Trademark status of "whizzinator"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Apr 24 18:57:00 UTC 2005

At 1:36 PM -0400 4/24/05, RonButters at AOL.COM wrote:
>I checked the website, and there is no claim there (that I can see) that the
>manufacturers of "the Original Whizzinator" have registered their trademark.
>Of course, the might be able to make a good case for claiming common-law
>trademark rights.
>In any case, it is certainly premature of Larry to judge that the product
>name has undergone "so-called" genericide (an informal term
>universally applied
>by the American legal profession to describe the legal genericization of a
>formerly viable trademark). One would need to analyze the 3,760
>Google hits, as
>well as search for the term in other contemporary contexts, to even BEGIN to
>make such a claim. One swallow does not necessarily make a spring (or a
>specimen-cupful, for that matter). Moreover, while the author of the
>passage that Larry
>examines (as oppposed to the players whom the author quotes) may not know
>that the term is a trademark, since he is not one of the actual consumers, his
>opinion really doesn't count legally. Bear in mind that, since the players
>merely uttered the word "Whizzinator," there is no way for the
>author to know that
>the term is or is not a trademark, since he has not seen the packaging, or the
>advertising, or perhaps even the product itself: "whizzinators, they called
>them" is no more valuable as evidence than "hummers, they called their
>vehicles" would have been under parallel circumstances.

Ah, I see I must have misunderstood the range of the term
"genericide" [I plead guilty to the editorial use of "so-called" as a
modifier of "genericide", but that's a different matter], which I
thought could be appropriately applied to any (and not necessarily
legal) generic spreading of a trademark term, whether we're talking
about pharmaceuticals, household products, or drug-test-evading
prosthetic penises.  If "genericide" can't be used this way, I as a
linguist/lexicographer (as opposed to a legal scholar) would still be
in the market for a term that *can* be used to describe *any* such
broadening of a trade-name to refer to the product, even if it's just
Michael Lewis (and those who edited his article, leaving in his
lower-case descriptive use of the term in "whizzinators, they called
them") who uses it that way.  In that sense, one swallow (best
avoided in this context) does make a lexical item, at least a nonce
one.  But I'll accept that it doesn't constitute true "genericide".


>  > From today's cover story in the NYT Magazine, "Absolutely, Power
>>  Corrupts" by Michael (_Moneyball_) Lewis, on the overemphasis on home
>>  run hitting in the minor leagues and the concomitant abuse of
>>  anabolic steroids, which in turn leads to new and better schemes for
>>  evading the "putatively rigorous drug testing" in the minors, we have
>>  this observation (p. 48):
>>  "In 2003, players were going off into a separate room to fill a cup
>>  with urine; that was a joke.  Last year, the testers followed the
>>  players into the bathroom; steroid users were said to fill false
>>  penises--whizzinators, they called them--with clean urine and stick
>  > the down their pants."

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