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Language of Licensing

Speaking of Merchandise: Is it Mer-tch or Mur-kuh?

Contact the Editor at karina@plainlanguagemedia.com.

Two years ago, we launched TLL’s first survey on the language of licensing to explore changing trends in terminology, business tactics, industry trends, and the way we navigate them. (Click here to access the 2016 story.)

Now the second iteration of the Language of Licensing (LoL) Survey is upon us, and a question we did not ask two years ago posed: How do you pronounce “merch”?

In a stunning win, 89% of respondents to the 2018 LoL Survey prefer to pronounce the word “mer-tch” and only 4% prefer “mur-kuh”. Another 13% do not use the word “merch” at all, or very rarely. Note that these figures do not add up exactly to 100% because of both over- and under-counting. A minority of respondents abstained from selecting a pronunciation (7% of the total) and indicated that they do not use the term, while others indicated a preference but nevertheless also indicated that they do not use the term (or if they do, only rarely). Any direct quotations below have been lightly edited for spelling and grammar.


In response to one agent who asked, “Gah. This is a serious question?”—Yes, of course not. But it’s our survey, our questions. And according to another agent, the phrase “merch is back, especially among young, hip companies.” So, there. If nothing else, this question proves the incredible circularity of language use, because, as others have noted below, “merch” is terribly outdated.

Those who don’t use “merch” had several reasons for doing so, the most common being that they say the whole word. One of the most charming comments from the LoL Survey is from a licensor who quipped “Why would I [say merch]? I also don’t slick back my hair and think I’m god’s gift to humanity.” Other respondents were confused as to why anyone would need to shorten “merchandise” in the first place—are people really in “such a rush that they can’t say merchandise?” asked one agent.

Another set of responses noted that the term “merchandise” itself is too broad to be used as a practical matter (it can “mean any product bought and sold” at retail) or, alternatively, too narrow (being too closely associated with events/souvenirs or musicians/bands). These respondents instead prefer using “licensed products” or “licensed consumer products”.

Sadly, “how do you pronounce merch?” is an incredibly local, American question. A robust 95% of respondents doing business only in the U.S./Canada and 80% of those doing business worldwide had an opinion on the pronunciation one way or the other (the rest indicated that they simply do not use the term). But less than half (45%) of International respondents answered the question at all, with some noting that they’ve never heard of the term “merch” being used (“probably some U.S. invention,” a licensor mused).

Note that for the purposes of the 2018 LoL Survey, U.S./Canada (50% of respondents), International (36%), and Worldwide (14%) are three distinct groups with no overlap in membership. Surprisingly, counting only those respondents who answered, there is no statistically significant difference in responses by territory. The only aberration is that Worldwide respondents are much more likely to not use “merch” at all (33% of that cohort).

Use of “Merch” Among Licensing Executives, By Territory, 2018
Note: Numbers do not add up exactly to 100%.
Territory U.S./Canada International Worldwide
Say “mur-kuh” 5% 3% 0%
Say “mer-tch” 89% 43% 80%
Don’t use “merch” 13% 0% 33%
Abstain 5% 55% 20%

Agents are the most likely to not use “merch” at all (19% of that cohort) and distain “mer-kuh” (0% use the pronunciation). Licensors were the least likely to have an opinion on pronunciation (11% abstained). Other than these highlights, there is little variance in responses when accounting for role (e.g., licensor versus licensee) or working territory (e.g., U.S./Canada versus International) against the average.

Use of “Merch” Among Licensing Executives, By Role, 2018
Note: Numbers do not add up exactly to 100%.
Role Licensor Licensee Agent Other
Say “mur-kuh” 7% 7% 0% 8%
Say “mer-tch” 82% 87% 96% 85%
Don’t use “merch” 14% 10% 19% 8%
Abstain 11% 7% 4% 8%

But when it comes to years spent in the licensing business, we finally get somewhere. Disappointingly, our less-experienced colleagues were less likely to voice an opinion (15% of those with under 10 years worth of experience abstained from ruling on a pronunciation versus 4% of those with over 10 years worth), even after adjusting for territory.

The unpopular “mur-kuh” has allies in two camps: those who have been involved in licensing for 5-10 years (17% of that cohort) and over 20 years (5%). This can, very roughly, be extrapolated to assume that these respondents are Millennials and Boomers. It may be that Millennials inherited the word from their supervisors, or picked it up from their parents, but nothing in the numbers suggests a reason. Both cohorts are also the most likely to not use “merch” at all, with 17% of those with 5-10 years of experience and 18% of those with over 20 years answering so.

No one who has either been in licensing for less than 5 years or between 10-20 years preferred “mer-kuh”. Surprisingly, those who have been in the business 10-20 years are the least likely to avoid saying “merch”, with only 7% indicating that they don’t use the shorthand. Almost all of them (97%) prefer “mer-tch”.

Use of “Merch” Among Licensing Executives,
By Years of Experience, 2018
Note: Numbers do not add up exactly to 100%.
Years of Experience Under 5 years Five to 10 years 10 to 20 years Over 20 years
Say “mur-kuh” 0% 17% 0% 5%
Say “mer-tch” 88% 67% 97% 90%
Don’t use “merch” 13% 17% 7% 18%
Abstain 13% 17% 3% 5%

Note that figures discussed here do not add up to 100% because some responses abstained from selecting a pronunciation (7% of the total) and indicated that they do not use the term, while others indicated a preference but nevertheless also indicated that they do not use the term (or if they do, only rarely).

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