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False Generics

I've been surprised to discover that the internet (or, I should say, the web) seems to lack good information about false generics — terms or phrases that are actually specific but are used generally for a whole class.

In an effort to fill the gap, I'll start a list here. Obviously, many of these will be brand names — so I'll be keeping my eye out particularly for ones that aren't.

Also of interest are what I might call "false specifics" (listed below), which are the mirror image of their over-reaching cousins. That is, if a false generic makes the mistake of "small used for big," then a false specific is "big for small." I'm guessing many of these are euphemisms, so I'll be less interested in those.

Can you think of an interesting false generic or specific that I don't have here? Or do you need to dispute my judgment? Please let me know by email, and if I publish your contribution you'll get full props. The newest additions are shown at the top of each list.

False Generics
Last update: June 27, 2008

false generic notes and references
novocaine for Novocain, in reference to procaine or any oral anaesthetic [2]
Crock-Pot when it refers to any slow cooker
Drano [2]
Roto-Rooter [2]
Dixie cup  
Super Ball  
X-Acto knife  
mace when it refers to any pepper spray (or as formerly, aerosolized tear gas)
overhead when it refers to any projector for meetings
Champagne when it refers to any sparkling white wine
nylons when it refers to sheer stockings made of any material [8]
Tums [8]
Halls when it means any menthol cough drop
Pam when it means any spray-on cooking oil [10]
tennis shoes [9]
Play-Doh [9]
Ramen [9]
butter when it means any spread [8]
Crisco [7]
Blizzard when it means any "mix-in" ice cream dessert [7]
cable when it means any non-broadcast television transmission method [7]
rain check  
iPod when it means Walkman <er, I mean> any portable music player [2]
tin when it refers to a container made of any metal (and then it's also a false specific)
terrain when it refers to extraterrestrial topography (example)
Sterno [6]
dairy when it includes eggs
Harlequin romance  
The Club when it means any steering-wheel lock
Plexiglas [1]
Cyclone fence  
chicken wire  
Teflon when it means any non-stick surface
Weed Whacker in two ways: cuts more than weeds, includes more than the single trademark
PowerPoint when it means any video slideshow [1]
Dustbuster [4]
Q-tip [5]
Saranwrap [5]
Latino when it refers to Latin Americans (see Ilan Stavans, Latino U.S.A.) [4]
Speedo when it means a men's bikini swimsuit
Vaseline when it means petroleum jelly
Weber when it means any charcoal grill [1]
Winnebago when it means any RV [1]
Windex [1]
Eskimo pie  
Frisbee [3]
Ruffles when it means any ridged potato chip
Chapstick [1]
Magic Marker  
Popsicle also Fudgesicle, etc.
Jello (that is, Jell-O) [1]
cell phone
and car phone
Band-Aid [1]
Polo shirt [1]
Ziploc [1]
Scotch tape [2]
classical music when it means non-folk or -pop music
stomach when it means any internal organ
Acrobat when it means PDF
fascist when it doesn't mean the historic Italian political party
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False Specifics
Last update: June 27, 2008

false specific notes and references
egg when it means a hen's egg
the service when it means military service
milk when it means cow's milk
black box when it refers to an aircraft's cockpit-voice or flight-data recorder
underwear when it means underpants [8]
tin when it refers to a "tin" can (and then it's also a false generic)
cards when it refers to playing cards [2]
radio when it means audio broadcasts
Latino since it doesn't include speakers of any Romance language [4]
natural gas  
day when it means working hours
Apple when it means Macintosh
school when it means college
PC when it means a computer running Windows
record or album when they mean LP
Internet when it means Web
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  1. Brad Farris
  2. Mark Moskovitz
  3. Emmett Tomai
  4. Adrian Perez
  5. Chelsea Guest Perez
  6. Toni Rosa
  7. Linda Becker
  8. Ann Boyd
  9. Kirra Pope
  10. Eric Brummitt

first published May 25, 2004

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© 2003-2010 by Jonathan Boyd
rev. 2004.09.11
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