No discussion of swears and branding would be complete without a nod to Sofa King, which is at once a real brand, a parody brand, a tribute brand, a song title, the subject of a Saturday Night Live skit, and the punchline to a joke. For you scholarly types in the audience, it’s also a convenient introduction to prosody.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
In the not-quite-beginning there was The Sofa King, a real furniture retailer in Northampton, UK, that opened in 2001 with a memorable tagline (or strapline, as they say over there).
“Our prices are Sofa King Low!”
Amazingly, this family-owned business got away with it for 11 years. “Police investigated complaints in 2004,” the BBC reported, “and no action was thought necessary, but the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received more complaints.”And so, in 2012, the ASA upheld the objections of some upright citizens “because the phrase could have been interpreted as a derivative of a swear word.” They were so fucking right. Despite owner Mark Kypta’s furious protests (“The public are behind us and think it’s crazy”), the ads came down, although the strapline still flourishes on the Sofa King website.*
But “sofa king” as an alternate rendering of “so fucking” had already been kicking around the playground for some time before Sofa King sold its first sectional. On the Straight Dope bulletin board, the first post under the header “I’m sofa king stupid” was published on January 11, 2000. A month earlier, someone had posted “I’m sofa king crazy” on the same bulletin board, and elaborated with a now-classic bad-taste joke:
I we Todd did.
I sofa king we Todd did.
hehe hehe , (read slowly and and think stupid)
Fucking and retarded – a double whammy! It was only a matter of time and e-commerce before variations on the meme appeared.
The line was used in a 2004 episode of the animated TV series “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” (“Repeat after me: I Am Sofa King We Todd Ed”), and was picked up by Danger Doom for the group’s 2005 song “Sofa King.” (Lyrics and “Aqua Teen” clip here.) It’s worth noting the ambiguous foreign accent and awkward stress patterns of Billy Witch Doctor in the cartoon (so-fa king is not the same as so fuck-ing), which makes the joke a) odder and b) funnier once you get it. There’s that prosody—the technical term for the rhythm of speech—that I promised you in the first paragraph. You’re welcome.
Various amateurs had their fun with Sofa King ad concepts—here’s a video from 2006, and here’s another one from the same year—and then, in April 2007, Saturday Night Live turned it into something both cruder and more polished. (The video isn’t embeddable, but you can but you can watch it here.)
The SNL “Sofa King” ad starred Fred Armison and Maya Rudolph as unibrowed foreigners of indeterminate provenance (Kazakhstan, maybe? This was, after all, just a year after the release of the Borat movie) touting their wares. (“Sofa King great!” “Sofa King comfortable!” “Sofa King cheap!”) In a Language Log post published shortly after the episode aired, Eric Bakovic analyzed the sketch’s linguistic and dramatic devices:
Every time “Sofa King” is mentioned in the sketch, a “Sofa King” logo appears on the screen.
“Sofa King” is always pronounced “Sófa Kíng” — that is, with the first and third syllables distinctly stressed — as opposed to “so fúcking”, where the second syllable is the stressed one. [Ed.: Prosody again!]
The characters in the sketch all speak with a discernible (but not explicitly identified) foreign accent.
And just in case you really like having jokes explained to you:
The play, of course, is on how “Sofa King” sounds like “so fucking”, and it works because “Sofa King great” can mean something like “great in the way that only Sofa King can make it” (kind of like “Army strong”, as discussed here**) while “so fucking great” means something like “(so) amazingly great”.
But wait! There’s more!
Inspired “in part” by the SNL sketch, a Chattanooga, Tennessee, restaurateur opened Sofa King Juicy Burger in late 2012. There’s a sofa inside the restaurant, and the website’s home page is papered with furniture ads from circa 1961. There was equal parts pearl-clutching and befuddlement among locals when the opening was announced, but everyone seems to have settled down.
I also discovered:
- Sofa King Good restaurant in Jalisco, Mexico (!).
- Sofa King Stew Ped hot sauce
- Sofa King hot sauce (sans “stew ped”)
- Sofa King Bueno wine (“so fucking good”), a Syrah-based blend from Chronic Cellars in Paso Robles, California. (Chronic is, among other things, a strain of cannabis, which this wine does not contain.)
And yes, there is a whole subcategory of Pho King names—a minor subcategory, which is why I’ll dispense with them here rather than devoting a whole post to them.
Pho (or phở) is a Vietnamese noodle soup; the vowel is pronounced as a schwa, more or less: fuh. So naturally there is a Pho King Delicious in Northridge, Los Angeles County; and a Pho King Good in—I kid you not—Beaverton, Oregon; and a plain old Pho King in Oakland, California. And here, knock yourself out with a whole bunch of creative pho restaurant names. They are sofa king funny.
*I pause here to remind you that the international fashion brand French Connection, which is also based in the UK but is much bigger than Sofa King, has been known as fcuk (yes, lower case) since 1997. “The fcuk brand was dreamed up in-house,” The Guardian reported in 2001. “The company used to send faxes back and forth between its London and Hong Kong offices using the abbreviations FCUK and FCHK. ‘There was no thought of it being rude,’ insists [company owner Stephen] Marks, but advertising executive Trevor Beattie picked up on the abbreviation and came up with the ‘fcuk fashion’ slogan.”
**Or “Ford tough.” Brand name + adjective is a fairly common trope in advertising copy.