Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Google, Band-aids, and Xeroxes

My last post was about vocabulary, grammar and proper use of certain words. It might have seemed like I'm way too uptight. I used to think the same thing about anyone who thought grammar was important.

But as a writer I learned that when words are used carelessly, not only can messages get lost, but fortunes can be made and lost. This was reconfirmed this week when Google made an announcement that they were trying to protect their trademarked name from falling into open use.

It seems that if too many people begin using your trademarked names and you do nothing to stop them, the names fall into public domain. Xerox and Kleenex have been fighting for years to get people to stop calling all photocopies "Xeroxes" and all tissue "Kleenex".

Seems silly doesn't it? Until you realized that band-aid used to be a brand name for adhesive bandages, but now no one calls them adhesive bandages and everyone calls them "band-aids" even if they are Curel branded products. Aspirin found the same fate decades ago and you'd be hard pressed to even find someone who remembers when Aspirin was a brand name.

Mattel has guidelines about the use of the term "Barbie" (always singular, NEVER plural as in "Want to play Barbies?"). Companies take out full page ads in Writer's Digest magazine reminding writers not to use their brand name as a generic product category, but people still do. Now Merriam-Webster makes things even more confusing by validating the use of "google" as a verb meaning "to use the Google search engine to obtain information about (as a person) on the World Wide Web". Needless to say, Google is rather concerned about where this might lead.

It's good to have your brand name so closely linked to a product category that people assume you ARE the product category. But you have to draw the line somewhere or you can become as generic as band-aids and aspririn (both with lower case letters you might note, the same way Webster listed the verb "google" in their new dictionary).

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