Session 1

Do you facebook or skype? What search engine do you use to google something? When you clean your house do you hoover? Many verbs and nouns in English have come from commercial products. Learn more about some of them in this session.

Sessions in this unit

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Activity 2

The real thing?

Cleaning up

"I've never owned a Hoover, but I do have a hoover. I usually do the hoovering on Saturday mornings. When I'm hoovering I listen to BBC Learning English podcasts on my ipod."

In 6 Minute Vocabulary you heard Finn and Callum talking about some verbs and nouns that come from the name of commercial products.

These are sometimes known as proprietary eponyms. They include current products whose names are used generically to refer to similar items. Hoover is one of these. 

Hoover was such a dominant brand of vacuum cleaner in the UK that the name of the brand became associated with all such machines. Even though Hoover is no longer the most popular brand the verb and noun are still commonly used for vacuum cleaners and the act of vacuum cleaning. Some other examples of nouns like this are:

  • ipod - generic term for mp3 player
  • walkman - generic term for portable music players
  • post-it notes - generic name for sticky notes
  • frisbee - generic name for flying disc toys
  • coke - generic name for cola-based fizzy drink

Read the text and complete the activity

Popularity is not always a good thing

For some companies, having their trademark become a generic verb or noun is good for business. It increases public awareness and sales.

For others it's not so good. The use can be so generic that they can't protect their trademark.

An example of this is aspirin. Today this is a generic term for a kind of painkiller but it used to be a trademark belonging to the German pharmaceutical company, Bayer.

That same company also produced and sold another drug that they later lost the trademark for. That drug was heroin.

Some other products that used to be trademarks but are now generic are:

  • granola - a kind of cereal
  • tabloid - a newspaper format
  • cellophane - a thin clear material used for plastic bags
  • bra(ssiere) - an item of women's clothing 

To do

In the exercise you will see more examples of brands and trademarks used in a generic way. If you don't know the answers, you could always try googling them!

 

Choose the right word

5 Questions

Choose the correct word to complete each sentence. All the possible answers are brand names or former brand names that are used generically.

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Next

In the next activity we take a look at the grammar of the vocabulary of social media and the internet.

Session Vocabulary

  • Useful words

    a trademark 
    a legally recognised name or design used to identify the product of a particular company.

    That shape of bottle is a trademark of Coca Cola.

    a brand 
    a product with a particular name from a company

    There are many different brands of washing powder in the supermarket.

    generic 
    (adjective) referring to a product in general without connection to a particular company or brand

    To hoover has become a generic verb meaning to vacuum clean.