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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Love it or hate it


Today I was reading a ballet review that referred to the Bolshoi's Taming of the Shrew as a "marmite production". 

This puzzled me.

What was that disgusting black sludge that the British inexplicably like to eat on toast doing in a ballet?

But it turns out that "marmite" has become an adjective in British English, meaning "eliciting extremely opposite opinions; designating something that people will either love or hate".  (Apparently some people do indeed love Marmite). 

The sludge's voyage from tradename to adjective has been quite an interesting one. In 1996, Marmite launched a very successful ad campaign "Love it or hate it", the tagline of which is still going strong. 

By the early 2000s, describing someone or something as "like Marmite -- love it or hate it"  or "the marmite of X" had become something of a cliché. 

2kg of Parma Violets - Lovehearts

Jan 31, 2001 - 2kg of Parma Violets. The marmite of the sweet world - these little rolls are sure to stimulate debate!

It took less than a decade for the cliché to become an adjective, apparently first among sportswriters. The earliest I could find is this one:

Dec 9, 2008 - Possibly the most Marmite player there is, Bravo is speedy and determined, he is a fine all-round attacking force, able to penetrate on the flanks.

By 2010, "marmite" was being used in political  and entertainment contexts.

IE 2010 (10-10-21)
A chat with Mitzeee from 'Hollyoaks'

  I've had such a positive reaction to the role, which I was a little bit shocked about! I wasn't quite sure how people would take her, because I thought she'd be a Marmite kind of character where you either love her or you hate her! But everyone's reactions have been so lovely, and people seem to like her!

GB 2010 (10-06-14)
Labour leadership: Ed Miliband picks up second preferences

According to the poll, Ed Miliband, the shadow energy secretary, is emerging as a compromise candidate, with the second highest number of first preferences, and the most second and third preferences. # In contrast, David Miliband is a " Marmite candidate " -- either liked strongly or disliked -- and is struggling to pick up second and third preferences. 

Clearly this is a useful concept, as the word has definitely caught on. Although it is often still glossed with "love it or hate it", and still often written in quotation marks, we are seeing more and more unglossed examples like the one on my ballet chat site and this one a few months ago in The Guardian:
Cannes gets its first marmite sensation with Olivier Assayas’s uncategorisable – yet undeniably terrifying – drama about a fashion PA trying to exorcise herself of her dead twin
I can't think of a North American equivalent. Can you? 

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1 comment:

  1. "I can't think of a North American equivalent. Can you?" HOw about liver? As a liver-lover myself, I encounter the "hate it!" much more often, but cherish the lunch date I had with 3 other liver lovers, and the look on the face of the waitress when I ordered liver, and the rest of us said, "I'll have what she has." :-)


About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.