genericide (1972)

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Thu Apr 2 04:30:37 UTC 2009

My latest Word Routes column is about a word that has come up on ADS-L
from time to time, "genericide":

As I describe in the column, the term's coiner, or at least its early
popularizer, was Dorothy Fey, who served as executive director of the
United States Trademark Association. The earliest I've found for it is
in a 1972 issue of Business Week on Google Book Search, with no
preview. HathiTrust confirms that the word appears in the Nov.-Dec.
volume for that year. Here's the excerpt I cobbled together:

1972 _Business Week_ [unknown issue between Nov-Dec, 2253-2260]  66
Most trademark litigation is an attempt to keep competitors from
whittling away at a market protected by a successful brand. But the
biggest single worry of trademark owners is losing a trademark
entirely and having the court declare that the name has become generic
and thus no longer anyone's exclusive property. The legal precedent
that haunts them is a 1936 decision against Du Pont, in which its
"Cellophane" trademark was ruled to have become generic, because Du
Pont did not try hard enough -- or successfully enough -- to protect
the name. Dorothy Fey calls such a loss "genericide."

Additional cites from the '70s:

1974 Israel Shenker _Words and their Masters_ [unknown page # in Ch.
64, "Trademarks," 345ff.] Dorothy Fey, executive director of the
United States Trademark Association, calls this dread process
1976 _Trade Names Dictionary_ [unknown page #] Proper usage of a
trademark is the strongest weapon against genericide.
1977 _American Heritage Magazine_ Oct. [e-text] When the owner of a
trademark lets down the guard to that extent, Dorothy Fey, executive
director of the United States Trademark Association, calls the result

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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