Every so often, you come across a household product which is known specifically by one brand name. This is usually because the brand in question is the most popular version of that product.

Take, for example:

  1. Hoover: Imagine how irritated James Dyson must feel when someone asks him if they can buy one of his lovely cyclone vacuum cleaners. "It's NOT a HOOVER, It's a DYSON!"
  2. Sellotape: Ask for some clear sticky tape to wrap a gift. I bet you don't ask for sticky tape. No sir, you'll be wanting some Sellotape if you live in the UK, or Scotch Tape if you live in the US.
  3. This may be a UK thing, but where I come from, sticky stretchy soft adhesive is always called Blu-Tack, regardless of it's colour.
  4. Coke (or, In some places, Pepsi) is the default term for brown fizzy stuff. As in, "Would you like a Coke?".
  5. Esp. in the US, to photostatically reproduce an image is (usually?) to Xerox it
  6. Q-tips are the generic American cotton swabs for ear-fiddling.
  7. After a period of one handed surfing, you may want to clean up using a Kleenex

There is quite an interesting twist in this subject to do with registered trademarks. The law states that a company cannot trademark a generic term. For example a house builder cannot trademark the word 'house'. Therefore when a company's trademark becomes a generic term the company loses its trademark and anybody is allowed to sell a product under this name.

In the early 20th Century a lot of companies did not realise this and there was a fashion to advertise their brand as though it was a generic term. For example "If you're looking for a Kodak then buy ours because we make the best Kodaks in the world" - Kodak cameras (this is not correct word for word but you get the idea).

There was a court battle once where Kodak almost lost their trademark (and so cameras would forever be called 'Kodaks') but they managed to win it. Unlike Thermos who did lose their trademark so it is now perfectly legal for anybody to sell a vacuum insulated flask and call it a thermos.

There is a bit of a debate over the proper term for this. Depending on which reference you hit up, you might find it called synecdoche or antonomasia (or for the extra-precise, inductive antonomasia). I prefer the latter. A synecdoche is a reference which utilizes a part of an assemblage to refer to the entire collection, for example calling a computer, a monitor, a keyboard and mouse 'the computer.' It uses one part which is different from the other parts as shorthand. However, antonomasia is the use of a single proper name to refer to a class; for example, calling someone a 'Solomon' instead of a 'wise man' - which is more appropriate here, as one substitutes a proper (brand) name for a class (of product).

This is why Frisbees are always labelled "Frisbee Flying Disc." Some other examples:

Clarification: It's Sellotape in the U.K. and Scotch tape in the U.S. I mentioned it because sellotape had been mentioned earlier.

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