It happens quite often that a particular company is not satisfied with simply being a market leader. They want to crush their competition so dramatically that the name of the product itself gets intrinsically tied to the company brand name. That is to say that the brand name becomes the name of that product universally. This is called an eponym in linguistics and we’ll be looking at some of the most popular examples from both sides of the pond.
Tipex (UK) – White correction fluid as it is called in the industry has come to be known in the UK as Tipex which is really just a (very) popular manufacturer of the product. NB – when not otherwise stated, this is the normal justification for the eponym – the dominant company name has become the word for the object.
Xerox – a photocopier
Kleenex (US) – a tissue typically for wiping a runny nose.
Escalator (US/UK) – It was a bit of a shocker for me that these were actually referred to as revolving stairs until the Otis Corporation dominated production with their own model of ‘Escalators’ which subsequently became the name of the device itself.
Q-Tips (cotton swabs- US) – These white cotton tipped sticks used to clean ears even though that is not their intended purpose. They are intended for cleaning cracks and crevasses in devices and electrical equipment as well as art and furniture.
Taser – Electric Shock Devices used by Police and security guards.
Sharpie – a coloured board marker
Rollerblades – In-line roller skates
Band-Aid (US) – a plaster, a small adhesive bandage for small cuts.
Hoover (UK) – a vacuum cleaner
Windex (US) – a window cleaner created by SC Johnson Company
Photoshop – photo editing software
Coke is it?
I have personally noticed that people will often say that they want a Coke and not necessarily care if they get a Coke specifically, as long as it is a black, carbonated soft drink. So it could be Pepsi , RC Cola, Hoop (in Poland), generic cola or even Dr. Pepper. It seems that Coke = Cola or soft drink, so is this proof that Coke has won the soft drink war? Or do you appreciate the rebuttal – “We don’t have Coke. Can it be Pepsi?”
English is a language that has a great tendency to ‘verbalize’ nouns. It seems to fit the language quite well and has been occurring seamlessly for centuries. Take the common nouns PEN, CHAIR, BOOK all of these things have been verbalized. You can pen a novel, chair a meeting and book a table at a restaurant. This is happens all of the time. It also happens with eponyms a LOT.
Would you Xerox these documents for me, please.
Can you Hoover the floor.
They Windexed the glass.
That magazine cover looks as though it has been photoshopped.
There is also the old joke about the 3 Millennials who went out for a lunchbreak in the early 2000s. They were deep in conversation and began to argue about what the most popular Internet search engine was. One says it is Mozilla, the other says Yahoo and the last one says Google. They argued and argued and couldn’t decide. Finally they all agreed that the only way to answer the question would be to go back to the office and Google it.
Many languages use eponyms. Do you feel it is unfair to other companies trying to compete and a nefarious practice driven by capitalist greed? Or is it simply an unstoppable organic feature of language that just happens naturally? Let us know in the comments below also tell us about some eponyms in your language.
Intrinsically – inherent, existing naturally
Both sides of the pond – the Atlantic, meaning both in the UK and in the USA
Millennial – a person born between 1982 – 2000 also referred to as being ‘digitally native’ (they grew up on the Internet)
Nefarious – intended for bad purposes, evil