Thursday, 6 June 2013

Revisiting the FuNk

A post of Robert's from back in April showcased a "totally dope" typewriter that he restored himself; a restoration that Cheech and Chong would have been incredibly proud of. So in the same vein as my earlier post on the funkiest video-game aliens of the 90's, inspired by Robert's psychedelic creation, and by Ton who recently re-visited the Polt, I decided it was time to re-visit the FuNk.

Robert Messenger collection

Before I started a blog myself, I enjoyed reading about different typosphere contributors poking fun at the propensity of certain typewriter sellers to use words such as FuNkY and aToMiC in order to sell their Brother/Kmart/Craftomatic/etc typewriters (quite sucessfully) for far more than they were worth. Part of me used to scoff and grumble, aghast at these silly buyers forking out the same amount of money for a plastic Kmart that would almost buy you an Oliver 5; flustered by these snake-oil salesmen with the temerity to con simple minded buyers out of their hard earned money with little more than creative words... But then another part of me, the ironing board cover salesman within me, thought: "Actually, no. Good on you!". Because a good transaction is not measured in dollars; rather it constitutes a transaction in which both parties walk away completely satisfied.

Some background first. As a holiday job during university, I used to sell top-of-the-line ironing board covers from one of those small stalls you'll find in the thoroughfares of most indoor shopping malls. Bear in mind this was pre-financial crisis, when people had money (or at least credit) and of a Saturday morning I would spruik these ironing board covers as well as other outrageously priced bourgeois laundry items. Admittedly the ironing board covers were pretty good. "Yes indeed, these last over twice as long as conventional covers (stroke the cover at this point). When one side finally starts showing wear, or if you happen to burn it accidently, just turn it over (demonstrate this) and you've got a brand new cover (shiny smile)". But these covers were $40 each and that was 8 years ago, but they still sold like hotcakes. As an instant-noodle-eating university student, this blew my mind. The stall was just down the escalator from a department store in which you could spend $9.50 and buy a (admittedly slightly inferior) cover which did basically the same thing, just without the personalised spiel and smartly dressed young salesman encouraging you to stroke it first.

So after rationalising it this way, I thought "good on all these creative typewriter sellers and their colourful language to match their colourful plastic typewriters!" At the end of the day eBay runs on keywords and maximising your target market is a good thing. It's not that I propose it's a good idea for everyone with anything from a Sholes Visible to a Yost 5 to a plastic Brother to start using this language, but if you've got a machine that justifies it, lets create some imaginative ebay ads!!

Now considering the particular success that the words fUnKy and aToMiC seem to be getting, I think let us first concentrate on these. In defining the terms, I reached straight for my Concise Oxford Dictionary; admittedly slightly long in the tooth these days. While the definition of "atomic" was as expected, the definition of "funk" surprised me slightly.

Thus it can be seen that if one is advertising something as "funky", one is actually advertising something that is incredibly scary or at least disreputable. I suppose this partly fact true, at least of the typical price offered.

So what is "funky" these days then? To investigate, I trawled some ebay listings while on the train to the city. Aside from typewriters- in my very limited sample size- it appears that "funky" is most often attributed to clothes, while "atomic" is more often attributed to furniture. The two words were quite regularly found together and when they were together, they were marginally more likely to be written in the fUnKy AtOmIc style. "vintage" and "retro" were also commonly associated with many things funky and atomic.

With more time, I'd love to keep an inventry of the many different Japanese typewriters sold on Australian ebay and attempt to work out the average marginal increase in sale price achieved by describing one as funky and/or atomic. If anyone has done this or has the time to do this, please let me know!! I would also welcome comments from overseas typospharians as to whether this same FuNkY aToMiC marketing is quite so prevalent outside of Australia?


  1. I don't think I've seen any typewriter described as funky and atomic on US eBay! (And I visit it quite regularly) I was amused that it sells stuff in your country. XD

  2. It sure does seem to Nick! Actually I've just unearthed another of Robert's older posts, which provides some superb commentary on examples of funky atomic typewriter-sellers on Australian eBay back in February this year:

  3. An interesting post, to say the least. I have often enjoyed Robert's FuNkY posts.

    One question, though. How do you let someone know that your hotcakes are selling well? (You mentioned the ironing board covers selling like hotcakes, and it reminded me of this song.)

  4. I thought you were building up to an experimental sale of two identical typewriters, but describing one with added aToMic fUnKiNEss. That would be the true test of the power of these words - in Oz at least. The LOL words on UK eBay tend to be 'antique' (its a 70s Tippa), 'rare' (ditto), 'vintage' (is it a wine?) and top of the list 'retro'. This last is the least accurate because it implies it is new product styled after or imitating an artefact from a previous time.

    1. Had a good chuckle at this. Same in Oz, many a "Rare Antique" 70's Tippa has been bought and sold here too. Regarding your first point, unfortunately I blew a great opportunity to do this and am actually writing a post on it as we speak...

  5. Funkhole. Hmm. Not the most attractive word, is it. ( :

    I think "atomic" is one of the most abused words in sales gimmickry that has ever littered ebay. I know it refers to a design aesthetic from the 40s-60s that comes out of the nuclear age (obviously) but what the hell do those lounge chairs have anything to do with atomic???

    What a useless and entirely entertaining research project, Steve. I'll look forward to your findings!

  6. You have a good point: if people want to pay $100 for a "funky" typewriter on the open market, and they're happy with their purchase, then that was the right price.

    When I was in junior high school in the '70s, "funky" meant two things: smelling of sweat (there may be a connection here to "funk" as fear, which makes you sweat) and having the qualities of funk music. Was funk music named after the lowdown but vivid smell of sweat on a dancefloor or in a house party?

  7. Ken- I have actually overheard a hotcake selling man exclaim to his wife: "Geez Mavis, these hotcakes are selling like bourgeois overpriced ironing board covers pre-financial crisis!"

    Ton- Agreed entirely

    Richard- A very interesting observation indeed. If Wikipedia can be trusted, it sounds like you're spot on. That the original funk musicians had achieved their aims if they had everyone dancing up a collective body odour!