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genericide

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Definition:

A legal term for generification: the historical process whereby a brand name or trademark is transformed through popular usage into a common noun.

Etymology:

From the Latin, "kind, class" + "killing"

Examples and Observations:

  • "The relationship between generic words and trademarks is of interest to historical linguistics in a number of ways, central among which is the important fact that the status of a word with respect to its genericness can be open to question and can even change through time. Lexicographers and law-school professors cite such words as aspirin, shredded wheat, thermos, and escalator as words that once were trademarks but now are generics; lawyers term this process of historical linguistic change 'genericide.' . . .

    "Genericide can be viewed as a subcategory of broadening, similar therefore to the process that has affected scores of English words--for example, dog, which at one time referred to a specific kind of canis familiaris rather than to dogs in general."
    (R.P. Butters and J. Westerhaus, "Linguistic Change in Words One Owns: How Trademarks Become 'Generic.'" Studies in the History of the English Language II: Unfolding Conversations, ed. by A. Curzan and K. Emmons. Walter de Gruyter, 2004)


  • "Today, the fear of genericide haunts the proprietors of Kleenex, Baggies, Xerox, Walkman, Plexiglas, and Rollerblade, who worry about competitors being able to steal the names (and the reputation they have earned) for their own products. Writers who use the names as verbs, common nouns, or in lowercase type may find themselves at the receiving end of a stern cease-and-desist letter."
    (Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought. Viking, 2007)
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