Googling something, using Scotch tape, or urgently needing a Kleenex? Surely you’ve been in those situations before. All of these words are actually brand names that are so common that they’ve become everyday generic words. Kleenex, Scotch tape, Q-tips — do other languages also use brand names?
What Is A Generic Term?
When you’re talking about Kleenex, you don’t necessarily mean a disposable paper tissue from the brand Kleenex, but rather any kind of disposable paper tissue. Interestingly enough, it’s the exact same in German but with the word brand name-cum-word Tempo. These words have gone through a process known as genericization, meaning the brand name is now common enough to be used in place of the non-brand name. This can be good for a brand because it means they’re popular, but a company can also lose a trademark if it’s too common (which happened with “escalator”).
In linguistics, these words are also known as deonyms. Or is it eponyms? Let’s take a look at the difference.
Deonym Vs. Eponym
The difference between a deonym and an eponym is only relevant in a linguistic context. Eponyms are generally generic terms that originate from a person’s name. That also means that eponyms are generally new words — neologisms — that didn’t exist before. For example, Disneyland or Dickensian are eponyms because they originate from Walt Disney and Charles Dickens, who are both real people. Kleenex, on the other hand, is a deonym since it’s a product name that stands for a paper tissue. The two terms are often used synonymously. So let’s move on to something much more important.
If you have a good sense for brand names, that could help with learning a language! How? It’s not just English that uses brand names as generic words. In parts of the United States you can order a Coke, in Germany a Cola, and in Italy a coca. All of these terms come from the caffeinated soft drink made by Coca Cola®.
Here’s what the trend looks like in many languages.
Brand Name Language Lesson
Let’s start with a few words whose original name didn’t really take off in many languages.
A Few More Brand Names
- adidasy® for any kind of sneaker (Polish)
- pampersy® for diapers (Polish)
- K-way® for a rain jacket (Italian, French)
- Boules quiès® for headphones (French)
- Frigo/Frigidaire® for refrigerator (French)
- BIC® for pen (French)
- Kitty Litter® for cat litter
- Popsicles® for frozen juice on a stick
- Memory® for the card game (German, English)
- Weckglas® for preserving jar (German)
- Knirps® for a small umbrella (German)
- Frisbee® for a throwing disc (German, English)
- Cappy® for orange juice (Austrian German)
- Uhu® for glue (German)
- OB® for tampon (German)
With the help of brands, now you already know a few more words in 5 languages!
This article was originally published on the German edition of Babbel Magazine.