When Brand Names Replace Words

I’ve touched on this before in my blog about the process of ‘verbing’ nouns, when I mentioned the verb ‘google’. But today, I’d like to think about when brand names replace the words for things. You may well wonder why. Well, this is something that can make it difficult for language learners. It would be useful to talk about some of the times this can happen.

I remember going to France and asking in French where the kitchen roll was kept, and being met with a completely blank expression. I tried asking for kitchen paper instead, and didn’t have any more luck. Of course, the fact that I wasn’t sure of the word for kitchen roll (‘essuie-tout’, as I now know), and was just literally translating the English, probably didn’t help. When my frantic gesturing and rubbish descriptions finally made my point, I was told that everyone calls it ‘Sopalin’ (the name of a brand). I never had a chance! Incidentally, you might ask for ‘Scottex’ if you want kitchen roll in Italy.

Band Aid it

In Britain, it’s not uncommon to hear someone ask if you have a ‘Chap Stick’ even though they mean ‘lip salve’. In America you might cover a wound with a ‘Band Aid’ rather than a ‘sticking plaster’. You may hear adhesive tape called ‘Scotch’ in Italy or ‘Sellotape’ in Britain.

Some brand names are so huge that we don’t always realise we are even using them. Think about it the next time you ‘hoover’ or ‘xerox’ something, or take an ‘aspirin’!

It would be impossible to list all the examples of this trend in one blog post, but I wanted to draw your attention to it as it is something that’s tripped me up in the past. Have you ever had any difficulties with this? Please do share any stories you may have!