Yesterday I shopped in a new Staples that providentially opened a block a way from me. Office supplies right down the street! A genuine convenience for the busy freelancer.

And as I was coming out, I noticed a big Staples ad, featuring the tagline “That was easy(SM).” The SM, of course, is a superscript, marking — like dog piss on a tree — Staples territory, a service mark they’ve legally registered, so nobody can steal it.

I had to laugh. Service marks like that — and we see a lot of them in advertising — accidentally tell a crucial truth. They highlight words that aren’t really language, words that are nothing more than verbal smoke, designed to make us believe something that nobody — not us, not the company — really thinks is true. In this case, Staples wants to believe that shopping there is easy, when in fact the store (much as I’m grateful for its location) is large and confusing, with envelopes offered in inconvenient quantities, and pens sealed in boxes, so you can’t try them to find out which one you’d like.

Still, these service marks are helpful. In any advertisement, they unerringly point out the biggest lie.

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