The word on the (high) street

While doing my lunchtime errands the other day, I was struck by a hero and a villain of retail language.

You can hear both of them in WHSmith (Britain’s big newsagent chain). Their bank of self-service checkouts is called the ‘fast lane’. Now our Laura has already written about the odd tone of those machines, but when the plummy automated voice said to me as I was walking off ,‘thank you for using the fast lane’, I thought it sounded quite good. It made me think I was gliding through the priority security channel at a chic European airport, or something. Whereas in fact I was buying a Twix.

To pay for my Twix, I made a ‘contactless payment’. Dead clever. You just tap your card on the machine and you’ve paid. No PIN, no signature, no fumbling through the fluff-clad coppers of my pockets. But really, ‘contactless payment’? It has the hallmark of all rubbish names: I feel embarrassed saying it. That’s why, when talking to cashiers, I’ve been reduced to asking to ‘do the contactless payment thingy’.

I don’t know whose job it is to name it, really. The shops? The banks? The card people? Us? (Londoners have christened our bike hire scheme the ‘Boris bikes’ after our comedy mayor, even though they weren’t his idea.) Supposedly the mobile phone network Orange triggered an explosion in texting, just by changing ‘SMS’ to ‘text message’. The poor old contactless payment needs a similar rebrand.

So what will it be? The competition starts here. Complete this conversation:

‘How would you like to pay, sir, cash or card?’

‘Oh, I’ll…’

Tap it? Zap it? Magic it? Over to you.

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