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Let’s Google brands: Oh did I just use a brand name as a verb? | Slangbusters Blog
Dec 12, '18

Let’s Google brands: Oh did I just use a brand name as a verb?

Yes, you did. But you will want to know how all of us, as users of the English language came to a point where we started using brands as generally as we do.

Distant view of a busy crossroad in a metropolitan area

Have you ever wondered why you say “bring me a coke, will you?” instead of “Bring me an aerated soft drink on your way back” or saying “use a sellotape for that one” instead of just saying, “use a tape for that one” or why was the pug known as the Vodafone dog before people knew the real breed name? Although it wouldn’t make sense if someone said, “why are you asking me, just Internet Explorer it” or “Bring me my Navneet” (unless you’re in a Punjabi film with a character named Navneet, set in the times when people used Internet Explorer. but that’s not the point here) These are called proprietary eponyms.

Language has many characteristics itself, and one of them is its dynamic. Shakespeare takes the credit for contributing more than 1700 words to the English Language. But since then, it is thanks to the world of branding that has been putting the dictionary publishers to a task.

Words like ‘xeroxing,’ and ‘googling,’ indicate actions, hence are now verbs while brands like ‘Thermos,’ ‘Tabasco,’ and ‘Fevicol’ have replaced the name of the products they’re named for, becoming nouns. (Mind-blown, right?)
Shop with a yellow colored banner of Xerox

How does a brand become a part of a language? If your brand fulfils a purpose better than any other brand, it is most likely to get a place in the dictionary. Some brands were so strong that they have now surpassed their brand name because they make much more sense otherwise like ‘dumpster.’ The etymology of this word seems like ‘-ster’ was added to the use of the product, which is to dump garbage but the origin of the word goes back to when it was called the Dempster-Dumpster named after its founders, the Dempster brothers. You can figure the rest of the history.

David Placek, the founder of Lexicon Branding, gives three rules to a good brand name:

Oliver Wendell Holmes, former American Supreme Court justice has said, “A man’s* mind once stretched, never goes back to where it was” [sic] (*person’s since women too, use language, duh!)

Let’s look at a few other brands and their story of becoming a verb/noun.

Jeep / Utility Vehicle
Did you know Jeep came out with a copy titled, “They invented SUV because they can’t call them Jeep”! This shows not only their own trust in their brand but also the acknowledgement for how strong the brand name is.

Marketing phrase of Jeep from a campaign

They brought the concept of a utility vehicle back and customized it in a way that it can be used by the army or by a family going on a picnic. The word too, is a one syllable word without any complication in pronunciations, it remains the same even in different accents, almost as if a sound. Apart from that, the brand and its products have gained stature in the market and with its customers. We have always said “let’s take out the jeep” and not “let’s take out our utility vehicle” and the reason is not limited to verbal comfort. All utility vehicles have once been called Jeeps.

Distant view of colorful sticky-notes

Post-its / Sticky notes
These have not only made it to the stationery shopping lists of probably any workspace around the globe but also, in the dictionary as the word for small adhesive memo pads. In this case, the brand name has become a generalized term for any brand’s, well, post-its. That’s the power of a brand name.

Tupperware / Plastic containers
These colorful little airtight containers have been a part of the Indian household since their inception. Losing them could bring havoc in the house since they have been moderately pricey earlier. But then too, it became popular, functioning exactly the way they were advertised as, unlike other brands that had either leakage problems or their colors weren’t just that great. Many households who might have replaced their Tupperware with other brands or different containers, but would be called ‘Tupperware’ without any conscious effort. Their brand made a place in the market when no one providing services like them, especially in India where the steel lunch-kits were common and were replaced by Tupperware.

Velcro / Hook & loop fastener
This comes as a shocker since this small technology made a revolutionary change starting from the shoe industry to today when it adds to the functionality of many accessories. The real name of velcro sounds like that of a scientific name of a plant. Nonetheless, this small innovation made many things so easy it deserved its place in the generic language and didn’t even take a lot of time before it was part of a daily conversation, and later the dictionary.

Fryums / Deep-fried snacks
Deep fried snacks that will want you to say ‘yum’ or Fryums are basically deep fried Indian Namkeen that once used as a brand name by TTK when it was launched in 1990. The word became so popular and in use that all competitors used it on their packaging and TTK’s brand got lost in the saturation.

These were some of the many brand verbifications that have reached a point of linguistic generalization. Some of these have surpassed even their brand name to become a verb. If we compare, Google is a better brand lexicon than Xerox since googling means explicitly searching on the google search engine whereas xeroxing means general photocopying on any copying machine.

This emphasizes the importance of ‘just the right amount.’ You cannot control the probability of getting an entry to the dictionary- otherwise, it wouldn’t be a probability, it would be a fact. But what you can control is your brand’s actions and its behaviors which can ensure success.

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