Is it Crayolas or Crayola crayons? Kleenex or Kleenex tissues? Dumpster or dumpster?
I was fresh out of journalism school when I received an early lesson on the importance of properly using brand names. I had written a newspaper article that mentioned children coloring with their “crayolas.” Soon I received a letter from the good people of the Crayola company, who wanted me to be aware that “Crayola” should be used as an adjective describing the word “crayon” and not as a replacement for the word “crayon.”
Did the Crayola people have nothing better to do with their time than harass a poor 22-year-old embarking on her journalism career? Sure they did. But they were simply trying to be sure that their trademarked brand name remained a trademarked brand name. By sending a letter pointing out the error I’d made, they also had proof of the steps they had taken to protect this brand name. (And for the record, I remain a fan of Crayola products, although now I’ve advanced to the colored-pencil stage of my coloring life.)
But what about those pretty boxes of tissue we all have sitting on our desks? Can we call those “kleenex”? We can if we want to be wrong. Here’s a quote straight from Kleenex.com: “The Kleenex® trademark identifies Kleenex® as a brand name which may only be used to designate products manufactured by Kimberly-Clark.” So no, no plain old Kleenex, please. You can use a tissue. You can even use a Kleenex tissue, which will make the Kimberly-Clark people very happy. But don’t use “a kleenex.” (And you know that little registered symbol, the “R” with a circle around it? The Chicago Manual of Style says “there is no legal requirement to use these symbols, and they should be omitted wherever possible.” On the rare occasion I see such a symbol in a book, I know the author is an amateur. So don’t do that!)
Finally, a word about dumpsters. Yes, lowercase-d dumpsters. If you look in the Merriam-Webster dictionary right now, it will tell you that Dumpster with a D was “originally in the trademarked name Dempster Dumpster, applied to mechanically loaded refuse containers produced by the Dempster Brothers Company of Knoxville, Tennessee). What the dictionary doesn’t tell you is that this trademark has expired, and the Associated Press in 2014 declared that it’s okay to use “dumpster” instead of “mechanically loaded refuse container” since the word “dumpster” has lost its legal protection. I, for one, am glad. Imagine watching the evening news and hearing the anchor announce, “Police say the body was found in a mechanically loaded refuse container at the corner of …” Doesn’t quite work, does it?
So “dumpster” is okay. The trademark has lapsed. Clearly, the Crayola crayon people have better trademark lawyers than the dumpster people.
And that’s all I have to say about that. Ba-dump-dump…ster!