In a recent post, Don’t Do Due Diligence, I used the word Realtor as if it were a generic word for “real estate agent”:
Not so very long ago, the only people I heard talk about “due diligence” were realtors.
I should have caught myself on that. Realtor–with a capital–is the legally recognized trademark of the National Association of Realtors. The correct use of the word is to refer to members of the Association and not to real estate agents in general.
As tends to happen with clever commercial coinages, Realtor is being pulled toward generic use because it strikes speakers as an apt and concise substitute for the longer term, “real estate agent.” I have a feeling that general usage will eventually claim Realtor as it has so many similar inventions, but as a professional writer, I can be expected to observe the conventions. Apologies for my lapse, therefore, are due the NAR.
Here is a list of other trademarked words that many English speakers use generically. Each term is followed by a suggested alternative and the name of the trademark’s owner. The list is by no means exhaustive.
AstroTurf (artificial turf) – Monsanto
Band-Aid (adhesive bandage) – Johnson & Johnson
Bubble Wrap (inflated cushioning for packaging) – Sealed Air
ChapStick (lip balm) – Wyeth Consumer Healthcare
Clorox (bleach) – Clorox Company
Coke (soft drink) – Coca-Cola Company
Crayola (crayon) – Binney & Smith Company
Crescent Wrench (adjustable wrench) – Crescent Tool Company
Crock-Pot (slow cooker) – Sunbeam Products
Cuisinart (food processor) – Conair
Dumpster (front loader waste container) – Dempster Brothers, Inc.
Fiberglas (glass wool) – Owens Corning
Formica (wood or plastic laminate) – Formica Corporation/Fletcher – Building
Freon (refrigerant) – Dupont
Frisbee (flying disk) – Wham-O
Google (Web search engine) – Google Inc.
Jacuzzi (hot tub/whirlpool bath) – Jacuzzi
Jeep (compact sport utility vehicle) – Chrysler
Kitty Litter (litter box filler) – Ralston Purina
Kleenex (facial tissue) – Kimberly-Clark
Memory Stick (flash memory storage device) – Sony
Ping Pong (table tennis) – Parker Brothers
Popsicle (flavored ice treat) – Good Humor-Breyers
Post-it (sticky note) – 3M
Q-Tips (cotton swabs) – Unilever
Scotch tape (clear adhesive tape) – 3M
Sharpie (permanent marker) – Newell Rubbermaid
Styrofoam (extruded polystyrene foam) – Dow Chemical Company
Super Glue (Cyanoacrylate adhesive) – Super Glue Corporation
Tarmack (asphalt road surface) – Tarmac
Taser (stun gun) – Taser International
Teflon (non-stick coating) – Dupont
The purpose in trademarking a name is to prevent it from being used to describe a similar product made by another manufacturer. If a permanent marker is a Sharpie, call it that; otherwise, call it “a permanent marker.” And when you use any of these terms, be sure to capitalize them and use hyphens or camel case as appropriate.
Note: Camel case is the practice of writing compound words or phrases in a combination of capital and lowercase letters. For example: AstroTurf, ChapStick, iPhone, PowerPoint.
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