The Trouble with Naming (or something)

LeAnne and I have been talking about co-authoring a post on this lovely blog of ours for a couple of weeks at least. She initially approached me with a vague idea about anonymity and the purported anonymity of Alcoholics Anonymous, which, in my experience, and LeAnne seemed at least partially to agree, isn’t very anonymous.

We also talked about the need for a word to describe items that you buy when you really need to get one thing but are too embarrassed to buy only that one thing. There isn’t a word for the chapstick, bagels, and bananas that you buy to cover up the condoms in your basket, but there should be.

On the other hand, there are some things that have many names, and which seem to carry significance beyond what’s intended, like names of beauty products, something my thinking seemed to naturally extend to in our discussion of purchasing things like pads/tampons and hair removal products.

We’ve emailed some ideas to one another but so far haven’t really gotten anything off the ground, and since we seem to have stalled a bit on this, we’re hoping our colleagues can help make some of the connections. What are the connections between these things that seem to require a name, but don’t have one, and things which have so many names they become some indication of the type of person you are? How do those things connect to naming and anonymity, in the case of arenas where we are supposed to be anonymous, how does this make us think about the Facts of the Matter essay published (supposedly) anonymously?

Here’s what we’ve been playing with so far:


It takes me a while to find the hair removal cream I’m looking for. I haven’t had to buy it before, but more and more now I’m starting to see my mother’s face in the mirror. Recently I noticed I seemed to have some more fuzz above my lip than I’m used to, and I flashed back to memories of seeing my mom with a strip of white cream above her lip. Somehow I know it’s Sally Hansen hair removal cream.

Finally, I find the little orange box and make my way to the front of the store. I scan the rows and, of course, the only available checker is a man in his mid twenties. “Oh, I have to get something else now,” I think, and wonder if I need anything from another aisle. I end up with a Kind bar, Style magazine and the Sally Hansen cream in my basket. I’m still somewhat apprehensive approaching the checker and wish there were a female checker somewhere, but I think, “Grow up. He probably won’t even know what it is.”

But of course he does know what it is and I can tell in his stiff and quick movements that he’s somewhat embarrassed for me, too. Or am I paranoid? Is he looking at me, trying to see where the unwanted facial hair is? I pay quickly, leave, and stuff the Kind granola bar in my mouth before I shift my car into gear.

Why isn’t there a word to describe those superfluous purchases meant as a kind of disguise?

(One day I was behind a girl at the supermarket checkout who was buying Midol, tampons, a bottle of wine, a bar of chocolate, and a magazine. I was impressed with her no-nonsense demeanor and carefree attitude about this pronouncement: “I am on my period and I am going to crawl into a bottle of wine. See you in 5-7 days.”)



Just the other day I made a purchase meant to suggest that I was merely at the WWU bookstore fulfilling my various needs, not one specifically.

But it was one specifically.

The tampon dispenser in women’s restroom in the VU had taken hold of my quarter and refused to either return it or do its job, and as I knelt in front of it, trying to dislodge the quarter and telling it, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” I thought I might start to cry.

But I held it together and went to the bookstore, which had what I really wanted: pads.

(Are pads the Yahoo mail of the “feminine needs” world? I still have a Yahoo account and I still prefer pads. But I’m less attached to that email account, and I know how its name in an inbox can mark me as technologically slow to adapt – which I am. Pads, on the other hand, are a legit option. I don’t think the analogy is perfect – maybe pads are the slightly clumsier sister? The girl who can’t go swimming? – but it interests me).

Anyway, I also grabbed a travel-sized pouch of tissue paper for my teaching folder. In 4 and a half quarters, I’ve only had one student cry during a conference (and it was because I told her she was failing the class), but I told myself that this was a worth y purchase, that I was being a good and prepared teacher.

But it was truly just a disguise.

I’m 33 years old, but sometimes I’m still unprepared for my period, and then once it’s there, I treat it like a surprise houseguest who needs to be everywhere I am at all times but is also mute.

Not that I’ve ever had such a guest, but you know what I mean.

Maybe we could call these superfluous purchases Diversion Consumerism. Or Crowd-Based Image Control.   

What do you all think? 🙂




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5 Responses to The Trouble with Naming (or something)

  1. LeAnne says:

    Meta-writing time! So Chanel and I were re-reading our post and realizing that our opener about AA could be read a number of different ways. For example, it could be funny: “Wow, if they’re in AA, they really ARE bad about being anonymous about it!” We also thought about modifying the sentence to include “from our second-hand experience,” but then didn’t really want to discuss that either. Hence the whole interest in anonymity and its trickiness 🙂

    And on her re-read, Chanel noticed that her list of purchases – “chapstick, bagels, and bananas” – might sound random to people, but when she thought about changing it, she didn’t want that edited post email to go out to everyone announcing the edit. I also pointed out that, if one were really trying to hide one’s purchase of condoms, bananas would probably be the last thing one would add to their cart. So if y’all have thoughts about that – an item that serves to emphasize another purchase – we’d love to hear your thoughts on that too 🙂

  2. brownc67 says:

    Also, i didn’t actually buy all that other stuff to cover up my feminine-product contraband. I made that up for the sake of theme and the story. I’ve certainly done things like that before, though, so is that what makes it non-fiction?

  3. I am laughing SO hard in my office right now! We definitely need a contest for a word for those “cover up” purchases!

  4. RachelWood says:

    I feel like the invention of the “self scan” line was for moments like these–the majority of my home pregnancy tests(2) were purchased by this route. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t find myself worrying about things that are needed–I worry about the odd items, or awkward combinations. I remember going grocery shopping once, wondering the store for twenty minutes and literally quite horrified to find the only items in my cart were a package of bacon, a dozen maple bars, and a six pack of Black Butte Porter.

    This whole situation also reminds me of a story Brandon told me about working at Haggen. He works in the produce section, but often customers will see him on the floor ask for help finding random items. Occasionally he actually escorts and helps do the shopping for an elderly woman named Barb who has poor eyesight but a biting wit. Anyway, Brandon came home a few weeks ago, slightly horrified by an exchange he’d had that day with an elderly woman about the location of Perpetration H. Brandon had no idea what the product was, and asked the elderly woman what it was used for. You can see where this is going. In awkward moments like this, I feel like every checker thanks you for your superfluous *as of right now unnamed* items.

  5. I’ve been snickering now for about five minutes! So…Yes, I agree that we should have a contest for purchases that we wish we could conceal. It never ceases to amaze me how universal this embarrassment over such items as condoms, pregnancy tests, “feminine” health and beauty products is. I remember having to buy Monostat (yeast infection cream) for the first time. Now that I’m a bit older, it’s the added weight that I’ve gained (isn’t menopause fun?), the whiskers on the upper lip, chin (pretty much facial hair, in general) that tend to make me want to hide away. And I thought I was going to be so grateful when the monthly friend left for good! I’ve begun to wonder if any age is easier or better than another. I doubt it. I think we just have to appreciate our lives in the moment, but that is so hard to do, because we’re all worried about what other people think.

    Before I continue digressing, I’d like to say that I love to read humor, and would like to see more literary CNF tickle my funny bone. I think that is a market begging for more input.

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