It’s easy to let a proper noun slip past your “shift” key while writing. There are some trademarked words that just seem so…generic. Check out this list and never be fooled by a proper noun masquerading as a common noun again.
Can you pass me a Kleenex?
In a haze of pollen, it’s easy to forget that Kleenex is actually a brand name, and thus a capitalized proper noun. Blow your nose on a tissue, however, and you won’t have any such concerns.
I need to make a Xerox.
This one is quickly becoming obsolete, but we still make copies from time to time. That’s right—copies. Xerox refers to the company that makes the machines, so should be capitalized as a proper noun. (Which also means that technically, you can’t use it in Scrabble. Good luck using up all those X’s.)
Who’s up for Frisbee in the quad?
When you get together a game of Ultimate, you’re throwing around a capital-F “Frisbee.” That flying plastic disk is a trademark of Wham-O, which kindly reminds you on its website: “If your disc doesn’t say Frisbee® – it is not real!” And don’t you forget it.
Grab me a Coke from the fridge, please.
This soft drink has become so ubiquitous, it’s easy forget to capitalize it when writing. But as Pepsi fans will remind you, Coke is just one brand of cola, thus necessitating a big “C” like all other proper nouns.
Ugh, how long do I have to wait on hold listening to this terrible Muzak?
Yep, those sleepy strings you hear in elevators and waiting rooms everywhere was actually the patented creation of Mood Media. As this article explains, the company created Muzak in the 1930s in order to get people in a more spendy mood while they shopped. Beware the power of the bland.
Spell check should catch any errant lowercase proper nouns, but it’s even better to learn them by heart. You wouldn’t want to offend one by forgetting to capitalize it, rendering it nothing but a common noun.
Here’s a bonus: words that used to be proper nouns, but became plain ol’ common nouns through continued use. Perhaps one of these origin stories will spark an idea for your next research paper.
Take the Motorstair to the 3rd floor
Before the Otis Elevator Co. relinquished its trademark on the word, other escalator manufacturers called their products the Motorstair, the Electric Stairway, and Moving Stairs.
I’ll pack you some soup in a Dewar flask.
The thermos, known generically as a “vacuum flask” or “Dewar flask” after its original inventor, has a long and complicated history. After a trademark war in the Mad Men era, a court declared “thermos” a generic term. The Thermos Company is still alive and kicking, though, and we can bet their employees never suffer the indignity of cold coffee.
Call me (clamshell) maybe
Hang on tight for this throwback: The term “flip phone” was once patented by Motorola, which manufactured the first of these 90s-era gems, known generically as clamshell phones. No need to capitalize flip phone anymore—just make sure you don’t exceed your minutes.
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