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Why a Y Tells a Lie

A few years ago, there was an ad campaign for an ice cream bar that was now supposedly better than ever because of its “25 percent thicker chocolatey shell.” Note the misdirection, worthy of a master magician: a thicker shell, yes! We all love chocolate, and now we’re going to get more of it—except, hey, wait a second: “chocolatey”? Who added that y on the end?

The Food and Drug Administration’s longtime definition of chocolate says it must contain cocoa butter. In 2007, chocolate fanatics got wind of a 35-page petition to the FDA that would allow food purveyors to substitute vegetable oil for cocoa butter, allowing them to save big bucks and still call it chocolate. This infuriated the connoisseurs, who don’t want chocolate degraded so that a bunch of fat cats can get richer.

Besides, unlike cocoa butter, vegetable oil raises cholesterol levels, and true chocolate doesn’t contain trans fats, which have been linked to infertility, heart disease, and colon cancer.

The ice cream bar tycoons are saving so much by using lower-cost ingredients that they can easily afford to give us 25 percent more—but more what? Cheap, fake chocolate, which probably means we get 25 percent less ice cream in the bargain. How long before they take it to the next step: a “chocolatey, ice creamy” bar to die for.

The company and its ad agency figure that many of us don’t see the slightest difference between chocolate and chocolatey.

As for those of us who do notice it, the hope is that we’ll take chocolatey to mean “abundant with,” “full of,” or “characterized by” chocolate. Many words take on this meaning when we add a y: A chilly evening is abundant with chill. A sandy beach is full of sand. A thrifty man is characterized by his frugality.

But in other cases, tacking on that y conveys “evocative of” or “having some of the same qualities as.” We add it to a word to make a vivid metaphorical connection. Whereas an evening is described as “chilly” when there’s literally a chill in the air, she gave him a chilly look has nothing to do with weather conditions. A “juicy” novel doesn’t mean the pages are wet. No one expects you to launch into “The Girl from Ipanema” because you’re wearing a “jazzy” outfit.

And that’s the sordid secret of chocolatey. By adding that little y, the ice cream bar moguls have found a way to disguise their cynical cost-cutting schemes, expecting the consumer to read it as “abundant with chocolate,” instead of the other interpretation: “kind of like chocolate.”

The late, great comedian George Carlin summed it up nicely: “Y’know what ‘rich chocolatey flavor’ means? No [bleepin’] chocolate.”

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