Welcome to the website woven for wordaholics, logolepts, and verbivores. Carnivores eat meat; herbivores eat plants and vegetables; verbivores devour words. If you are heels over head (as well as head over heels) in love with words, tarry here a while to graze or, perhaps, feast on the English language. Ours is the only language in which you drive in a parkway and park in a driveway and your nose can run and your feet can smell.

Readers’ Questions

Dear Richard Lederer: In a recent U-T Business section, the word genericide — what an interesting word! — popped up in conjunction with the ongoing legal battle between Comic Con and an outfit in SLC using the same name. Before coming to San Diego, I lived a few miles from the Xerox Corporation headquarters in Webster, NY. Throughout their buildings were signs stating, “Xerox is not a verb!” Also in the Business section appeared a piece about Google’s possibly losing its trademark due to its wide usage or “verbalization.” –Herman Ackerman, Normal Heights

Genericide occurs when a product achieves such a wide popular appeal that its name becomes a lower-case word for all products of its type, not just a particular brand. You might think that manufacturers would be flattered when their creations achieve such universal fame. On the contrary, companies will spend bazillions of dollars in legal fees to protect their trademarks from falling into the clutches of competitors.

Product names that have become somewhat generic but that have survived legal onslaughts and are still registered include Baggies, Beer Nuts, Cuisinart, Fig Newtons, Jeep, Jell-O, Jockey Shorts, Kitty Litter, Kleenex, Levi’s, Life Savers, Mace, Magic Marker, Novocain, Ping-Pong, Polaroid, Popsicle, Post-It Notes, Q-Tips, Realtor, Rollerblade, Scotch Tape, Styrofoam, Technicolor and Vaseline. If you don’t believe that they are registered trademarks, have a look at their packages and you will see a symbol of their registered status, such as TM or R.

Do you talk or write about xeroxing a document no matter what machine you use to do the photocopying? Beware: anyone who lowercases Xerox runs the risk of hearing from the Xerox Corporation, which spends a ton of cash each year to persuade the public not to say or write xerox when they mean “photocopy.”

The Johnson & Johnson Company writes admonishing letters to anybody who prints expressions like “band-aid diplomacy” or “band-aid economics.” Although band-aid has come to stand for any medicinal plastic strip, it is a registered trademark and, by law, should be capitalized. And, if you describe any plastic flying disk as a frisbee, you could get whammed by the Wham-O Manufacturing Company of San Gabriel, California. The name Frisbee for plastic flying saucers remains a registered asset.

For decades the Coca-Cola Company has been playing legal hardball to protect its name. While the courts have allowed other purveyors of soft drinks to use the name Cola because it is descriptive of the product, the Supreme Court decided in 1930 that the combination Coca-Cola and the clipped form Coke are the exclusive property of the company.

It is paradoxical that the more successful a product, the more likely it is that its name will become an eponym and lose its privileged status as a result of lawsuits by competitors. The name Zipper, for example, was coined by the B.F. Goodrich Company in 1913 as the brand name for its slide fastener on overshoes. After numerous bouts in court, the company retained its rights to use the name on footwear, but to what avail? Zippers are everywhere, and zipper, now lowercased, belongs to us all.

Aspirin, too, was once a brand name, but in 1921 the Bayer Company was deprived of its exclusive rights to the name. In his classic opinion, Judge Learned Hand stated that aspirin had become descriptive of the product itself and that consumers did not call the tablet by its chemical name, acetyl salicylic acid.

As a result of other court judgments, the sole rights to thermos, escalator, cellophane, and yo-yo slipped away from the King Seely, Otis Elevator, E. I. Du Pont and F. Duncan companies respectively. The Miller Brewing Company has had to relinquish control of the word Lite on low-calorie beer, Parker Brothers its monopoly on the name Monopoly and the Nestle Company its exclusive use of the words Toll House.

The same fate has befallen other former brand names, such as cellophane, corn flakes, cube steak, dry ice, formica, heroin, kerosene, lanolin, linoleum, linotype, milk of magnesia, mimeograph, pogo stick, raisin bran, shredded wheat and trampoline. These words have made such a successful journey from uppercase brand name to lowercase noun that it is difficult to believe that they were ever “owned” by a particular outfit. As more and more brands become common descriptive terms, business will increasingly leave its trade-mark on our all-consuming English language.