“What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!” – Allen Ginsberg, “A Supermarket in California”

Recently we’ve been hearing a lot about inflation, so this time I thought I’d take a look at some of the words used to describe inflation – and a few terms manufacturers and stores use to entice us to purchase their more expensive goods.

First up are a couple practices that companies use to not raise the prices of their products when they’re dealing with increased costs for materials, farm labor and transportation, as well as the effects of climate change.

The first practice is something called skimpflation, which is what it’s called when companies change the contents of their products in order to make them cheaper to produce. For example, in some blueberry muffin mixes, pieces of apple are colored and flavored to look and taste like blueberries. In another case, a soup company now lists its main ingredient in one of its soups as water after it had previously been potatoes.

Adding insult to skimpflation is the fact that now the company can call its soup “new and improved” (but for only 6 months, according to federal law). But beware, a product that claims to be “new and improved” could just be different, not necessarily better. Currently, saying that a product “never looked so good” seems to be the new “new and improved.”

If skimpflation weren’t bad enough, we’re also saddled with shrinkflation, which is what happens when the size of a product is made smaller while the price stays the same. For example a can of Pringles has shrunk from 5.5 ounces to  5.2 ounces, a “pint” of some ice cream that used to contain a full 16 ounces of the yummy stuff is now down to 14 ounces, and coffee that at one time came in pound containers has dwindled down to 11.5 ounces.


One thing that hasn’t shrunk is the number of ads that try to persuade us to buy these downsized offerings – or anything else companies happen to be selling. The magic words of advertising seem to be “you” and “because” as in “You deserve (insert product name here) because (insert overblown reason here).

The best example of this is L’Oreal’s “Because I’m worth it,” which was coined in 1971 by 23-year-old female copywriter Ilon Specht, and has evolved into its current, more inclusive “Because we’re worth it.”

But it was the slogan’s second iteration, “Because you’re worth it,” that hit the nail on the head not only because it was talking directly to “you” but because it also told you why you should purchase L’Oreal’s Preference Hair Color.

And just in case all of that “you/because” psychology doesn’t send you racing to the store, there’s always the call to action, which encourages you to “hurry” to the store “now” because it’s your “last chance” before the offer “expires.”

But once you get to the store, be sure to read the fine print on those sale signs that scream (in their own nonverbal way) up to 50% OFF (with the “up to” part in fine print), which usually means that the stuff we actually want is going to be only 20% to 30% off.

And just in case people trying to sell us real merchandise isn’t enough, we’ll soon be able to purchase “verch,” or virtual merchandise, from Walmart once it opens Walmart Land, its virtual store in partnership with the metaverse game platform Roblox. (For instance, while playing Roblox, let’s say you could pay Walmart to drop water balloons from a biplane.) The whole operation seems to be geared toward getting Generation Z (those under 25) to start thinking about shopping at Walmart through promotions within the game.

Whatever you decide to do, “act now” because we could be headed into a period of real slumpflation, or “a state of combined economic decline and rising inflation,” according to Merriam-Webster.

Jim Witherell of Lewiston is a writer and lover of words whose work includes “L.L. Bean: The Man and His Company” and “Ed Muskie: Made in Maine.” He can be reached at [email protected]

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