On trademarks and trademark symbols

A trend I’ve noticed, not only in a book I reviewed recently but in other situations, is the profligate use of trademark symbols (® and ™). Unless you’re the trademark holder yourself, there is no real need to use them: just capitalize trade or brand names if you’re referring to them specifically, or use the generic equivalent if you’re not.

Here is what the Chicago Manual of Style has to say about this:

Brand names that are registered trademarks — often so indicated in dictionaries — should be capitalized if they must be used. A better choice is to substitute a generic term when available. Although the symbols ® and ™ often accompany trademark names on product packaging and in promotional material, there is no legal requirement to use these symbols, and they should be omitted wherever possible. Note also that some companies want people to use both the proper and the generic terms in reference to their products (“Kleenex facial tissue,” not just “Kleenex”), but here again there is no legal requirement. (Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, 8.162, p. 365)

I think that writers feel they must put the symbols in because the trademark holders do so, especially if, as was the case with one of the authors of Arthritis Without Pain, they have an ongoing relationship with the company holding the trademark. But the trademark holders insert them because they have to, to assert their trademark rights; you don’t, because it’s not your trademark.

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When biologists play at grammar

A couple of weeks ago, I got the following question from Craig Sommers: “I recently received a comment from a Fish & Wildlife Service biologist who said that ‘garter snake’ is now one word for all common names. True?”

As I wrote back, the answer is a bit complicated, but his question reminded me that I’ve been thinking about this question for several years now. It’s a really arcane and insignificant question: whether snake names are one word or two — i.e., “garter snake” or “gartersnake.”

This little essay has been gestating in my mind for several years, but I’ve been putting it off because I didn’t think I knew my grammar enough to write with any authority. In the end, though, I figure it’s worthwhile — inasmuch as this whole subject is worthwhile, which is kind of debateable — to put out what I know and what I think, and leave the corrections to another time.

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Grammar and the prescriptive attitude

Interesting article by Bruce Byfield about prescriptivism and grammar (via Languagehat). The author goes after the notion of learning rote rules: they were arbitrarily imposed in the first place, resist the natural change that language undergoes over time, and get in the way of good writing.

My concern is that the prescriptivism he describes — whether it’s “User’s Guide,” “Users’ Guide” or “Users Guide”, for example, or whether the singular they or prepositions at the end of sentences may be used — is that it’s at a different level than where many discussions of grammar take place. This is grammarianism of a professional sort, where tech writers try to reconcile different style guides, determine house rules, and enforce consistent usage. It’s utterly familiar to me, because it was relevant to my last two jobs, but it’s utterly foreign to anyone not employed in the writing business.

Grammar in the everyday sense means getting people to straighten out their homonyms (it’s/its, their/they’re/there, etc.) and punctuate properly, so that people can understand what the hell it is they’re trying to say. I’m more concerned about issues of basic grammar — or rather, literacy — than I am about issues of style: the former needs to be taught; the latter is a subject of endless debate and revision. It’s the difference between high-school history, where the basic material is laid down, and graduate seminars, where that basic material is subject to constant challenge and reinterpretation.

Update 11:17 PM: As it turns out, the page I originally linked to plagiarized the article and has since taken it down; I’ve changed the link to reflect the original source and author. See Languagehat’s comments for details.

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