Box clever

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In a revelation that may not be news to regular readers, I’m the kind of guy who rages against the dying of the light. Not that one, because it will be what it will be. No, I’m talking about language.

I hate that English words are being used wrongly and ignorantly so often that the incorrect versions are threatening to swamp the correct ones.

Examples of this include ‘like’, which, for the benefit of Americans, does not replace the comma, and ‘ultimate’, which the car industry sprinkles around injudiciously, its true meaning being ‘the last of its kind’.

Instead of that, though, marketing types have abused poor old ‘ultimate’ to create slogans like ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’, which will be gratingly free of linguistic accuracy until Level 5 autonomy.

Any German automotive launch will deliver a frantic game of ‘optimize’ bingo. Now, the word ‘optimize’ means to improve or to heighten something. But there are other words that mean the same thing, for instance ‘improve’ or ‘heighten’. Nobody sounds particularly clever using ‘optimize’ every single time you launch a new car, even if you insist it sounds like a wonderfully techy sort of word.

BMW loves to ‘optimize’, while Daimler is particularly fond of ‘dynamism’. Over Audi way, they remain a bit too sheepish to much care for fancy words, as long as nobody uses ‘Dieselgate’.

That, too, is a bit irksome, with ‘gate’ having been commandeered from its very simple origins to become a scandal suffix, and yet another sin the USA has inflicted on someone else’s language.

That, though, I have few issues with, because smooshing words together is how English has evolved. It’s a language, after all, that did that on a macro scale, taking bits of German, French, Latin and the Gaelic languages – and a few others – and fiddling with them until the result made sort of sense when looked at from certain angles.

Still, it’s really quite rare for a car company to get things just plain wrong, as Ferrari’s official Twitter account did recently when it wrote “The 365 GT4 BB has been the first Ferrari rear-engined V12.”

Now, there’s a fair bit wrong with that, starting with the grammatical error that would have saved them a word.

While we’re being picky, ‘rear-engined’ means the engine is aft of the rear-axle line. And the 365 BB sat neatly between the cabin and the rear-axle line. Mid-engined, then. Or, if you prefer, rear mid-engined. But not rear-engined, which far better describes the 911 Porsche, and Ferrari scarcely acknowledges such a car exists, except as a modest enrichment of the Volkswagen Beetle model mix.

But, in this case, the ‘BB’ part stands for Berlinetta Boxer. And the BB engine isn’t a boxer motor. Perhaps it’s a simple translation misinterpretation, but ‘boxer’ is a very specific engineering term describing a specific firing order, with the opposing pistons not sharing crankpins. You know, like a 911 Porsche. Or a Subaru Impreza. ‘Flat’ engines. Boxer engines.

The 365 GT4 BB engine’s pistons share a crankpin, ergo it does not have a boxer engine. Just a Boxer name. There’s another one here people argue with (three contentious points in a 10-word, one-name tweet must be some sort of social media record for anybody not named Trump). V12.

It’s a bit easier to empathize with Ferrari on this one. It can’t use ‘flat’ or ‘boxer’ to describe the engine’s layout, even if the thing looks that way from the outside.

And the layman checks the 180° angle and guffaws at the suggestion of any kind of ‘vee’ being involved in it.

I’m not sure what they should have called it, though. ‘Boxer’ and ‘flat’ invited derision from engineers; ‘vee’ invited derision from drivers.

Given the English language’s glee at smooshing things together, maybe they should have just called it a ‘Flee’ 12.

I’ll show myself out.

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