Monday, February 4, 2008

We [Pointing to a pull quote in a recent article]: Should “X-ray” be capitalized?

Boss2: I always capitalize it when it’s a noun; lowercase when it’s a verb.

We: Ah, like “Xerox”: Named after a company, but lowercased when it’s a verb.

Boss2: Yeah, like “Thermos.”

We: “Thermos” is a verb?

Boss2: No, but it’s been in usage for so long that it’s always spelled lowercase. It refers to a vacuum-sealed jug.

We: Ah. So how long will it take “Googled it” and “Photoshopped it” to become lowercase verbs?

Who doesn't enjoy verbing words? Especially when the verbed nouns are something you especially enjoy using, such as Google or Photoshop--one would think it's very high praise.

Which is why we were surprised to read that many companies are against verbualizing their products. Take, for example, this entry on's page on Xerox:

"...the company does not condone such uses of its trademark, and is particularly concerned about the ongoing use of Xerox as a verb as this places the trademark in danger of being declared a generic word by the courts. The company is engaged in an ongoing advertising and media campaign to convince the public that Xerox should not be used as a verb."

Google isn't happy with their name being verbed either:

"Search engine giant Google, known for its mantra "don't be evil", has fired off a series of legal letters to media organisations, warning them against using its name as a verb. "

"In June, Google won a place in the Oxford English Dictionary, while "to google", with a lower case "g", was included last month in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, America's leading reference book."
--The Independent

Adobe even has its own page on regarding the proper and improper uses of "photoshopped."

On the one hand, it must be nice to have such brand recognition; on the other, too much popularity can kill the brand?

Copyrights can have some pretty bizarre consequences. No one, save, maybe, an employee of Adobe Systems or some moron who believes it his civic duty, is going to stop using "photoshopped," so campaigning for everyone to do so seems pretty futile. What would everyone gain? If it were more convenient to say, "
The image was enhanced using Adobe® Photoshop® software" instead of, "The image was photoshopped," people would be saying the former. (And how would one say, "®"?) And certainly no one is going to do so purely out of goodwill--when has the mass ever felt charitable toward a powerful corporation?

Dually interesting is how some brands have tried to avoid genericide--one response is coining their own verbs to describe an action performed by/with the brand-named product. We're not sure how successful this method of advertising has been (what do you do if someone steals your verb?), but we do recall an example of it being the "Are you 'jellin''?" ads put out by that shoe (inner-sole?) company.

Like it or not, language is going to win this battle. No corporation has the resources to police the use of their brand names. For Heaven's sake, when was the last time (or ever time) someone was busted for recording a television show? And speaking is much easier than fiddling with the VCR.