99 and 44/100% pure

Dave Wilton dave at WILTON.NET
Thu Dec 28 14:42:19 UTC 2006

Corporate websites are somewhat less to be trusted than many other sites
because they have a vested interest in portraying their company and its
products in a favorable light. The people in the marketing departments who
write the sites aren't generally concerned with historical accuracy and will
happily promote, or even concoct, stories that sound good.

Another factor is that often the marketing people present today weren't
around when the names/slogans were coined. Institutional memory for this
sort of thing is very short. Only a handful of very large corporations
employ an archivist or historian, and when they do they generally don't have
much to do with web site content and rarely keep records on the origin and
use of advertising slogans or even the names of anything other than the
company itself and major product lines.

My experience with corporate websites is pretty bad. For every one that I've
found that gives accurate historical information, there are probably two
that are misleading to some significant degree. In writing "Word Myths" I
relied on a statement from the marketing dept at Coor's for one debunking,
only later to find (post-publication, unfortunately) that the information
was flat-out wrong. Coor's claimed that a certain ad campaign did not even
exist, when in fact it had. Even my own company promotes a fanciful story
for the origin of its name.

That's not to say that corporate websites can't be a useful source, just
that one needs to be careful and to verify any claims with other sources.

--Dave Wilton
  dave at wilton.net

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of
James A. Landau
Sent: Wednesday, December 27, 2006 6:00 PM
Subject: Re: 99 and 44/100% pure

On Wed 12/27/06 12:04 AM Alison Murie <sagehen at WESTELCOM.COM> wrote:

I wasn't attempting to provide a defensible etymology for this advertising
slogan, just passing on common scuttlebutt.  OTOH I don't see that it makes
more sense to accept the tales a corp tells about itself as any more
reliable than any other form of advertising.  While no aficionado of
websites,  I'd guess that they are fertile soil for all kinds of romances in
the interests of self-promotion.

1. The quote I gave from the website was "advertising" only in a marginal
way.  If the website made a claim that Ivory Soap was a good product because
of x, y, or z, that would be advertising in that it would be soliciting you
to buy Ivory Soap.  However, the quote I gave was background history and
most likely a reader of that portion of the website got there because s/he
had already heard of Ivory Soap and was curious about the _origin_ of the

2.  Corporate websites, when not engaging in self-promotion or product
promotion (and the quote I gave was neither) are no less (and no more)
reliable than other sources.  If, for example, you were writing a paper
which included some history of Procter and Gamble, advertising slogans,
etc., you would of course treat that website with caution until you were
able to establish its reliability, or lack of, by comparison with other
sources of known reliability.

3.  Numerous other websites tell the same story about the chemical analysis
of Ivory Soap.  I used the Procter and Gamble website because it was closer
to being an original source than the blogs and miscellany that showed up on
the first page of the Google search I made.

4.  I heard the same story about the origin of the slogan long before the
World Wide Web was invented, so if the story is a fabrication it is a
fabrication with whiskers on it.

5.  Procter and Gamble has an archivist, and there is the possibility that
he was consulted by the authors of the website.  If somebody were seriously
interested in finding out the true story, s/he would contact that archivist
for the primary source materials.

6   David Feldman in one of his "Imponderable" books gave the exact
quantities of the 56/100% that was not pure soap.  This means that either
the story is true or somebody went to the trouble of concocting a fake
report from that so-far unnamed chemist.  (I don't recall if Feldman cited
his sources on this one.)

     James A. Landau
     Test Engineer
     Northrop-Grumman (world's second largest defense contractor!)
     8025 Black Horse Pike, Suite 300
     West Atlantic City  NJ  08232  USA

Netscape.  Just the Net You Need.

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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