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In America, the word "Formica" refers to the laminate wood surface of a certain era. (Correct me if I'm wrong on this, as I'm not an American.) This word has a certain retro feel to it. So it would not be used for today's laminated wood.

Is this word also used in Britain in the same way? If not, is there any equivalent word that gives the same connotation?

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Related to this question, I believe Formica surface is quite popular in America during the 60 and 70s. (Again correct me if I'm wrong.) Is it true in England?

Thank you

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    Just to clarify, "Formica" is a brand name for what is more generically called "laminate". (It was a resin-and-paper-based replacement for mica, or, more properly, mica-impregnated linoleum sheeting.) Like Band-Aid (or Elastoplast in some regions) for sticking plaster, the brand became the generic term for a class of products. It doesn't imply faux wood; geometric elements (scattered lines, circles and diamond patterns) and faux stone prints were far more common except for a short period (approximately coinciding with the terrible reign of avocado and harvest gold appliances). – bye Jun 7 '14 at 16:11
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Yes, Formica is commonly used in Britain, almost exactly as in the USA as you have described.

This link http://search.diy.com/search#w=formica&asug= (to one of the leading home improvement store chains in Britain) confirms that the term is still in use.

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  • It confirms that 'Formica' and/or 'formica' is still in use (it capitalises everything in site. Er, sight.) Whether or not the term has been genericised is discussed elsewhere (it hasn't, so the capital is a legal requirement). – Edwin Ashworth Jun 7 '14 at 16:37
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In America, the word "Formica" refers to the laminate wood surface of a certain era.

Not quite. It refers to a laminate material of a particular composition; cardboard or paper (once also fabrics) and melamine. It's more melamine than anything else, but often given a faux-wood finish. (Sometimes a faux-stone or plain finish is preferred).

Melamine is the plastic of "unbreakable plates", which while not quite unbreakable (I found out the hard way that my skull is in fact tougher than such a plate) are hard-wearing and heat-resistant (but do not microwave the stuff, I found that out the hard way too). It was once quite fashionable for dinnerware, but now mostly used for camping or children's dinnerware only, where the hard-to-break quality is particularly useful.

Formica® is a registered trademark of the Formica group, and comes from it being used in rôles where people were often using mica; hence it is used "for mica".

It's had a bit of the genericised trademark effect, in that people will use the word to refer to similar laminates too, as well as for Formica®.

(Correct me if I'm wrong on this, as I'm not an American.)

While originally developed in the US (the first customer was the US military), the Formica Group are based in New Zealand, and manufacture the material in the UK, Mexico, Canada, Thailand, Taiwan, and other countries.

It is used there, and more widely, and similar laminates are made more widely still.

This word has a certain retro feel to it.

The sort of coinage that gave us "for mica" → Formica® would not be as likely today, nor would it have been as likely much more than a century before then. The word is very much of its time.

So it would not be used for today's laminated wood.

While the word is a bit dated, the material is still in considerable use.

I last bought some Formica® counter tops for a kitchen in 2011. Better than any wood in terms of resistance to blades and heat, and granite or marble is outside of my budget (and in fact Formica® is less likely to chip than they are).

Is this word also used in Britain in the same way?

Yes, and Ireland, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

In most other languages that use the Latin script it is still formica or undergoes just a little change (in Spanish it is fórmica). In other scripts it tends to just be transliterated to فورمايكا, 福米卡 or other things that still sound close enough to the English word. In Finnish it can be either formica or the more general muovilaminaatti ("plastic laminate").

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  • 'It's had a bit of the genericised trademark effect, in that people will use the word to refer to similar laminates too, as well as for Formica®.' They may be inviting legal action. In spite of this article – Edwin Ashworth Jun 7 '14 at 16:39
  • @EdwinAshworth depends on the context. If it turns out I actually bought some consoweld in 2011, I'm probably not going to get sued. If it was but it had said formica in the product description, then the vendor might. – Jon Hanna Jun 7 '14 at 16:46
  • The Formica people won a court case specifically prohibiting the use of the name for other products. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 7 '14 at 16:53
  • @EdwinAshworth context still applies. They really aren't going to stop someone calling their table formica when it's actually consoweld. They certainly can stop someone selling said table from calling it that. – Jon Hanna Jun 7 '14 at 17:01
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    >>-- and comes from it being used in roles where people were often using mica; hence it is used "for mica".<< Huh. I thought it was just made of ants. – Jim Mack Jun 7 '14 at 18:25

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