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41 Brand Names People Use as Generic Terms

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Corbis

Many items we use every day, like zippers and escalators, were once brand names. Even heroin, which no one should use any day, was a brand name. These names are or were trademarked, but are now often used to describe any brand in a product category.

1. Jet Ski

You might think you’re riding around on a Jet Ski, but if it’s not made by Kawasaki Heavy Industries, it’s just a personal watercraft.

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2. Bubble Wrap

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Bubble Wrap is probably the greatest contribution made to our society by Sealed Air Corporation, which they rightly trademarked.

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3. Onesies

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The term Onesies, referring to infant bodysuits, is owned by Gerber Childrenswear. According to their website, the trademark is aggressively enforced. (Twosies and Funzies also belong to Gerber.)

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4. Jacuzzi

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Jacuzzi is not only a brand of hot tubs and bathtubs; they also make mattresses and toilets.

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5. Crock-Pot

Crock-Pot.com

The Crock-Pot, a brand name for the slow cooker, was originally developed as a beanery appliance.

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6. Fluffernutter

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Fluffernutter is a registered trademark of the makers of Marshmallow Fluff, Durkee-Mower, Inc.

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7. Seeing Eye Dog

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Technically it's only a Seeing Eye Dog if it's trained by Seeing Eye of Morristown New Jersey. Otherwise it's a guide dog. (We're as guilty of this as anyone.)

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8. Breathalyzer

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Breathalyzer is owned by the Indiana University Foundation. In 1931 Indiana University professor Rolla N. Harger created the contraption—originally called the Drunk-O-Meter—as a device to test the sobriety of drivers. Suspected tipplers breathed into a special balloon, and Harger's device got a reading on how much they'd had to drink. By 1936 Harger had patented his creation, and he eventually signed the invention over to Indiana University.

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9. Zamboni

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The Zamboni is an ice resurfacer named after its inventor, Frank Zamboni.

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10. Chapstick 

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Chapstick is a brand name of lip balm produced by Pfizer. In the event that you find yourself enjoying this product too much, websites dedicated to helping Chapstick addicts are available.

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11. Kleenex

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The perfect time to remind a friend or family member that Kleenex is a brand name for a tissue is right when they are desperately begging you to hand them one.

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12. Ping-Pong 

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Ping Pong was trademarked in 1901 as a brand of table tennis products named for the sound the ball makes when it hits the table.

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13. Popsicle 

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Popsicle is a registered trademark of Unilever. Like many great things in life, the Popsicle was invented by accident. As the story goes, one winter night in 1905, 11-year-old Frank Epperson left a mixture of soda and water with a stick in it on his porch. Almost 20 years later, Frank began selling his creation at a lemonade stand and the treat has been popular ever since.

Today, Unilever recommends that you call generic frozen pops on a stick “pops,” “ice pops” or “freezer pops.” Although, depending on where you’re from, offering someone a “pop” could get very confusing.

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14. Q-Tips

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When Q-tips were originally released, they were called Baby Gays. The name was changed to Q-tips—the “Q” standing for quality—in 1926. Although they have changed hands several times since then, Unilever owns the brand today.

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15. Rollerblades

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Two hockey player brothers designed Rollerblade inline skates from a pair of old roller skates in 1979. They were the only brand of inline skates until the mid-eighties, when several other companies emerged.

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16. Scotch Tape

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According to legend, Scotch tape earned its name when a frustrated customer told a 3M scientist to “take it back to your Scotch bosses and tell them to put more adhesive on it.” Today, Scotch "Magic Tape" is only manufactured in one place in the world: Hutchinson, Minn.

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17. Sharpie

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The permanent marker was invented in 1956, but the Sharpie wasn’t introduced until 1964. Today, the products are almost synonymous with one another.

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18. Realtor

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Realtor was a trademark designed specifically to separate its users from most other real estate agents. To use the word Realtor, you need to follow a strict code of ethics and be a member of the National Association of Realtors.

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19. Tupperware

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Tupperware is a brand that got its name from its creator, Earle Silas Tupper.

