Word-formation processes in English, French and German marketing language

As already indicated in Section 2, there are hardly any linguistic studies on marketing language, let alone term formation in marketing. So far, no studies seem to have been carried out on English and German, while the most important tendencies of term formation in French have been analysed by Goke (2009:160-163) on the basis of a list of central terms. Due to this lack of prior research, we do not have reliable statistics about which kinds of word-formation patterns are used significantly more often in marketing than in other discourse domains. The following description is based on the examination of specialized dictionaries and glossaries, as well as relevant language-related comments by marketers. Given that the findings presented in this section are based on a limited number of resources, they should, however, be treated with caution.

In Chapter 17 on the structure of business terms, it has been pointed out that the terminology of economics and business is closer to general language than those of most other disciplines, as far as the processes of term formation are concerned. It is quite safe to assume that this also applies to the language of marketing. In fact, most terms listed in English and German dictionaries and glossaries are compounds, while multi-word units predominate in French (e.g. E. unique selling proposition vs. F. proposition unique d’achat). Yet, although the word-formation techniques employed in general language and in marketing overlap to a large extent, some occur in marketing with an above-average frequency, viz. abbreviations and acronyms, the use of certain prefixes, blending, as well as metaphor and metonymy. These “marketing- specific” techniques of term formation will now be treated in more detail.

Abbreviations and acronyms

Marketers emphasize the common use of abbreviations and acronyms in marketing. These terms often denote organizations, marketing methods, consumer segments or

Table 20.2: Abbreviations and acronyms in marketing language

English resources


business to business


business to consumer


buy one get one free




customer relationship management


double income no kids


life time value


marketing information system


marketing resource management


multi-level marketing


unique advertising proposition


unique selling proposition


product, price, place, promotion

French resources


botte a lettres


conditions generales de la vente

GRM (= E. CRM)

gestion de la relation clients


imprimes sans adresse


marque de distributeur


produit de grande consommation


petits, moyens, gros clients


quantites achetees/ nombre d’acheteurs

SIM (= E. MIS)

systeme d’information marketing


vente par correspondence

German resources


Hier Informieren woanders kaufen




Kontakt, Orientierung, Argumentation, Losung, Abschluss

KPI (= E. CPI)


Regina Goke


new concepts in Internet marketing (Lackum 2010: 5; Praxisworterbuch Marketing; Soleposition Web Design Company; Nexus Online Marketing Blog). Most of them are in English. However, especially in the French glossaries, I found loan translations of these terms, whereas the German resources tend to indicate the original English abbreviation or acronym. Language-specific examples in French and especially in German are comparatively rare and seem to be inspired by English in its role as reference language. This is also the reason why Table 20.2 lists fewer examples in French and in German than in English.


The use of certain prefixes is also a peculiarity of term formation in marketing, especially in English and French. In French marketing language, prefixes and combining

Table 20.3: Prefixation in marketing language

English resources


ad exchange

ad game









multi-level marketing

French resources










German resources






forms have become popular from the 1990s onwards. Many loan translations from English containing prefixes such as eco-, macro-, maxi-, or multi- entered the language (Goke 2009: 161-162). With the advent of Internet marketing in the 2000s, Internet-related prefixes such as e- and cyber- for electronique and cybernetique, initially added to the word commerce, became fashionable, but in contrast to e-, the use of cyber- seems to be in decline today (Goke 2009: 162). Both prefixes were borrowed from English. Soon after, with the appearance of Web 2.0, further Internet- related prefixes appeared, such as f-, c- and m-, short for facebook-, collaborative- and mobile-. Another relatively new element of Internet marketing language is ad- (short for advertisement or advertising), as in ad exchange or ad game: such formations can still be analysed as compounds with the clipped word ad as modifier, but one could also argue that ad is already on the way to become a true prefix. As Table

20.3 illustrates, German resources delivered only few examples of prefixation and those mentioned often correspond to the English terms. Thus, German marketers again seem to prefer the English terms.


Another candidate for a typical operation of marketing term formation is blending. Blending combines two or more parts of different words in order to create a new word whose meaning contains aspects of the associated concepts. As with acronyms and abbreviations, a major part of the blends in marketing language are supposed to have been created in English and then transferred into other languages (see Table 20.4). Most of the English blends listed in Table 20.4 also occur in the French and German dictionaries which I have consulted. They are either borrowed directly (e.g.,

E. infotainment > G. Infotainment) or transferred to the other language by loan translation (e.g., E. kidult > F. adulescent; E. prosumer > G. Prosument).

