Trademarks that became words. Part 1.

Trademarks are symbols and words used to identify a company, product or service (called servicemark in this sense). More than that, they’re managed by specialized organizations which not only take care of trademarks but intellectual property as a whole. Usually, each country has one of those organizations, often a branch of its government, which may – and usually does – follow WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) guidelines. That said, trademarks are not kid stuff; to register one you have to overcome many legal bureaucratic expensive barriers. That’s one of the reasons companies get really angry when they feel their ideas were stolen or copied. And the law is on their side.

Enough about bureaucratic mumbo jumbo; let’s talk about languages!


Absorbent disposable paper tissue? Kleenex.

I’ve compiled some English words that are currently used as verbs, nouns or adjectives, but were merely trademarks in the past.

Have fun!

noun: a moving staircase usually used in shopping malls. Originally a trademark of Otis Elevator Company (the biggest elevator company in the world).

verb (informal): search for information on the Internet, typically using Google.

hula-hoop (or Hula-Hoop)
noun: a large hoop spun around the body by gyrating the hips, for play or exercise.
verb: spin a hula hoop around the body.

noun: a portable electronic device for playing and storing digital audio and video files. When the boom of the MP3 players happened, most people didn’t quite understand what “that kind of device” was. As Apple conduced that boom, its brand – iPod – became a synonym for MP3 player all over the world.

noun: an absorbent disposable paper tissue.

noun: another term for table tennis.

noun: cotton swab, a small wad of absorbent cotton on a short thin stick, used for for hygienic purposes.

verb: a posting made on the social networking site Twitter. Yep, it’s on the dictionary. OED even adds a huge note about the “foolishness content of tweets”.
noun: the product of tweeting.

noun: a type of personal stereo which usually has radio, plays audio cassettes and is (was) used with headphones. Sony still owns and uses this trademark on some audio gadgets but that doesn’t make the brand as strong as it was in the ’90s.

ZIP code
noun: name of the postal code used in the USA. I’ve written a post about this.

You may have noticed the capitalization of those words. Well, brands and names should be capitalized; that’s the “rule”. However, some brands have become so common that you might see them written uncapitalized. If you’re writing a formal essay, please check your style-guide or favourite dictionary.

Notes such as “informal”, capitalization, definitions, and other additional information were mostly fetched from the 3rd edition of the New Oxford American English Dictionary.

Not all words could be found on the above mentioned dictionary but they’re commonly more used than their dictionary-formal counterparts.

2 thoughts on “Trademarks that became words. Part 1.

  1. There’s also Kool-Aid and Pampers. Well, at least in Barbados we use those to mean any powdered drink in packets and disposable diapers respectively. I don’t know if that’s the custom in the US.

    • Hey, Abajan. Thanks for your comment. I’m not American but based on the thousands of hours I spent watching American TV shows I have to say that “pampers” sounds like diapers. I mean, I’d understand that even though I didn’t know the brand. I can’t say much about Kool-Aid though. Have a nice day!

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