-capital firm, a laser hair-removal device, a mobile-money service, and many other companies and products. A former journalist, she still writes or ghostwrites articles, speeches, white papers, and books. Click here to read more articles by Nancy Friedman.

Do you have a comment?

Share it with the Visual Thesaurus community.

Your comments:

Sign in to post a comment!

We're sorry, you must be a subscriber to comment.

Click here to subscribe today.

Already a subscriber? Click here to login.

Brand Man-agement
Are man-words and man-brands recession-proof?
Sometimes companies invent a whole new vocabulary for their ads.
Nancy looks at some linguistic techniques in creating product and company names.