"own it for a limited time"

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Mon Feb 27 03:55:47 UTC 2006

Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu> wrote:
> At 8:55 PM -0500 2/26/06, Benjamin Zimmer wrote:
> >Disney only releases its classic movies on DVD for brief periods in
> >order to boost demand, with _The Lady and the Tramp_ the latest to get
> >this treatment. A commercial currently running for the DVD exhorts,
> >"Own it for a limited time!"
> >
> >Has the verb "own" shifted while I wasn't looking, from 'possess' to
> >'acquire'?
> Very elegant.  I'd say that "for a limited time" modifies not the
> only extant verb here, "own", but the covert ability modal
> corresponding to what Searle would call the preparatory condition of
> the exhortation or invitation, i.e.
> "For a limited time, you can own it."

A fine analysis, though there's still something funny going on with
"own"... They're really saying, "For a limited time, you can
*purchase* it (and thereby own it)." But see below.

Dave Wilton <dave at wilton.net> wrote:
> My guess is that this use of "own" is limited to videos/DVDs; it's used to
> emphasize the permanent possession rather than the rental of the video.
> They could use "buy," but are probably trying to play down the spending of
> money. Commercials like this are extensively tested to see exactly what
> words and images are best at convincing you to part with your money, so I am
> fairly confident that the usage is quite deliberate.

Yes, I agree that this seems specific to the world of DVD sales.
Disney is particularly intent on the "ownability" of their movies,
encouraging people to amass their private Disney collections to share
with kids, grandkids, etc. But by emphasizing ownership over the
unseemly act of purchasing, they end up with ridiculous-sounding
formulations like "own it for a limited time". I see it as a
conflation of two advertising imperatives: the short-term enticement
of the "limited time only" offer and the long-term enticement of
building a library of video classics.

--Ben Zimmer

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

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