Saturday, November 12, 2011

Ever heard this word before?

Tannoy, as a verb; e.g.:

When she didn't report for work at 9am, the crew Tannoyed her.

And here's another example, a whole post in the Guardian.

According to Wikipedia, "Tannoy Ltd is a Scottish-based manufacturer of loudspeakers and public-address (PA) systems," the name itself comes from "a syllabic abbreviation of tantalum alloy" and it was trademarked as a brand name "by 10 March 1932, on which date the Tulsemere Manufacturing Company was formally registered as Guy R. Fountain Limited." It is also claimed that the term became …

... a household name as a result of supplying PA systems to the armed forces during World War II, and to Butlins and Pontins holiday camps after the war.

The Wikipedians, like you, have become suspicious by this point that this entry has been written by, or lifted from, materials published by the company. In any case:

The term 'tannoy' is often used generically in colloquial English throughout the British Commonwealth to mean any public-address system, particularly those used for announcements in public places; although the word is a registered trademark, it has become a genericised trademark. The company's intellectual property department keeps a close eye on the media and will often write to publications who use its trade name without a capital letter or as a generic term for PA systems, in order to preserve its trademark.

(We shall resist the temptation to chortle, "Tannoy is the New Coke!")

Note that the two links up top are to a British news outfit and both use the capitalized form (or capitalised form, as you like), although they do appear to be using the term more or less generically.[1] Here are some more examples from the Guardian and the BBC, in which I see both upper- and lowercase. In any … um … case, I don't get a whole lot of meaningful hits when I GENERICISED TRADEMARK ALERT Google the term. Also, trying to go to just gets me redirected. So, English-speaking readers living outside the US, please advise: Is this a term you're familiar with, as a now-generic verb like xerox? Is this only the case in England, or is the same usage familiar in, say, Australia and/or Canada?

[1] Which reminds me. How long has the NYT been writing Champagne, instead of champagne, as any normal human being would? (When using the term colloquially, I mean, as opposed to occasions of mentioning the specific fussbudget region.) Make them stop.

I can say with confidence that they didn't always do this, although I am not going to look for the precise date when the style book got updated, because searching for something like that would be obsessive which I am not at all practically ever.


ant1gone said...

Yes. It is commonly used, and I imagine most British people would know exactly what is meant by use of 'Tannoy' in this way. As a fairly young Brit, I was aware of the word in its generic use way before knowing it derived from the name of a company. This is not PR boasting from the company, although I imagine they have somewhat mixed feelings towards the appropriation of their company name in such a way.

bjkeefe said...

Thanks for weighing in, ant. And sorry for my delayed response.

I suspect you're right about Tannoy's mixed feelings. I know, for example, that Coke, Kleenex, Xerox, and Google sure are.