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The “s” Curse

26 Mar

 

Derek Jeter is not a "Yankee"!

 

Admittedly, thinking about the "s" in brand names isn't worth sleep deprivation; but I think it's good, intellectual fun. And since we, once again, have an intellectual in the White House, it should be safe to think about and discuss such things.

 

The "s" curse is completely the province of BRANDING; and the most obvious problem tends to occur when referring to sports teams…collegiate and professional. There is no such thing as "Gopher football" or "Yankee baseball." It's "Gophers football" and "Yankees baseball." The brand names are "Gophers" and "Yankees".

 

"Gophers" is not a plural term for a group of players; it's a brand. Each player is not a "Gopher". 

 

But let's start with a simpler example, one that might be more easily understood: BAGGIES.

 

Baggies is a brand name, a registered trademark for a line of plastic "sandwich & storage bags." One of those bags is not a "Baggie" or even a "baggie." It's a sandwich & storage bag…the generic descriptor required by trademark law to designate the product category. Lawyers flinch at any mention of the trademark in a singular (without the "s") form; because common usage that might result tends to weaken the brand's strength and protectibility.

 

The same situation applies to Wheaties, the brand name of a "toasted whole wheat flakes," ready-to-eat cereal product made by General Mills. One of those cereal flakes is not a "Wheatie" or even a "wheatie." Nor is just one Starbucks store a "Starbuck" or even a "starbuck."

 

Also… "Kibbles 'n Bits". There is no "Kibble" or "kibble" and no "Bit" or "bit." And the product must never be referred to as "they." Kibbles 'n Bits is singular; because it's a brand name, not a collection of ingredients.

 

Likewise, if you know someone, a friend or neighbor, whose family name is Roberts; any one member of the family (mother, father, son, daughter) is not a "Robert" or even a "robert." Roberts is the brand name of the family.

 

In the marketing world, BRANDING is the holy grail. And brand names are protected by all the zeal that can be mustered by their owners. Those brands include ones without an "s" as well as those with an "s" and those with an apostrophe ('s). For example:

 

Cheerios

Wheaties

Tostitos

Doritos

Coors

Cheetos

Fritos

Ruffles

Planters

Baggies

The Beatles

 

Starbucks

Walgreens

Lunds

Surdyks

 

Campbell's

Hellman's

Hunt's

Baker's

Welch's

Wolff's

Bush's

Lay's

Macy's

Byerly's

 

Lunds and Byerly's

 

 

Hopefully, this will help your understanding of my previous comments about the "s" curse for sports teams:

 

Sports fans don't think about it. They probably don't think about much of anything. But the lawyers are kept awake at night trying to deal with it.

 

I'm talking about the ubiquitous "s" in the name of sports teams…Patriots, Dolphins, 49ers, Vikings, Yankees, Twins, Timberwolves, Black Hawks, Canadiens, Red Wings, Lakers…the list goes on, professional and collegiate.

 

But there are numerous teams that don't have to worry about this problem, a name that ends in "s".  Here are a few teams that are free of the "s" curse:  Minnesota Wild, Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, Miami Heat, Utah Jazz, Orlando Magic, Colorado Avalanche, Tampa Bay Lightning, Oklahoma City Thunder, Chicago Fire, LA Galaxy, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Alabama Crimson Tide, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, and Harvard Crimson. Of course some people can't even distinguish between "x" and "s".

 

So…what's the big problem, you say?

 

It's like this…the problem tends to be that one of the Vikings — for example — is a Viking, according to common thinking and media reporters; more than one player constitutes Vikings. That's how people talk about the players and how the media report about the players. In legal reality there is no such thing as a player who is a Viking; a member of the team is a Vikings (with "s") player. The trademark is "Vikings".

 

Likewise with teams that have no "s" but still sound like "s"…Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox. Are individual players called a "sock"?  The "x" in the brand name isn't a substitute for "s" as if the team's players together constitute a plural. No…"Sox" is part of the brand name; and the players are not "socks". Dustin Pedroia is not a "sock" or a "Sock".

 

The situation is even goofier for the Minnesota Twins. Joe Mauer is a star player for the Twins…the  Twins' All-Star catcher. Justin Morneau is the team's All-Star first baseman…the Twins' and League's MVP. But Joe and Justin can't possibly be "twins;" since they were born in different countries. They aren't even "Twins;" because that's the name of the team.

 

There's never a problem when you want to talk or write about individual players on one of the nine "non-'s''" teams. Members of the Minnesota Wild are never described as "Wilds;" nor are players for the Utah Jazz as "Jazzes," the Orland Magic as "Magics," or Crimson Tide as "Crimsons" or "Tider" or "Tiders".

 

Hence, the "s" usage or not has become a legal curse.

 

It's a shame that we have been feeding the legal profession another — avoidable — reason to take money from us for something so easily rectified.

 

I wrote this mostly for fun. But it probably merits some conversation…most likely as a cocktail party topic.

 

About Grammar Nazi

Marketing specialist focusing on concept development for new products and services. University degree in editorial journalism. Major corporate and brand experience with one of the world's largest and best advertising agencies.
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Posted by on March 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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