Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Bargain basement

Why does the nonsensical phrase “until stocks last” keep popping up where special offers are advertised? The phrase has amused and bemused me ever since I first encountered it in about 1996. I think I understand what the message seeks to convey: that the ‘two-for-the-price-of-one’, or ‘half-price with this coupon’ offer is only valid provided that the shop has still got supplies of the relevant items. According to Wikipedia, ‘...every reasonable person knows that goods advertised or displayed and [sic] shops are implicitly available “while stocks last”.’ The implication of actually writing it on the advert is that the offer is such a bargain that if you don’t drop everything and head for the mall this minute, it’ll all be gone.

But “until stocks last”? What on earth does this mean?

My understanding of the word ‘Until’, which is shared by Messrs Webster, Collins and others is that it indicates continuance up to a specified time or event. The word might also mean ‘before(a specified time)’.

And “Last”? Ignoring sillies such as the metal thing that cordwainers use, ‘last’ as a verb means ‘to continue in existence or in force’, or ‘to be enough for the needs of’, or ‘to keep adequately supplied.’

So according to the advert, the offer is valid up to the point when the stocks exist? Eh? So the ‘Buy One Get One Free’ (with the wonderful acronym BOGOF, but I digress) offer only applies if the shop has none in stock. Then, when new supplies arrive, the BOGOF is no longer available.

In the words of Inigo Montoya: “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

How about rewording the disclaimer to read “while stocks last”, “limited supplies”, or even “until we run out”?

On the subject of things that do not mean what they say, there was recently Sharaf DG’s paradoxical offer: “If we don’t have it, you get it free!”

I see. You will give me - for nuppence - the item I request, provided that you haven’t got one. In that case, I’ll have my free Princess 46 motor yacht.

Of course, the offer only applied to items normally held in stock, there were time limits on how long Sharaf DG would be allowed to obtain the requested item, and there was a comprehensive list of rules in the small print explaining how there was, in practice, almost no way to get something for nothing. This was no surprise. As Marvin the Paranoid Android quipped: “What does it remind me of? Ah, I remember: life.”

Beloved Wife and I are pleased to note that some of these special offers have been good for a long time and show little sign of abating. For this reason, we regularly BOGOF to Billy Blues on Sunday evenings for steak dinners.



Seabee said...

Not just the small retailers are guilty either. In GN the other day there were three ads with "till stocks last", one from Samsung and two from Damas.

EyeOnDubai said...

Last? Cobblers...

I wonder if there is anything in the Arabic version of this and that the word 'while' and 'until' are the same?


Gnomad said...

Given Seabee's comment, it appears that GN is proud of the durability of their cash registers and is making special offers because, one must presume, they unexpectedly do not need to buy new ones.

The use of "till" as the abbreviated form of "until" ('til being correct) is a particular irritation for me.

Keith said...

It's like "Buy this rubbish, and get a 'free gift'".

I always thought that a gift was free anyway! Doh!

Mme Cyn said...

Who writes the ad copy in the Gulf, anyway? Two radio ads back to back this morning...One told me to "avail the newest" blah di blah and the other remarked on "a cup of water, a bit of dates". Sheesh. With so many English teachers in this town, you'd think they'd get one to make sure they didn't make fools of themselves in their adverts.

Grumpy Goat said...

Merriam-Webster seems to think avail is OK, but it's a reflexive verb.

'His efforts availed him nothing'; not 'His efforts availed nothing'.


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