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20. Velcro

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George de Mastreal invented Velcro when he discovered that burrs stuck to matted dog fur. Today, it is the world’s most prominent brand of hook and loop fasteners.

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21. Weed Eater

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Weed Eater is owned by Husqvarna Outdoor Products.

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22. Wite-Out

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Don’t ask BIC what’s in their line of correction fluid. The exact ingredients of Wite-out are confidential.

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23. Band-Aids

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Johnson & Johnson manufactured gauze and adhesive tape separately until Earle Dickson had the idea to combine them to create Band-Aids for his accident-prone wife.

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24. TASER 

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Taser is a trademark of TASER International, and shouldn’t technically be used as a verb. To be fair, “Don’t hit me with that electroshock weapon, bro!” is probably hard to shout under duress. Bonus fact: TASER is an acronym. It stands for "Thomas A. Swift's Electric Rifle."

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25. X-acto Knife

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X-acto began in 1917 as a medical company that created syringes. Eventually, they began creating surgical scalpels that evolved into hobby knives. X-acto is a brand and a division of Elmer’s.

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26. Dumpster

Thinkstock

Dumpster is a brand name, which is true, although the word has become largely genericized and the trademark is not widely enforced. The APA has even dropped the recommendation to capitalize the word. The Dumpster got its name from the Dempster Brothers Inc., who combined their name with the word “dump” to create the Dempster Dumpster.

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27. Novocain

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Novacain is actually the brand name of Procaine Hydrochloride owned by Hospira Inc.

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28. Xerox

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Xerox has been trying to stop people from calling photocopying "xeroxing" for years. "Use Xerox only as an adjective to identify our products and services," said a 2010 print ad, "not a verb, 'to Xerox,' or a noun, 'Xeroxes.' Something to keep in mind that will help us keep it together."

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29. Post-Its

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Everyone knows Post-its, a trademark of 3M, were not the invention of Romy and Michele. A very different duo is responsible—Dr. Spencer Silver invented the adhesive in 1968 and scientist Art Fry thought up a practical use for it in 1974. A few years later, Post-its were available for sale (first under the name Press ‘N Peel).

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30. Ouija Board

Wikimedia Commons

The Ouija Board was first introduced by Elijah Bond in 1890 as a practical way to communicate with spirits, making dealing with a pesky ghost much more convenient. Today, it is trademark of Hasbro Inc.

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31. Plexiglas

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Plexiglas, which got its start in World War II aircraft canopies, has since become the better-known name for acrylic glass or polymethyl methacrylate.

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32. Styrofoam

Wikimedia Commons

No matter how many picnics you’ve been to or how much time you spend at the water cooler, you’ve never had a drink out of a true Styrofoam cup. Expanded polystyrene is the generic name for the material that we typically think of as Styrofoam. The brand is a trademark of the Dow Chemical Company that is made in sheaths for construction projects and is never made in the shape of a plate, cup or cooler.

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33. Formica 

Thinkstock

If not made by the Diller Corporation, you should call it a decorative laminate. Catchy.

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34, 35 & 36. Frisbee, Hula Hoop & Slip'n Slide

Wikimedia Commons

Frisbee is currently owned by WHAM-O. In 2010, Manley Toys Ltd. challenged WHAM-O, arguing that the terms Frisbee, Hula Hoop and Slip’n Slide have already become generic in the public lexicon, but it didn't really go anywhere.

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37. Windbreaker 

Wikimedia Commons

Windbreaker is a trademarked word for jackets made by Celebration Trading Inc., though this is currently in court.

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38. Stetson

Wikimedia Commons

Stetsons are hats made by the John B. Stetson Company. They are not a generic term for cowboy hats. And if you use it that way, Stetson will send you a very terse letter, as the Washington Post found out.

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39. PowerPoint

Thinkstock

On their website, Microsoft suggests that unless you are using their software, your PowerPoint is a “presentation and graphics program.”

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40. GED

The GED is certainly the most famous of the high school equivalency diplomas, but this one is trademarked by the American Council on Education.

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41. Google

Getty Images

Bing it.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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