Finally, with regard to all three aforementioned term-formation processes - abbreviations and acronyms, prefixed words and blends - a general comparative view on the quantity of terms in French and German dictionaries and glossaries indicates language-specific differences, suggesting that these types of term formation are more common in French than in German. The terms found in German dictionaries and glossaries are mostly direct borrowings from English, whereas French dictionaries and glossaries contain more loan translations. There appear to be mainly two reasons for this. First, the English terms based on these patterns can generally be translated with greater ease into French than into German. Second, terminology policy in France may play a certain role here since it is aimed at preventing direct borrowings from English (Hanchen 2002: 33-37; Goke 2009:163).

Regina Goke

Table 20.4: Blends in marketing language

English resources


bag + advertising


electronic + magazine


fake + blog


free + economics


free + premium


information + commercial


information + entertainment


kid + adult


mass + prestige


producer + consumer

French resources


adult + adolesecent


consommateur + producteur


faux + blog


producteur + consommateur

pourriel (‘junkmail')

pourri + courriel

German resources


Magazin + Katalog


Produzent + Konsument



Metaphors represent an important subject area within the marketing-internal debate about the creation of new concepts and theories. They are generally considered to be an appropriate means of generating new knowledge in the field (Arndt 1985; Hunt and Menon 1995; Scully 1996; Cornelissen 2003; Kolar & Toporisic 2007; Fillis and Rentschler 2008; also Section 2.2.3 of Chapter 18 on metaphor, metonymy, and euphemism). Still, despite the important role metaphors play in marketing language, an exhaustive linguistic examination of the relevant metaphorical patterns used in marketing remains a desideratum. Due to this fact and in the face of the complexity of metaphor, only preliminary hints can be given here.

Since the early days of the discipline, marketers have used military metaphors in order to describe their strategies and activities, calling consumers targets, referring to stores concentrating on only one product category as category killers, or using the word launching for introducing new products. However, as mentioned in Section 4.1, marketers are becoming increasingly aware of this aggressive wording, and some of them argue against ‘marketing as warfare’ metaphors. For example, marketing author Jeff Berry (cf. Berry 2013) titled recently on his website: “Let’s not kill our customers, okay?” In allusion to the famous anti-war slogan he further invited his

Table 20.5: Metaphors in marketing language


English definition in dictionary

E. anchor

F. prix d'ancrage

G. Ankerpreis; Ankerprodukt

The reference price or reference product in consumers' comparisons. (AMA Dictionary)

E. birddog

An individual who, for a fee, provides sales leads to a salesperson. The individual also is called a spotter. (AMA Dictionary)

E. boomerang method

F. methode boomerang

G. Bumerang-Methode

A method used by salespeople to respond to customer objections by turning the objection into a reason for acting immediately. (AMA Dictionary)

E. brand personality

F. personnalite de la marque

G. Markenpersonlichkeit

This is the psychological nature of a particular brand as intended by its sellers, though persons in the marketplace may see the brand otherwise (called brand image). These two perspectives compare to the personalities of individual humans: what we intend or desire, and what others see or believe. (AMA Dictionary)

E. buzz marketing

A method of selling a product by getting people to talk about it to other people, especially over the Internet. (Cambridge Business English Dictionary)

E. cash cow

F. vache-a-lait

G. Geldkuh (rare)

In a growth-share matrix, the market leader or dominant business in a segment with a low growth rate. It should generate resources in excess of those which it needs to maintain its market share, to invest in other group businesses. It requires a conservative style of management. (Langenscheidt Praxisworterbuch Marketing)

G. Kuckucksmarke

Kuckucksmarken bezeichnen Marken, die sich die Eigenschaften fremder Kulturen zu eigen machen, um von einem bestimmten Stereotyp einer Region bzw. eines Landes zu profitieren. (Markenlexikon.com)

[Foreign brands, literally “cuckoo brands”, evoke associations of foreign cultures. They make use of certain stereotypes of a region or a country].

E. gatekeeper

F. gardien

Usually, the individual who controls the flow of information from the mass media to the group or individual. It also is used to indicate the individual who controls decision making by controlling the purchase process. In a traditional family, the mother often functions as the gatekeeper between the child and his/her exposure to the mass media and the purchase of toys or products. In an organization, the purchasing agent is often the gatekeeper between the end user and the vendor of products or services. (AMA Dictionary)

E. guerilla marketing

F. guerilla marketing

G. Guerilla-Marketing

An unconventional marketing strategy which seeks the best results with minimum resources. (Langenscheidt Praxisworterbuch Marketing)

E. product life cycle

F. cycle de vie d'un produit

G. Produktlebenszyklus

In simple terms the life of a product can be split into four phases namely introduction, growth, maturity, and decline. Sales grow in the first three phases and fall in the last, as do profits, although it must be noted that in the introductory stage there may be losses. (Langenscheidt Praxisworterbuch Marketing)

E. star

F. vedette

G. Stern

In a growth-share matrix, the market leader or dominating company in a high growth industry. Although the leader may be consuming the same level of financial resources as it is generating, it is an ideal situation that requires an innovative style of management.

