Some people use a term for a popular special case in place of a generic term. (Often this popular special case is a particular product in that category.) I think that this is a common phenomenon. Is there any word/phrase for it?

For example, “Coke” officially refers to a Coca-Cola (I think), but some people seem to call any carbonated soft drinks “Coke.” In Japanese, famikon is the Japanese name for Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), a video game console which was extremely popular in 1980s and early 1990s, but some Japanese people call any video game console famikon even if it is not really a famikon. (As an aside, calling a video game console famikon when it is not really a famikon is even a stereotype of a “mother unfamiliar with technology” in Japan.) I am looking for a term which refers to this kind of usage of words.

  • Isn't famikon an abbreviation of famirikonsoru (Family Console) or something like that? Because if it is the case, then that would still be an accurate description of any console. – Eldroß Dec 22 '10 at 8:02
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    @Eldros: No. As I wrote, famikon was the Japanese name for NES. More accurately, the Japanese name for NES was famirī konpyūta (family computer) and it was almost always abbreviated as famikon in speech and even written text. – Tsuyoshi Ito Dec 22 '10 at 9:30

12 Answers 12


I believe the correct term is proprietary eponym or genericized trademark depending on whether the company retains the trademark or not, respectively.

  • These two terms seem to refer to what I was looking for, but they are more of terminology in law than the word usage. I am not interested in whether the company retains the exclusive right to use the trademark or not (which is an important distinction in law). Is there a generic term referring to both cases? – Tsuyoshi Ito Dec 21 '10 at 21:44
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    Don't interpret too much into it, @Tsuyoshi Ito. The whole point is precisely that that distinction only makes sense to lawyers. To any "normal" person, the two terms are completely interchangeable, for all intents and purposes. See Wikipedia, which simply states "A genericized trademark (also known as a generic trademark, proprietary eponym) is a trademark or brand name that has become the colloquial or generic description for or synonymous with a general class of product or service". If you are not a lawyer, pick whichever you like. – RegDwigнt Dec 21 '10 at 23:37
  • @TsuyoshiIto: If you have to pick one, use "genericized trademark", which is more widely known. – Mechanical snail May 30 '12 at 10:11

I agree with proprietary eponym and genericized trademark and have given +1 to the other answers. These both fall under the more general term synecdoche.

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    I would argue that synecdoche is largely used in literary contexts. – Jimi Oke Dec 22 '10 at 4:21
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    @Jimi Oke: I agree. Some literary words like "metaphor" are well known, and others like "synecdoche" are less known. The words can be used outside literary contexts; the only problem is that few people will know what "synecdoche" means. – Mitch Schwartz Dec 22 '10 at 4:40
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    I've sometimes referred to these names as companyms, but, admittedly, that's just a homemade sniglet. I still prefer companym to genericized trademark, but it's nice to finally learn the proper term for names like Q-Tip, Band-Aid, and Jell-O. – J.R. Mar 9 '12 at 11:39

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding, but I believe they're called genericized trademarks.

It basically means people are using trademarked names as a descriptor for products that are similar to the original branded product. A very prominent example of this is Google/Googling. Other examples include Kleenex, Aspirin and Sharpie.

I'm not entirely sure if the "coke" example exactly fits in since the generic term is different from the brand. The Japanese game consoles are a good example of genericized trademarks though.

Further reading

  • (1) Thanks for the explanation. I should have come up with better examples. (I was not sure if “Coke” was a good example or not, and that was exactly the reason I included a Japanese example in the question.) (2) The term “genericized trademarks” refers to trademarks in certain legal status, but I am more interested in word usage than legal status of trademarks. Therefore, while it may refer to the same thing as what I was talking about, it may not be the right term. (Maybe there is no term for what I am looking for.) – Tsuyoshi Ito Dec 21 '10 at 21:48
  • Not sure that Google is a good example (yet); if I used, say, Bing to search for something on the Web I wouldn't consider it correct to say I'd Googled it (not that I'd say I'd Binged/​Bang/​Bung it, either!), whereas by contrast I wouldn't hesitate to claim (in the UK) that I'd hoovered a carpet regardless of the brand of vacuum cleaner I'd used. – Brian Nixon Dec 21 '10 at 23:28
  • @Brian Nixon: But when people say, "Google it!", they aren't necessarily asking you to use Google. In fact, people search with Yahoo, Bing, etc, and will still say, "We googled it and found..." For instance, Bing is the default search engine on my school's (in the US) computers, yet we use google as a verb everyday. I daresay google has nearly become a synonym for search online, if it hasn't already. – Jimi Oke Dec 22 '10 at 4:17
  • I certainly wouldn't bet my life on which particular search engine someone had used, if they said they'd googled something. Plus I think it's increasingly common not to capitalise the word when used as a verb, which I doubt is all down to laziness. When I see a capitalised Hoover used as a verb it looks positively quaint to me. – FumbleFingers Apr 12 '11 at 17:07

It is called a genericized trademark or proprietary eponym.


I think you're probably looking for the phrase genericized trademark, which refers to a trademark which has come into general use for the related generic product.


I found another term:

Trademark Erosion

situation that occurs when a trademarked name becomes a generic name through constant use.


The term you need is generification. Here's a wikipedia article containing more examples.


I guess it's Metonymy. A figure of speech...

Metonymy is a figure of speech in which a thing or concept is called not by its own name but rather by the name of something associated in meaning with that thing or concept.

For instance, "Hollywood" is used as a metonym for the U.S. film industry because of the fame and cultural identity of Hollywood, a district of the city of Los Angeles, California, as the historical center of film studios and film stars.


The neolgism Generonym would be the word I would use


This looks like the verbal equivalent to what Lakoff calls prototype effect. For example, when people are asked to think of a bird we often visualise a sparrow or a pigeon but rarely a penguin; the sparrow (or pigeon) is the "popular special case", or prototype, for the given generic category (bird).

Not sure if "prototype" would be a useful term with regard to the OP, though.

More info and pointers, here.


It depends on what typology you're looking at, but it's a form of semantic widening. The terms previously mentioned are both correct, but it's also just referred to as genericization, or a generonym.

*reference: Master's studies in Linguistics


Isn't this stylistic device called "Pars pro toto"?

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    that's part taken for whole, not type taken for whole. I guess xerox is a type/vendor for photocopying rather than a part of photocopying.... – Vineet Menon Apr 11 '12 at 9:03
  • That special Xerox computer is a special instance of a generic computer to me. That makes Xerox computers a subset of generic computers. – Raku Apr 11 '12 at 9:05
  • If Xerox were part of a photocopier, then calling a photocopier “Xerox” would be a pars pro toto. But it is not. Xerox photocopiers is a special case of photocopiers, but the term pars pro toto does not refer to this relation. – Tsuyoshi Ito Apr 21 '12 at 12:42
  • Proof by contradiciton: If Xerox copiers weren't a subset of the copiers set, Xerox copiers would not be copiers. QED – Raku Apr 23 '12 at 7:24
  • You have to understand the difference between “A Xerox copier is a special case of a copier” (true) and “A Xerox copier is part of a copier” (false). Pars pro toto means the latter relation. Examples of parts of a copier are a feeder, a scanner, a printer, a toner, and so on. – Tsuyoshi Ito Aug 7 '12 at 18:00

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