English language genercide: the power of popular usage.

In one of my first posts titled Evolving Language, we saw that with over 600,000 words, English contains more words than any language in human history. That posts explored how the English language acquires new words. This post adds another dimension; it is another piece to the puzzle we call the English language. In the same way certain slang words become accepted as standard English – through the phenomenon of popular usage, Genercide is another key to language evolution.

As you know, a brand is a name used to identify a product, such as Coke for a caramel-colored, carbonated soda. Genercide or proprietary eponyms is the process of when, through popular usage, a brand name (in the form of an adjective) becomes a generic name (in the form of a noun) for a product category.  For example: “Hand me the Kleenex (Capitalized adjective) tissue,”  has become “Hand me the kleenex (lowercased common noun).”

Over time many brand names have completely lost their status as brand names and have instead become synonymous with the category in which they reside. Some examples of this are:  zipper, aspirin, granola, and yo-yo.  These terms were each brand names at one time, but now they are common nouns.  ” . . . bereft of monetary value — victims of ‘genericide.’  According to Naming.com,  “Usage demoted them to the humble rank of “generic descriptor.” –  

Some proprietary eponyms are given below.

Defunct Trademarks Used Generically






Pogo Stick (Pogo)

Saran Wrap

Shredded Wheat

Active Trademarks Often Used Generically

Alka Seltzer


Band Aid

Chapstick (Chap Stick)

Coke (Coca Cola)

Cola (Coca Cola)


Erector Set

Fiberglass (Fiberglas)

Fig Newtons




Jello (Jell-O)

Kitty Litter


Ping Pong (replacing the generic term “Table Tennis”)







The power of popular usage is phenomenal. For better or worse, we shape our language. By some estimates the English language will acquire it’s one millionth word by April 2009. Can you think of any more proprietary eponyms. Can you predict any future vicitms of genericide?

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About robertstevenson

Dr. Robert Stevenson is a Professor of Journalism and Director of Student Publications for the Department of Mass Communications and Theater at Lander University in Greenwood, SC. He received the Distinguished Faculty of the Year award for 2007-'08, and the Lander University Young Faculty Scholar Award in 2005-06. Stevenson also serves as chair of the Lander University American Democracy Project. First and Formost I am a dad of two wonderful boys.
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9 Responses to English language genercide: the power of popular usage.

  1. Carl says:

    Funnily enough I regularly use almost all of those. Google is another firm candidate for genercide, and possibly also Hoover, iPod, Oreo and probably dozens more

  2. Joe says:

    Pass me the scotch tape while I think about some more.

  3. Margaret says:

    My inventory was wiped out after Kleenex and Xerox. Now I feel inadequate and have the urge to open up all my kitchen cabinets for ideas.

    Nah, I’ll just admit defeat.

  4. Mike says:

    Very interesting post Rob. I use those words all the time also.

  5. Paul says:

    Legos, Lincoln Logs and the Slinky also come to mind. Great post!

  6. rainforestrobin says:

    Oh man, you want some screwed up English language…well, I’ll tell you a funny story.

    I grew up in rural Maine. Heck, what am I saying all of Maine is rural!! Regardless, I went back for a visit a few summers ago. I was in the feed and garden store when I heard an elder gentleman at the checkout talking about putting compost in his garden. Then he turned to the lady behind him who was from New York City and said, “If yur a gaaaadner you best be using this here compost. It puts all those ORGASMS back into the soil. Keeps it healthy, ya know.

    (Needless to say the woman next to him was shocked and I started to giggle, I could NOT contain myself. When he looked indignantly at me (like: what are YOU laughing at?) I just said that gardening made me feel very very happy!!!) Hey, with all those “orgasms” in the soil I’ve been one happy gardener for years!!!)

    The other was also rural Maine….I over heard another elder gentleman telling a woman in the store that he’d been very “exhaustipated” lately. I just figured he was so exhausted that he was constipated. LOL LOL

    Only for YOU Rob!!! 😉
    Big Hugs, RainforestRobin (who else would divulge such wisdom?)

  7. Anonymous says:

    Caller Backer

  8. catalecticmuse says:

    Well I like how you worded the title firsssst of all. your posting was quite interesting, but is that really how it is??
    Well Im sure that its really good so I hope nothing changes its really kool 🙂
    Xerox Phaser Printers

  9. Good post Rob. I’ve posted a link to it from my own blog post which touches on the same subject.

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