Image source: frankkeane.ie
Cars are made up of many things. Metals, plastics, rubbers and more exotic materials including platinum, but they do not possess DNA.
Not that this prevents their makers from using this term, usually preceded by the word ‘design,’ when describing them. Some, allegedly, have certain physical and engineering features ‘engrained’ in their design DNA.
I’ve lost count of the number of vehicle launches and motor show ‘reveals’ where this term has been used. Frequently these big production efforts involve thundering music, light shows, dry ice and dancers undulating round often quite ordinary cars. After an orgasmic climax, a motor executive in a suit will give a stiff autocue presentation, often indicating that English is not his first language. This person will then insist that the car has exciting engineering ‘engrained’ in its DNA.
A ‘Bitesized’ Breakdown
According to the BBC’s ‘GCSE Bitesize’ website (this is exactly the sort of scientific level I operate at), ‘DNA is the complex chemical that carries genetic information. DNA is contained in chromosomes, which are found in the nucleus of most cells. The gene is the unit of inheritance and different forms of the same gene are called alleles.’
Cars are inanimate objects made by people. They are not the products of the natural world. If anything could be said not to have DNA on any level, it’s the car.
Many cars are also alleged to have ‘athletic profiles,’ or ‘muscular flanks.’ With things like the Jaguar E-Type, or its F-Type descendant, these terms make sense because the cars themselves have sinuous contours, but I’ve also seen them used to describe crossover 4x4s and workaday people carriers, which with the best will in the world, often have the athletic grace of a cardboard box. These terms are only marketing speak, and to get grumpy about them does perhaps show a slightly skewed sense of priorities, but when you have these soggy old clichés shoveled at you over and over again they do begin to grate.
Moving on, a great many cars are also ‘funky’ (perhaps ‘funkiness’ is ingrained in their DNA). The subtext of using this word is that even the most innocuous little hatchback is actually a life-enhancing youth icon that will confirm irresistible, hip, happening credentials of its owner. Mostly this is just pants, and would it be very unfair to point out that in some cultures the word ‘funk’ is a slang term for stink?
Image source: businessetc.thejournal.ie
Car makers, like most big money advertisers, realize that youth sells, which is why very few car launches do without a slick video involving the car and people well under 30, who have very good bone structure and perfect teeth, having a lovely time in a way that your middle aged, grouchy correspondent finds deeply irritating.
There can be unintended comedy in this. I attended a huge international launch for a very good, but very sensible, mass market German hatchback. After an expensive lightshow and Hollywood-epic style video involving beautiful 20-somethings, two grey suited 50-year-old German male executives appeared on stage, and engaged in a scripted verbal exchange that, with a little creative license, went something like this:
‘Yes, that was very exciting, was it not?’
‘It was indeed.’
‘This is a car with excitement hotwired into its DNA, do you not think?
‘I do indeed.’
‘A car you would be happy for your daughter to go to the disco, or some other hot, trendy night spot in.’
‘Where she could jack her body to the funky sounds of the hit parade!’
‘And be safe when she returns home thanks to her car’s suite of exciting airbags.
I nearly choked on my canapé.