Pinnacle of Success: Brand Replacing Common Word

When brand name replaces common word Being a linguist, I have always been fascinated by this phenomenon in the development of language(s) — when a proper name becomes a common noun (or even a verb). By definition nouns name people, places, and things. There are two classes of nouns: common and proper. Common nouns name general items, while proper nouns name specific items (such as individuals, places, or brands) and almost always begin with a capital letter (it may be different specifically with brands).

However, every once in a while we observe instances when proper nouns become common nouns (or even verbs), replacing already existing words in the language with the more frequently used proper nouns, including brand names. That, in my opinion, is the pinnacle of branding.

Not too long ago Guy Kawasaki tweeted:

Guy Kawaski's tweet

His post links to an article in the Washington Post which talks about the words of the decade and the words of 2009, and ends with:

…After much discussion, the final vote. A year and a decade, both recently laid to rest, receive the briefest kind of epitaph. The two words meant to evoke the feeling of this moment years from now: “tweet” for 2009 and “Google” for the Aughts [underlining mine].

Yes, the American Dialect Society has chosen “Tweet” as the word of the year 2009, and “Google” as the word of the decade. More and more frequently “Google” is being used as a verb, replacing the phrase “search online”, and this is the ultimate victory — one that they’ve won in people’s minds.

Here are some other examples when proper names had come to replace already existing common nouns:

  • “Band-Aid” – for “adhesive bandage”
  • “Bikini” – for any “two piece bathing suit”
  • “Chapstick” – for “lip balm”
  • “Escalator” – originally patented by OTIS, and developped on basis of two words: “escalade” and “elevator”
  • “Granola” – for “oat and fruit mixture” patented back in 19th c.
  • “Gummie Bears”
  • “Jacuzzi” – for “hot tub”
  • “Jeep” – for “SUV” (note: frequently used in Russia)
  • “Kleenex”
  • “Kool-aid”
  • “Laundromat” – for “coing operated laundry”
  • “Oreos” – for “cream-filled cookies”
  • “Pampers” – for “diapers” (especially frequently term used in Russia)
  • “Post-it”
  • “Scotch Tape”
  • “Sharpie”
  • “Teflon”
  • “Tic Tac”
  • “Wellingtons” (or “wellies”) – for “rubber boots” (in Britain)
  • “White-Out”
  • “Windex” – for “glass cleaner”
  • “Xerox” – for “photocopy” (note: in Russian, it’s the only word for verb “photocopy”)
  • “Zipper”

I certainly commend Google and Twitter on their victories. Very encouraging to witness this nowadays, and I am certain we will see other similar language transformations/adaptations in the future too. Wondering who’s gonna be next…

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