Who can resist popping cellular cushioning packaging material?

Over the years, some trademarks became commonly used to describe a broader class of products or services. Kleenex is frequently used for facial tissue. And back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon to have someone Xerox documents rather than copy them.

That means trademark owners sometimes worry about how their marks get used. As a result, the International Trademark Association used the inside back cover of the most recent Columbia Journalism Review to provide journalists with some “important usage guidelines” to help avoid complaints from trademark owners. Among other things, it instructs that trademarks are “proper adjectives” that modify a generic noun or phrase which, together, describe the product or service.

To assist in that endeavor, the ad lists a variety trademarks and the generic terms with which they should be used. Depending on your point of view, some of these show either the inventiveness or denigration of American English. All but one of the following comes from that ad. I couldn’t resist using the first phrase, though, after stumbling across it in the INTA’s “Trademark Checklist” on its website. The checklist gives generic terms for nearly 2,500 trademarks.

  • The Baggies in your kitchen drawer are “bags made of flexible transparent sheeting.” According to the ad, though, the Ziplocs in the drawer must be lower tech as they are only “plastic bags.”
  • Bubble Wrap is “cellular cushioning packaging material.”
  • While most people might say it’s a flying disc, a Frisbee is actually a “toy flying saucer.”
  • Your iTunes program is “audio data computer software.”
  • MapQuest, similarly, is “online access to geographic information.”
  • Because trademarks are never verbs, you can’t TiVo something. Instead, you use TiVo “subscription television broadcasting services.”
  • Pundits erred for years by failing to call Reagan the “Teflon flourine-containing resins president.”
  • And who among us wouldn’t know that the generic phrase SPAM precedes is “Family of Products”?

American English is packed with euphemisms, because Americans have trouble dealing with reality[.]

George Carlin, Napalm & Silly Putty

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