Peeve: “it does exactly what the name says”

I keep seeing articles and blog entries that introduce a term or the name of a company or service or product, and then they say that the thing named “does just what the name says” (or “just what the name implies” or various variations).

And at least half the time lately when I encounter that phrase, it's in reference to a name that isn't at all clear.

For example, an article today says:

[...] keyloggers do exactly what their name implies [...]

Okay, so keyloggers . . . log keys? I would expect that most people who don't already know what a keylogger is would say “what does ‘log keys’ mean?”

Of course, the sentence goes on to explain: “[...] they log every keystroke a user makes, including passwords.”

Which is a pretty clear and reasonable explanation. And in fact, the phrase “just what the name says” (and variants) is almost always followed immediately by an explanation.

And so in most cases, it's redundant. If you're about to explain what the thing does, then why not just do so, instead of starting by saying that it's obvious what it does?

And if it really is obvious, then why explain it?

I think the impulse is an admirable one: to both explain, and apologize to people who don't need the explanation because it was obvious to them from the name.

But the phrase itself bugs me. For that purpose, I'd much rather use a parenthetical phrase like “(as the name suggests)” or “(as you might expect).” I think part of my reaction is just to the words “just” or “exactly,” which makes me feel like they're saying that the explanation should be completely obvious to everyone, and which makes me try to interpret the term literally.

As with most pet peeves, this one is minor and idiosyncratic; I imagine that plenty of you (especially those of you with a less literalist bent of mind than mind) find nothing wrong with the pattern nor even with the specific example.

But for those of you who share my peeve, here are a few more examples from the web:

Surge Protectors Do Exactly What The Name Says
So they protect surges?
retainers do exactly what the name says
If someone told me “use this to retain your teeth,” I wouldn't expect it to just keep them in place.
Carbon Copy Cloner will do exactly what the name says
It will clone a carbon copy of something?
Rapture/Accession/Celerity/Penury do exactly what the name says. Except I have added an /Echo to each one to remind myself what each one does.
If they do exactly what the name says, why do you need a reminder?
have you ever seen the show on discovery channel called Mythbusters? well, if not they do exactly what the name says
Oh, so they take ancient Greek and Roman myths and they smash them into pieces? Or do they arrest them?
[the DOF preview button] does exactly what the name says, DOF preview
Helpful explanation there.
The clone stamp does exactly what the name says
That would be handy if I had any clones I needed to stamp.
Zzz real estate does exactly what the name says
It . . . buzzes?
Jaw Juice [...] seriously does just what the name says
I'm not letting that thing anywhere near my jaw, then!

And so on. There are, of course, lots and lots of uses of these phrases in which the explanation really is obvious—but I feel like I've been seeing more cases than usual lately in which the explanation is obvious only if you already know what it is.

One Response to “Peeve: “it does exactly what the name says””

  1. Vardibidian

    This is not really on-topic, but there’s a great line in the movie Heist (by David Mamet), where the Danny DeVito character says “Everybody needs money! That’s why they call it money!” It’s not a great movie, but I love that line—and both Roger Ebert and the Language Log boys took off from it.

    Anyway, my point is that for a few years, now, I have used the That’s why they call it X phrase fairly often, but only in cases where there is no possible logical or etymological sense to it. Some of your examples are too close to be funny, alas.

    It’s possible that the writers weren’t going for funny, but I’m inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt…



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