Geek Trivia: Tools of the trade(mark)

What popular linguistic authority -- which presides over the evolution of the English language and is occasionally cited in legal discussions regarding genericized trademarks -- has itself been a victim of genericide?

What popular linguistic authority -- which presides over the evolution of the English language and is occasionally cited in legal discussions regarding genericized trademarks -- has itself been a victim of genericide?

Webster's dictionary is, despite the proper name and its use as an adjective, a victim of American genericide.

While in some measure, all modern dictionaries are derived from the works of lexicographer Noah Webster, only the Merriam-Webster line of dictionaries is actually published by a company with direct roots to Noah himself. That said, there are a wide variety of Webster's dictionaries available that aren't published by Merriam-Webster, some from the likes of publishing giants such as Random House or John Wiley & Sons. These tomes are all legally published and distributed dictionaries of the American English language, as recognized under U.S. law. Webster's has become so synonymous with the word dictionary in the United States that any American dictionary can legally be called Webster's.

This is why Google puts up such a fuss about its name being used as a verb. This usage has not, in and of itself, led to any trademark dilution as of yet, but if you were to consult the Merriam-Webster Online dictionary for the definition of google, you would see the following results: "To use the Google search engine to obtain information about (as a person) on the World Wide Web." Or, you know, just google the phrase google as verb.

If you think Google is overreacting with its defensiveness, take a gander at another tech company whose premier product has also been verbed. Xerox continues to vigorously defend its trademark, despite the fact that xerox is now a recognized synonym for photocopying. The company that whiffed on the Alto computer has run massive ad campaigns declaring "you cannot 'xerox' a document, but you can copy it on a Xerox Brand copying machine." The former king of copiers doesn't want its tech to meet the same fate as the once-capitalized forms of escalator, dry ice, trampoline, cellophane, and zipper, all of which were once distinct brands but are now mere thesaurus entries.

Sony, Google, and Xerox's efforts may be mere whistling past the trademark graveyard, but they make for a genericidally genuine jolt of litigious Geek Trivia.

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