Archive for the 'Linguistics' Category

Protecting trademarks from language change

Saturday, February 28th, 2004

Proper use of the Photoshop trademark (via Alex Utter)

INCORRECT: The image was photoshopped.
CORRECT: The image was enhanced using Adobe® Photoshop® software.

INCORRECT: A photoshopper sees his hobby as an art form.
CORRECT: Those who use Adobe® Photoshop® software to manipulate images as a hobby see their work as an art form.

There seems to be a continuum of how much meaning a trademark has lost in colloquial speech:

  1. Used only as an adjective or noun to refer to the correct product.
    • "You should eat something healthier than Goldfish crackers and Oreos."
  2. Used in a non-traditional manner, but only when referring to the correct product.
  3. Used when it a competitor's product might be used instead.
  4. Used even when you know a competitor's product will be used.
    • "Can you go downstairs and xerox this for me?"
  5. Used in the same sentence as a competitor's trademark.
  6. Used as a noun modified by a competitor's trademark. (At this point, you're screwed.)

Trademarks incorrectly used as verbs and trademarks incorrectly used as generic nouns can both lose their meaning over time. US trademark law is less friendly to trademarks that get used as verbs, but I don't know whether trademarks used as verbs naturally lose their meaning faster.

If Adobe isn't worried about its Photoshop trademark becoming more and more generic, it should continue doing the legal minimum to discourage its use as a verb, and the world will continue to make fun of Adobe. (After all, every "That image must have been photoshopped!" is free advertising.) But if Abode is worried about its trademark losing its meaning, it should start by rewriting its trademark-use guidelines to have better motivation and less awkward suggestions. For example:

The use of "photoshop" as a verb worries us because history has shown that verbed trademarks often lose their meaning over time. For example, "to xerox" was once fun shorthand for "to photocopy using a Xerox photocopier", but it has taken on a life of its own as a colloquial verb meaning simply "to photocopy", costing Xerox Corporation $... to protect its trademark and putting the company at risk of losing trademark protection.

When writing articles, always use a generic verb, such as "enhanced", "manipulated", "edited", or "altered", adding "using Adobe Photoshop" if appropriate. In informal speech, use the verb "to photoshop" only to mean "to alter using Adobe Photoshop", and consider saying "altered" or "shopped" rather than "photoshopped" when a competing product might have been used.

Our trademark lawyers think you should say "Adobe Photoshop software" rather than "Adobe Photoshop", but in the real world, most trademarks are nouns in addition to adjectives, so don't listen to them. But most trademarks are not used as verbs, and trademarks that are used as verbs are at high risk for losing their meaning.

(Disclaimer: I am neither an IP lawyer nor a linguist, so I don't know what I'm talking about.)

Intentional misspellings

Friday, January 23rd, 2004

Zarro Boogs = Oll Korrect?

Spellcheck and strife

Monday, January 5th, 2004

Asa, it looks like your spell-checker replaced all instances of the word "gonna" with "gonad".

-- Joe's comment on Asa's blog.

(Microsoft Word corrects "gonna" to "going to". ispell corrects it to "Donna". I don't know what spell-checker Asa uses.)

Fun with the English language

Saturday, November 22nd, 2003

Usage Nazi

Monday, November 3rd, 2003

Health Education Outreach flyer on tables at Platt dining hall:

Try this exercise to explore your relationships and how they are effected by alcohol.

At least it didn't go into detail about how alcohol effects babies.

Why study acquisition of language?

Wednesday, October 1st, 2003

I'm taking a Pomona class called Acquisition of Language. Here are some notes from the first day:

Why study acquisition of language?

  • Lets you see mechanisms behind language.
  • You can see dramatic changes over short periods of time. For example, most kids start having real conversations around 3 and a half.
  • Kids are cute.

I like this class.

Typo patterns

Wednesday, September 17th, 2003

Most of my "typos" add extra words:

mozilla crashes at with the instruction pointer at an address not in its address space. [bug 157845]
my high school has a comedy sportz team. the team and an informal club that exists around it, and my brother is part of that.

I think my typo pattern has to do with my typing style. I don't compose entire sentences in my head before I start typing them, and I edit heavily. I edit sentences as I type them. For example, a few sentences ago, I typed "before typing them[Ctrl+Left][Ctrl+Left][Ctrl+Shift+Right]starting to type [End]". Later I changed "starting to type" to "I start typing".

I also move information between sentences in order to keep any sentence from being too complicated and to eliminate parenthetical phrases. When I'm done typing a paragraph, there are often lots of unnecessary parentheses around sentences, which I remove. Sometimes I spend more keypresses editing than typing new sentences.

In the first example, I probably typed "mozilla crashes at an address not in its address space" at first, and then realized I should make it clear that the instruction pointer was what was at an address not in Mozilla's address space. In the second example, I remember that the two sentences used to be one sentence, but I don't know how to explain the error.

Erika Rice also makes strange typos:

After about an hour we got bored (or, in my Case, started to get headaches) so we grabbed some other people and went and watched "Office Space" in the lack.

(Case is a dorm at Mudd and the LAC is the Linde Activities Center.)

“Anything but”, “All but”

Friday, September 12th, 2003

The idioms "anything but" and "all but" have confused me as long as I can remember. Now I know why: they have nearly opposite meanings.

Google searches used: "anything but" "all but" idioms (lots of results, mostly noise), "all but * anything but" (only 16 results, but some were relevent).

These idioms do not appear in any of the idiom dictionaries I have: