What word (or how do you phrase things) do you use when the ostensible word for the class is the same as the word for a subset of the class?

For example, in the United States, there are many brands of sugared, carbonated soft drink that one can buy: Coca-Cola (or Coke), Pepsi, RC Cola, Sprite, 7-Up, A&W or Mug Root Beer, etc). The first two are kinds of 'coke' or 'cola' (but no one says 'cola').

But in some parts of the US (namely the south), one asks for any type of such drink as 'coke'. How does one then ask for the particular kind of 'coke' that is 'Coke' (pronounced the same)? Does one reduplicate and say a 'Coke coke', does one repeat with emphasis (or without), does one use a different word like 'coca-cola' (co-cola), or what?

The (perceived) difficulty (surely those in the South are able to get the drink they want somehow) isn't limited to there. Where the drink is called 'soda', if you ask for a 'coke', you'll still sometimes have the choice among Coca-Cola, Pepsi, etc. "Can I have a Coke?" the response might be "Is Pepsi OK?". "Sure, Pepsi, Coke, whatever." You don't use 'cola', you just ask for the particular kind and hope the listener will help differentiate.

  • Given these multiple strategies for disambiguating, what do you do say to get a 'Coke' in the southern US?
  • are there any other examples of a hypernym being the same as the hyponym, and so creating a disambiguation problem?
  • When I was a child in Alabama you asked for a Coke and got it. Today in Alabama you ask for a Coke and hope the house isn't tied to Pepsi. Same thing in Missouri (which, No, is not a Southern state). If they've got Coke, you'll get it; there's no ambiguity problem, just a marketing problem. Commented Nov 17, 2012 at 15:53
  • @StoneyB: Sure, but how do you ask for a Coca-Cola in the South? You can't (presumably) ask for a 'coke' (what I would do normally) because you haven't narrowed it down there. If someone brought you a 7-up when you ask for a coke, how do you then specify (in the South) that you wanted the darker drink?
    – Mitch
    Commented Nov 17, 2012 at 18:17
  • "Coke" does not mean "soda" in the South. It means "Coke". If Coke isn't available the server will usually ask you if X will do, and X will be a dark soda; occasionally the server won't ask and will bring you the tied-brand equivalent (Pepsi, RC, whatever); but you won't get a white soda unless you ask for it. Commented Nov 17, 2012 at 18:25
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    Four close-votes with nary a reason :( Commented Nov 18, 2012 at 11:05
  • 'Hoover' has been genericised and verbed. You hoover the carpet no matter who built your vacuum cleaner. Commented Oct 31, 2023 at 12:27

6 Answers 6


According to "The Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics", these are autohyponyms. The example they use says:

...for example, a cow contrasts with a horse at one level, but at a lower level it contrasts with bull (in effect, 'a cow is a kind of cow').

Similarly, the term peacock is often used to refer to the entire family of birds, rather than calling them peafowl (and hence peahen and peachick).

I myself like a cup of coffee. No, not a mocha or a latte, just a plain coffee please.

In "Pride and Prejudice", Jane Bennet is often referred to as Miss Bennet, being the eldest of the girls. She is of course one of the Miss Bennets, but when this is used in the singular, it refers to her specifically rather than to any of her sisters.

There is a brand of fashion store called Somewhere, with many outlets which are somewhere.

While Levi's are best known for their Levi's, they also sell t-shirts and jackets in addition to their jeans.

As a final example, I offer you the word word, which is also an autonym. All autonyms are subsets of one in the set which they describe.


A famous example of hypernymy intersecting with polysemy involves the word animal. If one accepts dictionary definitions as being authoritative rather than insisting on a purely scientific register, using the first two definitions (in reverse order) given in 'Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged 2003', we can restate a mammal is a type of animal as an animal is a type of animal. Of course, such crazy mixing of registers is inadvisable though not strictly wrong. We avoid such absurdities as:

Fifty years ago, gas was a mixture of gases.

Salt is one example of a salt, and sugar is one example of a sugar.

Cast iron is mainly iron.


Are there any other examples of a hypernym being the same as the hyponym, creating a disambiguation problem?

The word man is a good example, where man can refer to either the entire human population, or else to roughly half of it, sometimes leading to charges of language insensitivity, when the original language may not have been intended to infer exclusion.

"Man shall not live by bread alone" doesn't exclude women, obviously. But that's not always so easy to determine when the plural is used; for example: "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country."


To answer your second question, I think many brand names suffer from this problem especially when commoditization occurs. For example, "No that's a tissue paper; I would like a Kleenex specifically." Is not something you're going to hear a lot, but it's still possible.

Other examples include: Asprin, Jello, Band-Aid...

Example that is not a brand name: china (could mean tableware or tableware made in china specifically). I'm using the dictionary here; I've never personally used the second definition.

Related question with cool map

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    In the UK I think it would be perfectly possible to hear "Jimmy! Get the hoover out and clean your room!". [Jimmy goes and gets the Dyson vacuum cleaner.] "Not that one! The Hoover hoover!" Commented Nov 17, 2012 at 16:23
  • Yes, for those brands, they've become the generic. But I agree or your examples that someone is not really going to care if you get the particular brand or not.
    – Mitch
    Commented Nov 17, 2012 at 18:19
  • I'm not sure that those brands would consider their genericized trademarks a "problem" that they "suffer from" – such "companyms" sound more like a marketer's dream. If I manufactured and sold Q-tips, for example, I'd love the fact that no one called them cotton swabs, but everyone called them Q-tips instead.
    – J.R.
    Commented Nov 18, 2012 at 6:40
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    Oh, but they do. They consider the genericisation of a trademark to be a real problem - other brands can sell similar commodities using the same names without necessarily having the same quality controls in place, cashing in on the good reputation of the original and possibly devaluing the name. Commented Nov 18, 2012 at 14:14
  • @J.R. I suspect part of the problem (as they perceive it) is that "Hoover" used to mean a vacuum cleaner made by Hoover Limited. If it becomes a generic term, and people use "hoover" to refer to any brand's vacuum cleaner, then when Hoover use it (in their ads), it doesn't necessarily make consumers think of buying a Hoover (they may think "that reminds me, it's time to upgrade the Dyson").
    – TripeHound
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 15:32

PC is another example: "personal computer" includes Macintosh computers (Macs) and IBM-compatible computers (PCs).


There are instances of nouns being modified, and through the modification no longer properly belonging to the original class.

For example, dwarf planets are not strictly planets; turkey bacon is not strictly bacon; and herbal tea is not strictly tea.

(This phenomenon, though similar, is not quite the same; does it deserve its own word?)

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