Saturday, May 11, 2002


At some time or the other, we have all Xeroxed documents without pausing to check whether the photocopier is a Xerox or not. Infant food is automatically called Cerelac. A pair of blue denim jeans has to be Levi's or Wrangler's. A pain balm is called Iodex, an antiseptic has to be Dettol and noodles are Maggi. We're all committing ‘genericide’, please pardon the word-coinage. All these are trademarks of brands that have become so popular that they end up being used generically for all similar products. Generic means relating to a group of things and comes from the Latin genus meaning stock or race. Brand names are often used without the user being aware of their being the trademarks of a specific product. Celluloid, kerosene, escalator, gramophone, aspirin and vim are all brand names used generically.

To ‘simonize’ means to polish to a high sheen, especially with wax. Simonize is a part of the vocabulary of carpenters and automobile service providers. The word comes from Simoniz, the trademark of a wax company. ‘Gunk’ is used today for any sticky or messy unpleasant substance. Gunk was originally the proprietary name of a detergent. At times, the word may have nothing to do with the sense in which it is used. It can, at times, be used to convey whatever the user wants it to. One such word is moxie. ‘Moxie’ stands for force of character, determination or nerve. Moxie was the brand name of a popular soft drink in the USA. Perhaps something in the advertising campaign caught the viewer's fancy and the name stayed on as a word long after the drink was gone! Maybe, one day, we might find Indians using the name of a contemporary soft drink to describe how 'macho' a man is!

Words in twos
April 27, 2002
April 13, 2002
March 16, 2002
And the romance goes on...
March 2, 2002
Less etymology, more romance
February 16, 2002
Random tales"
February 2, 2002
History and meaning
January 19, 2002
Psychiatry and Greek
January 5, 2002
Classic loans
December 22, 2001

Any grayish-black coating on new utensils, in order to pass off the utensil as 'non-stick,' is called Teflon. Teflon is the trademark used for a waxy, opaque material, polytetrafluoroethylene, used for coating cooking utensils and in industrial applications to prevent sticking. The imagination of the language user must be saluted here, for, a person who is impervious to blame or criticism is said to be 'Teflon coated'.


The phrase shree ganesh is today used before beginning any activity. It may be the start of a meal, the first step towards a destination or the first page of a book. This expression has travelled a long distance to reach so general a use. Sanskrit scholars would always begin writing a work with an invocation to God, usually the one their family worshipped. The first page of the work carried this invocation. "Shree ganeshaya namah" was one such invocation as was "bhagwate vasudeva namah". Whereas earlier only the beginning of a work carried this phrase, by and by it came to be used before starting any activity. The expression was gradually shortened and soon shree ganesh alone sufficed as a prayer for an auspicious beginning. So much so that the start of an activity is often referred to as "shree ganesh karna". Where would language be without the idiosyncrasies of its users, one is forced to wonder!