It had been a long day at the job site. After he dragged the last of the old linoleum down the broken escalator, and threw it into the dumpster (that, for some reason, reeked of kerosene), Bill sat down and took a couple aspirin with the last swallow of water from his dented thermos. All he wanted to do now was to go home, tear the cellophane off a hot TV dinner and then practice his yo-yo skills.

We can all identify with the kind of day Bill just endured, but what else did you notice about this week’s opening paragraph? Did you notice that all nine products mentioned in it used to be trademarked brand names? Yup, so what happened? For various reasons, those and other products lost their trademark protection and fell victim to something called genericization, which is what happens when we use a brand name to refer to similar products.

To prevent this from happening, companies work hard to protect the good names of the products they sell. But, despite their best efforts, every day we persist in using those carefully guarded names as generic terms —usually without even realizing it — and their plenty of examples.

For instance, because of our ongoing battle with the coronavirus, we’ve all been encouraged to use a lot of Lysol and Purell, which, of course, respectively refer to whatever brands of disinfectant and hand sanitizer we happen to have around at the time.

Let’s take a look at some other generic products we have around the house that we refer to by more famous names, starting with mealtime at Bill’s: He tells his kids that there’s soup in the Crock-Pot (slow cooker), and advises Billy Jr. that he might want to put a Band-Aid (adhesive bandage) on that burn he got from the Teflon (non-stick) coated frying pan — but to put on some Vaseline (petroleum jelly) with a Q-Tip (cotton swab) first.

After they finish eating, Bill tells the kids to grab some Jell-O (gelatin) or a Popsicle (ice pop) out of the Frigidaire (refrigerator), and then to clean up. That entails putting the leftovers in Tupperware (plastic food containers), and wiping the Formica (laminated) counter top with Windex (glass cleaner) and a Kleenex (tissue). And when they’re done, Bill asks the kids to bring him a cup of Sanka (instant decaf coffee) in a Styrofoam (polystyrene) cup — black, because they’re out of Coffee mate (creamer), while he relaxes in his Naugahyde (faux leather) La-Z-Boy (recliner).

The next day was Saturday, so Bill went out to his workshop to fix the hole in the wall from a recent Sawzall (reciprocating saw) mishap. He started by cutting some Sheetrock (drywall) with his Skilsaw (circular saw), and went to hang it. Being out of screws and nails, Bill resorted to POP (blind) rivets and then Duck Tape (duct tape), but to no avail.

He then tried to install other fasteners using an Allen (hex) wrench, Channellocks (arc-joint pliers), a Crescent (adjustable) wrench, and Vise-Grips (locking pliers), but nothing worked. Frustrated, Bill decided to clean up the mess with his trusty Shop-Vac (industrial vacuum) and head back to the house and let Calgon take him away (bubble bath).

Jim Witherell of Lewiston is a writer and lover of words whose work includes “L.L. Bean: The Man and His Company” and “Ed Muskie: Made in Maine.”


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