Grammar Moses: Would you xerox this column?

Updated 5/11/2019 4:53 PM

Have you ever thrown a frisbee to a seeing-eye dog or tried to xerox with a kleenex when you ran short of copy paper?

If so, I worry about both your social and office skills.


I also worry about your lack of awareness of brand names and the possible loss of a shift key on your computer keyboard.

I imagine most of you know Xerox is a big corporation. You probably have some Xerox in your stock portfolio.

But "Frisbee" is a registered trademark of the Wham-O company. The good folks at Wham-O love to remind us of this when journalists fail to capitalize it or refer generically to flying disc toys as "Frisbees."

Wham-O must be doing something right, because Hula Hoop, Slip 'N Slide and Superball are all instantly recognizable products whose names are probably used generically, too, when people are playing with knockoffs.

These are the toys of my youth. Yes, Dad splurged on the real thing, and I doubt I'm alone in having thought some of them were generic terms.

For those of you with seasonal allergies or an inability to control your emotions during Hallmark movies, you might reach for a Kleenex.

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Or a Puffs or a Scottie.

"Kleenex" is a product of Kimberly-Clark and is the brand leader. I've been using it for nearly all of its 95 years of existence, or so my usage would suggest.

As for Seeing Eye dogs, the term was trademarked only 20 years ago, so I can be forgiven my early transgressions.

The Seeing Eye Inc. is a Morristown, New Jersey, guide dog school. At 90, it's the oldest in the U.S., and one of the largest.

One word I left out of my lede was "dumpster."

"Dumpster" was trademarked by Dempster Brothers Inc. in 1963. Yes, it was a portmanteau of "Dempster" and "dump", but the Associated Press Stylebook editors dropped the capital in 2016 after the trademark expired.

The same can be said for "cellophane," "aspirin," "dry ice" and "escalator."

So the message here is to be mindful of capitalizing trademarked names, avoid the use of trademarked names in a generic way and keep an up-to-date AP Stylebook.


Mother's Day

Just a reminder: It's Mother's Day. Not Mothers Day or Mothers' Day, but plain old singular possessive Mother's Day.

Why? Because when the rule was created it was generally thought that one could have only one mother.

We grapple with whether to assign a gender-neutral pronoun for members of the LGBTQ community who aren't comfortable with "he" or "she," but I'm not a fan of appropriating "they" for that purpose because it suggests more than one person.

I'm waiting for the day the AP Stylebook boldly changes its entries to "Mothers' Day" and "Fathers' Day" to reflect the idea that some of us might honor more than one mom or dad on their special day.

• Jim Baumann is vice president/managing editor of the Daily Herald. Write him at Put Grammar Moses in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at

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