E. umbrella brand

F. marque ombrelle

G. Dachmarke

A common brand under which other brands or products or different companies are protected so as to economize on the marketing and promotion of the entire group. (Langenscheidt Praxisworterbuch Marketing)

E. viral marketing

F. marketing viral

G. Virales Marketing

A marketing phenomenon that facilitates and encourages people to pass along a marketing message. Nicknamed viral because the number of people exposed to a message mimics the process of passing a virus or disease from one person to another.

(AMA Dictionary)

readership to “Make sales, not war”. Hunt and Menon (1995: 81-84), by contrast, did not condemn ‘marketing as warfare’ metaphors, but they proposed to make additional use of other source domains, such as ‘game’, ‘organism’, or ‘marriage’, in order to make appropriate and stimulating metaphoric transfers and to realize the full potential of metaphors in the domain of strategic marketing (cf. also Rindfleisch 1996: 9).

A closer look at the dictionaries and glossaries observed in this chapter shows that besides military metaphorical expressions, general marketing terminology contains a large amount of metaphorical terms based on a variety of source domains such as animals, human beings, actions, or everyday items. Same as with the previously discussed instances of word formation, a great number of metaphors in marketing language seem to be created in English and then transferred into other languages.

Table 20.5 shows a sample of metaphors used to denote marketing concepts. The second column contains the explanations that can be found in dictionaries.

As illustrated by the Table 20.5, marketing metaphors concern diverse subject areas, from product and branding policy, competitive strategy and customer classification, to selling and advertising methods. Additionally, many metaphors are used in the rapidly developing field of Internet marketing. However, these terms do not necessarily denote marketing-specific concepts, as quite a number of them were coined in the context of the development of new Internet technologies, and have been adopted by marketers in order to describe innovative Internet-related marketing activities (e.g., bad link neighborhood, bounce rate, doorway domain, stickiness). Metaphorical terms created within the domain of Internet marketing and denoting new marketing concepts are, for example, buzz marketing, ambush marketing and viral marketing.


Another important semantic process of word formation is metonymy (see Table 20.6; for general information, see Section 3 of Chapter 18 on metaphor, metonymy, and euphemism). Yet, although metonymy, like metaphor, is a very common pattern for creating new words in general language, in marketing metonymic term formation seems to be relatively rare and less conspicuous in comparison to metaphoric term formation. Furthermore, metonymy does not seem to play such an important role in knowledge development in marketing as metaphor. This could be due to the fact that metonymy is based on contiguity relations. The term contiguity englobes different kinds of proximity association between concepts in a given context of communication (e.g., producer-product, container-content, property-owner, etc.), and these relations do not seem to have the same creative potential as the relation of likeness or analogy in metaphor.

However, a closer investigation of marketing dictionaries and glossaries reveals a number of marketing terms which are created by metonymization. These are, for example, the uses of the adjectives brown and white in brown good (e.g., TVs, radios or digital media players) and white good (e.g., air conditioners, refrigerators). The adjectives are motivated by the color in which the cases of these products are used to be painted. The adjective green in green market or green marketing stands for environmental and ecological issues. The term redlining refers to the exclusion of customers from certain marketing activities. Their names are usually highlighted in red in a list of customers. The acronym DINK describes the financial and personal

Table 20.6: Metonymy in marketing language


English Definition in Dictionary

E. brown good

Merchandise in the consumer electronic audiovisual field, such as televisions, radios, stereo sets, etc. [...]. (AMA dictionary)

E. green market

The market composed of consumers who require eco-friendly products. (Praxisworterbuch Marketing)


Double Income No Kids (Lackum 2010)

E. dotcom

The name given to companies created taking advantage of Internet technologies and whose main form of communication and interaction with the target public is web based. (Praxisworterbuch Marketing)

E. make-good

The rescheduling of an ad or commercial by an advertising media operator when it has been incorrectly printed, broadcast, or distributed or when unavoidably canceled or preempted. (AMA dictionary)

E. redlining

The arbitrary exclusion of certain classes of customers, often those from poor neighborhoods, from such economic activities as borrowing money or getting real estate mortgages. (AMA dictionary)

situation of a customer group (double income no kids), and the word teaser refers to a text that should induce the reader of an advertisement to read on.

In addition to creative term formations, there are also metonymical meaning extensions of established marketing terms which seem to occur quite regularly (cf. Weidacher 1971: 82). In contrast to the above mentioned neologisms, these semantic changes take place over a period of time. They are very subtle and their outcomes are not always appreciated by practitioners (see Section 4.1). For example, the terms communication, market and marketing are universal key terms of modern marketing, which until today have adopted a very wide and sometimes fuzzy meaning as a consequence of more or less unconscious semantic extensions (Stalhammer 1994; Goke 2009:156-161; see also Section 4.1).

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