You Don’t Say – Vol 18 – by Ray Hudson

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Ray Hudson
Ray Hudson
Ray Hudson

Commercially Speaking

Are you still getting SPAM on your computer, are you buying it in the grocery store, or getting it from reruns of Monty Python’s Flying Circus?

SPAM, the name comes from spiced ham produced, to this day, by Hormel Foods. This canned meat product was created in 1937 and became spectacularly popular all over the world, having sold 7 billion cans and counting.

Over the years, the SPAM® Family of Products has made itself known around the world, winning over the hearts of soldiers, world leaders, chefs, kids and parents alike. In fact, Gracie Allen, Dwight Eisenhower, Margaret Thatcher and Monty Python all have sung praises of the SPAM® Brand. From the SPAM Website

Wikipedia describes SPAM as being “most notable was a Monty Python sketch portraying Spam as both ubiquitous and inescapable, characteristics which lent to its name being borrowed for unsolicited electronic messages, especially spam email

Generically, Spam became the word commonly used to describe any canned meat product, regardless of brand – not that it’s done SPAM any harm.

But it’s not the only commercial product name to be adopted as a generic word for all such products. How many times have you asked for an Aspirin, not specifically meaning the product from Bayer, or used an escalator, eaten granola, shredded wheat, or done up your zipper? Most of us are unaware that these are commercial product names. In my research I found that the ones in the preceding paragraph are now defunct trademarks, except for Aspirin, except in the US.   Aspirin, although declared generic in the US still is a trademark name for acetylsalicylic acid (no wonder we call it ASA) is still a trademark for Bayer in Canada and about 80 other countries

Here are just a few of the common name/words and their origins:

– Laundromat was a Westinghouse trademark from 1940 for an automatic washing machine and in 1950 for a coin laundry.
– Zipper was originally a trademark of BF Goodrich for use in rubber boots
– Escalator was originally a trademark of Otis Elevator Company
– Videotape was originally owned by Ampex Corporation
– Band-Aids became so popular the name has stuck for just about any adhesive bandage, yet the brand is alive and well.
– Bet you didn’t know Dumpster was the commercial name for a front-end loader trash bin. It showed up in 1951 as the Dempster Dumpster, combining the name dump and Dempster of the Dempster Brothers Inc.
– Fiberglass is another trade name for the generic ‘glass wool’ belonging to Owens Corning
– Ping Pong, is the trademark name for table tennis. It was registered by Jaques and Son then passed to the game company, Parker Bros. We all call it Ping Pong, but officially, because of trademark protection the official sport bodies have to call it table tennis.

One of the most surprising to me was to discover that Heroin was trademarked by the Friedrich Bayer & Co in 1898. It was originally marketed as a non-addictive cough medicine. Hmmm, feel a cough coming on?

There are so many product names, which have come into common use as generic and descriptive words for products, and I have barely scraped the surface of that iceberg. I hope that today’s column has given you an inkling of the fun you can have discovering where these names came from. It’s terrific at parties! Amaze your friends! Confirm their worst fears about you! And all you need do to find out more is to google it!

See ya next week!