Taser or Tazer? Tazing or Tasering?

By Maeve Maddox

It wasn’t until I wanted to write about an incident in which a policeman applied a Taser to a ten-year-old girl that I needed to know if I should write tazed, tased, tazered, or tasered.

In trying to find out, I’ve discovered that the word spelled Taser is a registered trademark. It is an acroynm for “Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle.”

Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle, or, Daring Adventures in Elephant Land is a young adult novel written by Victor Appleton. It is Volume 10 in the original Tom Swift novel series published by Grosset & Dunlap.

Jack Cover, the NASA researcher who began developing the Taser in 1969 was a Tom Swift fan so he named his invention for Tom’s fictional rifle.

Since I now know the origin of the word and that it is trademarked, I feel I should opt for the capitalized form with an s:The policeman used a Taser. The guard Tasered the man with the gun.

On the other hand, I don’t feel comfortable capitalizing verbs. I suppose there’s no reason we can’t adopt the non-trademarked “z” word and use it without a capital T:The policeman tazered the fugitve.

We could even choose the shorter verb form to taze, which echoes existing words such as haze and daze:The policeman tazed his assailant just in time.

I’m leaning towards Taser for the noun and taze, tazed, tazing for the verb.

What do the authorities have to say?

The AP Stylebook is no help with the verb. All it has under Taser is that the word is a capitalized acronym.

Likewise Merriam-Webster has an entry for the noun Taser, but nothing to help with the verb form.

The OED has examples with both Tasered and tasered:

1976 N.Y. Times Mag. 4 Jan. 31/3 When an attacker has been ‘Tasered’, the muscles in his body involuntarily contract; he is virtually helpless and may experience pain.

1993 B. CROSS It’s not about Salary 325 High on PCP and breakdancing in the street, [they] tasered him four times and he died.

2002 Edmonton (Alberta) Sun (Nexis) 21 July 21 City cops couldn’t say last night if tasering a woman allegedly resisting arrest yesterday was justified, but a couple who saw the incident believe excessive force was used.

2007 Metro (London ed.) 19 Sept. 11/2 A student was Tasered after asking too many questions at a university forum with US Senator John Kerry.

As these headlines show, I’m not the only one confused as to which verb form to use:

10-year-old is tasered by officer

Unruly Student Tazed at South Paulding, Georgia, High School

Pastor tazered by Arizona DPS

Woman Tasered in front of her children for “obstructing traffic”

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13 Responses to “Taser or Tazer? Tazing or Tasering?”

  • Randell

    “… Taser for the noun and taze, tazed, tazing for the verb”, sounds just right. Something similar would be the use of Google for the noun and google, googled, googling, for the verb.

  • Steve ashley

    I am a retired police officer, a police trainer and risk manager, and a TASER Senior Master Instructor, which means that – although not a regular employee of TASER International – I am one of 25 contract trainers that serve as curriculum consultants and research assistants for TASER International, as well as regularly teaching classes of TASER Instructors and Master Instructors.

    Your question is a valid one, and as you discovered in your research, there is little consistency in the published literature, especially on the Internet.

    My answers to your questions are not so much based in linguistic technicalities as they are rooted in the language that informed law enforcement trainers and administrators use. However, admittedly, many of those individuals fumble with this one as well.

    You are correct in that the word TASER is an acronym for Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle. The term TASER is a registered trademark, and is therefore used in all of the company’s literature – as well as its training materials – in its fully capitalized form.

    We do not use the term “tase” as in, “…the suspect was tased…” Although this may seem like a verb form of the word, within the informed professional community, it is seen as sloppy usage (rather like referring to a pistol magazine as a “clip”, or a semi-automatic pistol as an “automatic”), and a bastardization of the trademark.

    Additionally, while TASER International is far and away the major player in the field of electronic control devices – especially hand held ECDs – there are other manufacturers out there. If someone is exposed to one of those other products, it would not be proper to refer to them as being “tased”.

    Unfortunately, the colloquial forms of the word TASER are seemingly taking hold, so it might be a losing battle. However, as with many things in the technology field, those that actually know the correct terminology will probably always look askance at those that use words like tase, taze, and tazer.

    At least one can hope.

    By the way, I enjoy your site very much, and read it on a frequent basis. Thanks for the service that you provide.

  • Brendan

    I avoid using verb forms of Taser. Try: “Police stunned him with a Taser.” Or “He was shocked by a stun gun.

    Unless you know it was a Taser brand stun gun, don’t even say Taser.

  • Tony Hearn

    Noun: taser
    Verb: taser, tasered, tasering.

    Open-and-shut case. Keep life simple.

