Monday, November 7, 2011


What’s that thing called that, when you pour hot liquids into it they stay hot and when you pour cold liquids into it it they stay cold?

Oh, yes, that’s right. I remember now.

A vacuum flask.

Not a Thermos.

Thermos is a trademark. More about Thermos later.

There are lots of brand names that have become genericized (is that a word?) to the point that we call the general item by a particular manufacturer’s appellation.

We say Kleenex™ when we want a tissue.

We say Saran Wrap™ when we mean clear plastic stuff that sticks more to itself than to the things it’s supposed to be covering.

We say Scotch tape™ when any old adhesive thingy would do (except maybe Saran Wrap™).

We say Pringles™ when we mean potato chips.

We Hoover™ the floor even if we’re using an Electro-Lux™.

Here in the southern U.S., the word “Coke™” is used by many to mean any carbonated cola drink, not just the ones produced by the Coca-Cola™ company, which is headquartered in Atlanta because its product was invented here. In Georgia, it’s an article of faith that only Coca-Cola™ is acceptable and that only Yankees drink Pepsi™. I worked with a fellow who once walked out of a restaurant in Pennsylvania when he couldn’t get a Coca-Cola™.

There are lots of examples of the misuse of trademarks, but let’s get back to Thermos.

You’ll notice I didn’t say Thermos™ (with the little trademark indicator).

There’s a reason for that. It’s because the general public won. Keep reading.

According to Wikipedia, the vacuum flask was invented by Scottish physicist and chemist Sir James Dewar in 1892 and is sometimes referred to as a Dewar flask, or Dewar bottle, after its inventor. The first vacuum flasks for commercial use were made in 1904 when a German company, Thermos GmbH, was formed. Thermos, their trademark for their flasks, remains a registered trademark in some countries but was declared a genericized trademark in the U.S. in 1963 as it is colloquially synonymous with vacuum flasks in general. (emphasis mine).

I’m looking forward to the day when I become colloquially synonymous with blogs in general.


  1. We don't call sticky tape "Scotchtape" in England, we call it "Sellotape" and to us "Saran Wrap" would probably be something like a sarong worn by a Balinese serving girl! We also refer to all vacuum cleaners as "Hoovers". Recently entering the official and proper English English language, an "RWP" is a term you use in polite company when you need to use the lavatory, as in "Excuse me, I need an RWP." I am not sure who introduced the term.

  2. I go along with YP regarding Sellotape™, while Saran Wrap would be cling film.

    A few years ago, I went into a computer store to buy a 'memory stick' to be told that I couldn't. This was a Sony trademark and that I would have to make do with a 'flash drive'.

    I would have thought that manufacturers would be delighted if the name of their product became the generic name. It seems I am wrong.

  3. Here in Iowa, I vacuum the carpet, but have never hoovered it. Have never used the word pringles for potato chips, either. I drink pop, even if its a Coca-Cola. I do use the terms Scotch tape, Thermos, and Kleenex as you have described. I use the word ketchup for catsup---is that a brand name, too? Good post, rhymsie!

  4. Carolina, you're just jealous.

    Yorkshire Pudding, Shooting Parrots told us in his comment that Saran Wrap is cling film to you. As for who introduced the term "RWP" into polite English company, it is plain to see that the culprit was undoubtedly a long-suffering member of your own audience, and he meant he needed a Respite Where Pudding is concerned.

    Shooting Parrots, thanks for straightening us out on the Saran Wrap issue.

    Jeannelle, says that ketchup is just a variant of catsup, not a brand name. It goes on to say it is from the Chinese (Amoy) kōetsiap brine of pickled fish, from kōe seafood + tsiap sauce. Who knew?

    Oh, and my dad, who was from Iowa, said "pop" also.

  5. LOL I fell for the thermos, oh wait, that's 'cause I actually use a Thermos. xD But in Malaysia we call toothpaste Colgate and Cola (you guessed it) Coke. I'll be waiting for that day (since like you said, I've got some time on my hands)