I do not think it means what you think it means.

So I happened upon a bottle of Bubo Pinot Grigio today, and recoiled in horror. Hmm, I thought to myself, doesn’t "bubo" mean suppurating (not Super 8-ing) wound or something like that? I checked the bottle, where the anodyne copy explained that "bubo" is Latin for "owl."

I didn’t buy it, literally or figuratively. So after numerous fruitless circuits around Whole Foods,¹ I took my bag of groceries home (meatloaf tonight, if you’re curious) and ran to my trusty New Oxford American Dictionary.² And indeed, I was pretty damn close: It’s "a swollen, inflamed lymph node in the armpit or groin."

So I’m just wondering about the thought process that led to the selection of Bubo as the name for wine. Was a Latin dictionary the only one handy that day? Did no one check to see if the word had any meaning in English? I just ran it through Google and the very first hit was to the Wikipedia entry, which link you don’t even need to click on to see immediately that it means "a swelling of the lymph nodes, found in an infection such as bubonic plague, gonorrhea, tuberculosis or syphilis." L'chaim indeed!  Makes the cat pee aroma identified as a characteristic of certain sauvignon blancs sound positively enticing! 

Listen, your product name can have a suggestive and evocative meaning in a dead language, and on that basis make a great trademark, but that's all worth nothing if the mark means something completely disgusting in English.

Bottom line for me is that if you’re offering me a cool glass of Bubo,³ I think I’m going to pass.


¹ Here I’m being literal. We live in the goddamn apple capital of the world, yet apples cost, at a minimum in this area, $1.99/lb. And then they supersize the damn things so each apple is three quarters of a pound. And the organic ones? A cool $2.99/lb. I’ll go to Costco, thanks.

²Skillfully edited, of course, by Erin McKean.

³I long ago prosecuted a trademark application for the mark MONKEY RIVER for soft drinks, and had nightmares about what the phrase "a nice cold Monkey River" might mean.


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  • 2/6/2008 5:37 PM Nancy Friedman wrote:
    Well, WordInfo does give "bubo" as the Latin for owl: http://www.wordinfo.info/words/index/info/view_unit/331. And I suppose it's possible (though hardly plausible or rational!) that some people are less riveted by plague accounts than you and I, and thus are less likely to make the association.

    Another possibility is that "bubo" is a transcription error. The Spanish word for "owl" is "buho" (pronounced BOO-oh), and a hastily written "h" can sometimes look like a "b."

    I've been compiling a list of mal-translated brand names; thanks for adding to my collection!
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  • 2/6/2008 6:10 PM Jessica Stone Levy wrote:
    I guess what I'm trying to say is that you shouldn't rely on a translation when the English word itself has a clear meaning, even if it's an obscure word.  And I suspect the term is still reasonably well-understood in the medical field -- even though plague doesn't happen every day, the number of cases of syphilis is apparently increasing.  So I think there's actually a universe of people beyond word geeks who would also say no go to Bubo.

    Just for fun, I did a little poking around on the PTO database;  while there's no record for Bubo, the mark BUBONIC has been registered for tobacco products.  Isn't that nice?  Apparently the PTO did not deem it deceptively misdescriptive.   While that mark is deliberately outrageous, I don't think the Bubo wine folks were going for that effect.
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  • 6/19/2009 5:47 PM Pino Aggrevio wrote:
    For what it's worth, my wife and I bought a bottle of Bubo's pinot grigio at Whole Foods tonight. It tasted like a swollen lymph node.

    Perhaps this was truth in advertising?
    Reply to this
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