In my last blog I introduced the idea of 'Fear Of Missing Out', or FOMO. I've received feedback and comments not only adopting the acronym F.O.M.O, but using it as a word. "I loved the blog on Fomo-ing!" Just like that, I was hearing a new word. Fomoing. More importantly it moved from an acronym, to a name, to a verb. Which made me think about the English language. What is strikingly obvious is that the English language is changing rapidly. And interestingly so. New words are created all the time. Many get accepted into the Oxford Dictionary every year. But what does this have to do with interiors? We have our own set of word associations. But more importantly, when communicating about what you want or need in a space, it's really essential to say what you mean. Don't use jargon you're unsure about, and watch your words. More specifically, be aware of the difference between brand and material names.
The world of interiors is no exception to other industries. We have our own set of acronyms and jargon. We have our own set of 'verbs' and 'nouns'. But we also have many words that have moved along in their use. This movement is called "genericization" and in the world of domesticity we have many examples of it.
Let me introduce to you two products, the humble vacuum and the rotating washing line Not the most exciting of topics for interiors, but they demonstrate what I mean beautifully. Take the vaccuum cleaner. Now in England, where I am from, there is one brand of vacuum cleaner that practically monopolised the market for years. It's called Hoover. The name became so synonymous with the action of sucking up dirt from floors, that English people refer to this act as "hoovering". Admittedly, it does cause confusion now that I live here, on the very, very, very odd occassion I talk about cleaning my house!
Now the rotating washing line. An Australian invention from the 1940s, created by Mr Hills and sold throughout the world by Hills Industries, under the name of Hills Hoist. It's an iconic rotary clothes line, that's subject to many famous paintings and become works of art themselves. But this product name, Hills Hoist, became synonymous with the rotary contraptions so much that they now any rotary clothes hoist is referred to as such regardless of the manufacturer.
What's the difference between between the 'hoover' and the 'hills hoist'? The hoover brand was adopted as a verb. The hills hoist brand was adopted as a noun. Corporations trip over themselves to get their brands and products household names. But only a few become so ingrained that they are synonymous with the products themselves and what we do with them. When you have a boo-boo, you reach for a Band-Aid not a plaster. When you need to blow your nose, you ask for Kleenex not tissue. The brand names then become so popular that they eclipse rivals in the market share and in the minds' of consumers. And then they spread through the English language like a common cold. They become so entrenched in the English language that people don't realise the words they are using are brand names.
Those that have transformed into nouns include: Crockpot - slowcooker; Sharpie - permanent marker; Post it note - sticky note; Tupperware - airtight containers; Styrofoam - extruded polystyrene foam. Brands or products that work well have typically been objectified with their use and turned into nouns. But brands or products that do something new, change the way we do things are an exception and, as a result, they get verbified. Those that have transformed into verbs are becoming more common place with the rise of smart technology: We Google. We Uber. We Skype. We Air BnB. In fact Twitter has created it's own noun, rejecting twitting for tweeting – I tweet, he tweets, you tweet. Let's all just tweet together.
We have our own examples in interior decorating. I became very aware of this when I recently spoke with a client about their kitchen renovation. "I want a Caesarstone benchtop!" Now that's a very specific request. We talked more and what became apparent from the conversation, was that my client was referring to wanting a "reconstituted stone benchtop" not specifically the Caesarstone brand. In her mind Caesarstone was the type of benchtop she needed, not a brand. Caesarstone is synonymous with reconstituted stone. There are many other companies that make reconstituted stone, but are often overlooked because of this link.
Other examples include cabinetry materials. The brand Formica is used to describe laminate benchtop. I've heard formica benchtop, being used rather than Laminate benchtop. Laminex have been clever enough to have a company name with just a few letters different from the product that it makes. Again Laminex is becoming synonymous with laminate.
But my personal favourite is Linoleum. A word, or name, I constantly struggle to say. A natural floor made from 97% natural raw materials, including solidified Linseed oil, ground cork, wood flour, rosin, limestone and pigments. Most of these ingredients are a renewable source and in addition are biodegradable and recyclable at end of life. For years people have laid linoleum (or Lino) floors in kitchens, bathrooms and even through living areas. The name Lino is linked to the business that first developed the material, Linoleum Manufacturing, and is one of the first terms or names to ever become generic.
With all it's sustainable credentials, we are seeing a rise of linoleum flooring. But unfortunately, this amazing product is not only synonymous with its original manufacturer, but with the brown, heavy retro patterned styles of the 1970's. Lino is associated with your grandparents home. The link to this look is stronger than the link to the material, because Linoleum is being renamed to Marmoleum (yet another difficult word to roll off the tongue) to get over this link. New technology has shifted this old traditional flooring. With innovative designs created by hundreds of colour options, different design structures and the choice of tile or sheet format, you can see why this exciting, not so new, material is trying to shake off its dated image of the past. Might be worth noting that Linoleum, or Marmoleum, flooring is not the same as vinyl flooring as some suppliers would have you believe.
By using a brand name over a material when talking about what you want to achieve, you instantly limit the parameters of your project. Which isn't a bad thing, if it's that brand you want to stick to. But many don't, and drop names by mistake. So make sure you are using the right choice of words when describing materials. Use material names, not brands.
Another favourite generalism of mine is the "Cookie Cutter". A domestic contraption for making interesting shaped biscuits. But is now commonly used in the interior industry to refer to spaces or homes that copy each other and all look the same. An action so commonplace it's been given its own verb. "It's been cookie cuttered." And one that's probably partially created by what's been described above. Best leave that one there. My head hurts.