For us, it proved yet again the value of having a memorable name that can be played with and interpreted in various ways, not excluding the slightly obscene. We've gotten some flak over the years for the name Big Ass Fans, and we've also given as good as we got, poking fun at those whose minds immediately hightail it to the gutter when they hear it. We knew all along that, like Elvis Costello, our aim was true -- and that they were misinformed, kind of like all those people who insist you can't start a sentence with "but."
But after reveling in our little bit of manna from Internet heaven for a few days, I realized that it presented the perfect "teachable moment" about effective branding, not to mention English language usage. Briefly, what happened was this:
In our fair city of Lexington, Kentucky, a satirical Onion-type site for fake news "you can't count on" featured us in a story. It reported that rapper Sir Mix-A-Lot, best known for the 1992 chart-topper "Baby Got Back," had landed a job with our company after acing his interview and declaring himself a "big ass fan." (Even those unfamiliar with the song would probably recognize at least one of its lines. It's an unabashed paean to the fulsome posterior, written at a time when, as Sir Mix has said, "women with curves were not accepted.")
The anonymous author of the story played off the song's lyrics throughout and quoted me as endorsing the hire while advising HR that Mr. A-Lot must not work in sales. "We strive to operate with the highest code of conduct and so, I can't be worried every time a potential client comes in with an itty-bitty waist and big ass fan in his face that he's gonna get sprung."
Of course I said no such thing, and never would, but it was fine with me to be quoted that way. We linked to the story on our Facebook site and it blew up like a circus balloon. Everyone loved it. One reader commented that Sir Mix-A-Lot and Big Ass Fans were as fine a match as peanut butter and jelly.
I concur. Years ago, we even made a video playing off the song ourselves, but we're older now, and an itty-bit wiser. We know now that if we want to have it both ways -- and who doesn't? -- we need to leave the carnal connections to others, because our name's origins have absolutely nothing to do with anatomy. Really. "Big ass" simply means big, which our fans are, without question.
A great language blog, Grammarphobia, actually addressed this subject head-on several years ago in a post called "Asses and Big Asses." (Haters of our name, this part's for you.) Someone wanted to know what part of speech "ass" is in phrases like "That's a big-ass house." After acknowledging the literal meaning of "big ass" as a noun phrase, the bloggers documented citations in the Oxford English Dictionary and Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang on its use as an adjective.
They concluded that "In short, 'big-ass' can be used adjectivally to mean simply big." And driving home the point, they added, "In similar adjectival usages ... 'jive-ass' just means jive; 'sad-ass' means sad; 'skinny-ass' means skinny, and so on. In a sense, 'ass' is a slang intensifier." And with that, I rest my case. (The fact that 'ass' also means donkey is something we've taken full advantage of, but that's a different story.)
Changing our name early on from the tongue-tangling HVLS Fan Co. to Big Ass Fans was one of the best things we've ever done. Though it riled some of the more puritanical members of the populace, we stayed true to the brand, serene in the knowledge that the Oxford English Dictionary had our back.
And as further proof of its value, just this week our name was featured in the genuine news too, cited by a clothing chain forced to defend its use of "Bad A$$ Sale." The chain's media manager explained to the press that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will not register a name it deems scandalous or obscene, and "has approved dozens of Big Ass and Bad Ass trademarks, including Big Ass Fans."
That's the kind of brand recognition Sir Mix and I are talking about, baby.