  • Advocatus Diaboli

    I agree with Tony Hearn. The only logical verb form to describe using a Taser on something is to “taser” it. After all, when you use a hammer on something do you ham it, or do you hammer it?

  • Admiral

    I would think this to be like many other trademarked names. If you are referring to the specific product, use the specific name (TASER acronym). If you are referring to the generic form describing the type of weapon but not necessarily the name brand, I would think the lower case “tazer” would apply. If we accept this rule then it would naturally follow that most of the time the verb form of this law enforcement technology would refer to the generic sense such as “tazed” or “tazered” and not the specific brand. If the specific brand is not verifiable then the safest form is the generic for both the noun and the verb.

  • Mary Pat Withem

    Actually if we use something frequently enough, it loses its trademark and this is a huge disadvantage to the company. This is just like some people say pass me a klenex. It is a household standard to say klenex and so that loses its “special” place within the trademark world. That’s what I’ve been told?

    “If a court rules that a trademark has become “generic” through common use (such that the mark no longer performs the essential trademark function and the average consumer no longer considers that exclusive rights attach to it), the corresponding registration may also be ruled invalid.” (wiki)

    So therefore I don’t think using taser is really a must avoid issue because so many people use tasered or taser etc. It’s becoming standardized.

  • Frank Dana

    I kind of like “tase”, “tased”, “tasing”, if only because of the symmetry with “lase”, the verb meaning “to emit coherent light” (as would a laser, and back-formed therefrom). That one was coined back in the 1960s, a few years after “laser” itself, but popularized to current generations via a line spoken by Val Kilmer in the film “Real Genius”.

    Considering laser is also an acronym (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation), the similarities with “Taser” run deep, so that additional symmetry just seems very much as it should be.

  • Richard Covey

    Well, the thing with TASERs is that there was no single word for zapping someone with an electrical device designed to stun before TASERs were invented. The word sprung up afterwards, through the TASER itself and not a generic device. I therefore think modifying the word into a verb (whether taser or tazer) is perfectly fine. Just saying someone got tased doesn’t say anything negative about the trademark itself. I prefer the “s” over the “z” myself but only for the paltry reason of personal aesthetics where the “s” sounds better. The “z” comes off as a little too campy sci-fi for me- but then again the name for the TASER is from sci-fi so maybe it fits perfectly. I don’t mind reading it in either format.

    We don’t say that we kleenexed or tupperwared things, there were words for blowing your nose and sealing things away before those trademarks became common day items.

    The language should be allowed to evolve over the stridency of trademarks, ahah, but respect should be given to those trademarks when referring to generic items, sure.

    If you really want to have a clean conscious, you’ll have to make it more word heavy, and say something like “and he was stunned by a TASER” or “and he was shocked by an electrical control device.” Unfortunately the generic public isn’t going to know what an electrical control device is, but they all know what to be tasered means immediately. I think therefore, since language does evolve, and since we are writers, we should play upon the public’s understanding and expectations of the language as well, which to me gives taser and tazered and so on all the justification and validation it needs.

    Wikipedia: “The New Oxford American Dictionary listed “tase/taze” as one of the words of the year for 2007, popularized by the widespread use of the phrase “Don’t tase me, bro!” Meyer registered the phrase as a trademark in September 2007″

    But as for tase and taze, both work just fine in regards to the public’s understanding. As for the dictionary, well, they put twerk in the dictionary… maybe we shouldn’t wait for them to come to a decision and use what we prefer ahaha.

  • Ken Davidson

    Thank you Richard Covey, I could not agree more. For me there is a difference between the headline and the story. I cannot put Officer Used a Stun Gun on a Suspect and He Died. I can use the headline Suspect Dies in Police Custody After Being Tazed. Do the grammar nazi’s get upset about that? I am sure I will get some comments.

  • Ryan

    If it is a TASER brand product you would say “A TASER was used to….” If it was a different brand or an unknown brand it would be an “Electronic Control Device was used…” because TASER is a brand name and ECD (electronic control device) is the type of less lethal weapon that was used.
    There is no such thing as a Tazer so therefore tazered or tazering is not correct.

    Whether you agree with me or not, the reason I voice my opinion is because I am a law enforcement officer trained in many specialty subjects as well as a highly experienced EMT and emergency department/room employee. I feel this is a topic I am knowledgeable in.

  • Ryan

    In addition, stun guns and “stunning”and/or “stunned” is an entirely different object and action. Also, I have taken advanced level “Trial Preparation, Presentation and Testimony” classes. Part of these classes is focused on the word usage in reports and testimony.

  • PeeJay

    Minor typo in your taser article:
    “Taser is a registered trademark. It is an acroynm for “Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle.”
    “acroynm” should be acronym . . .

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