Like many American English speakers, I call facial tissues Kleenex, cotton swabs Q-tips, photocopying Xeroxing, adhesive tape Scotch tape, adhesive bandages Band-Aids, adhesive notes Post-Its, and searching the internet Googling. These terms are all still protected trademarks, but that hasn’t stopped American English speakers from using them generically in speech and unpublished writing.
This process of brand names coming to be used generically is often called genericization or generification by linguists, and it can be surprising to learn what common words were once trademarked (e.g., escalator, trampoline — see a nice list from Mental Floss here).
I had never thought twice about my genericization of Reynolds Wrap. I know one can call the shiny stuff that you use to cover food tin foil or aluminum foil, and I do believe I have been known to do so. But my go-to term is Reynolds Wrap, no matter what brand is actually in the drawer.
Perhaps when I put the Saran Wrap next to the Reynolds Wrap in the drawer, the genericization of the former rubbed off on the latter. But then I started to wonder if I was an outlier with Saran Wrap too. I asked my friend, “So … can you use Saran Wrap as a generic?”
“Oh, yeah. That one I use.” (And you can find Saran Wrap on lists of common victims of genericization — often with a note that many in Australia call it Glad Wrap generically.)
“And you really don’t use Reynolds Wrap that way?” I mused, mostly to myself.
Of course, the folks at Reynolds Kitchens or Reynolds Group Holdings may not be so pleased about my using their trademarked product name generically. Sure, it suggests the prominence of the brand in the market, but it also potentially threatens the term’s trademark status. It is a company’s responsibility to remind us that these terms are trademarked; if they don’t do due diligence, they could lose the trademark. Perhaps this post will be a useful warning shot that some trademark policing may become necessary for Reynolds Wrap.
(You can see Unilever doing exactly this kind of reminding and due diligence at the bottom of Q-tips webpages with this language: “Q-TIPS® is a registered trademark of Unilever and is NOT a name for just any cotton swabs. The Q-TIPS® trademark can only be used to refer to the specific cotton swab products manufactured and sold by Unilever and should not be used to refer to cotton swab products of other companies or to cotton swabs generally. Appropriate generic terminology for cotton swabs includes the terms “cotton”, “stick(s)” and “swab(s).” Misuse of the Q-TIPS® trademark constitutes an infringement of Unilever’s exclusive rights in the mark.”)
So just to make sure that I don’t get myself in trouble, please note that it is Reynolds Wrap® Aluminum Foil, and it is a specific brand of tin foil. But, of course, you can’t hear the ® when I talk about whatever tin foil I have at hand.Return to Top