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Trademarks, Genericide, Verbicide, and the Circle of Life

I’m not sure what is so bad about a Trademark turning into a verb or dying of genericide.

The process of linguistic evolution is, I think, one of the more beautiful realities of human existence. Either I’m overly romantic or
just a word nerd, but as we all must one day merge with the infinite — so must all trademarks eventually die.

Some will die of abandonment — the equivalent of dying of old age.

Some will die from cancellation — murder or execution.

Some will die because they stand unprotected – like when a homeless person freezes to death.

And some will die from genericide – which is like when a famous and inspirational person dies — they become larger than they were in life. Think Martin Luther King, Marcus Aurelius, Jesus, The Buddha. This is of little consequence to their loved ones, but such is the natural order of things.

Accordingly, Kleenex, Xerox, Google, etc., may eventually die as trademarks, but they will live forever as verbs/generic terms. Trademarks are not word patents, they are source identifiers. Nobody can truly control the process of genericide — and while efforts to do so by trademark holders are both wise and ethical, we should not be ashamed nor embarrassed if we “misuse” a trademark in this *particular* way.

Therefore, if we use “google” as a verb (as I do), we are not failing to respect a trademark. We are simply acting naturally. I did not make the word a verb, but I will not fail to use it as a verb simply because it might impact the word’s ability to identify a particular service. (Actually, I believe that using “google” as a verb strengthens the mark. If I told you to “google” something, would you go and conduct a search using Yahoo! ?).

It is the order of things. If “Kleenex” has become generic, then this is a result of the word being run through the magnificent cultural machine of linguistic evolution. A company loses a trademark, but a language gains a word. A child is born, an old man dies. We once were lemur-like creatures who ate bugs, and now we fly in giant metal machines. Moving staircases are now escalators. It is the order of things.

Perhaps this demonstrates that the universe’s desire for balance is something that we can resist, but never stop. The strength of a trademark travels around a circle of life like all other things, and should it live to become so huge and powerful that it might imbalance the natural order, the universe has a funny way of setting the balance right again.

A response to this, posted to the INTA Newsgroup:

Sorry, and with all due respect for your long-range philosophical and metaphysical view of the life, death and evolution of language generally and words specifically, you are most certainly not respecting a trademark. Actually, I believe yours is the worst kind of disrespect for trademarks, because if you don’t know better and serve as a model for the general, lay public, who will.

My reply – I’m a bad role model in many ways. I can accept this criticism.

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