February 24, 2010

Language Tips: match with/to & trademarks and generic tems

Posted in words, your and you're at 4:32 pm by dlseltzer

Weekly Language Usage Tips

Sighting 1:

NY Times, February 23, 2010

Gates Calls Europe Anti-War Mood Danger to Peace


Sighting 2:

Running an icy, overhanging gantlet

Saturday, February 20, 2010

By Dan Majors, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


Oh my. It was on the front page, too!

Tip 1: Match with or to?

A reader writes:

Do you match something with/to something else?

Is something mismatched with/to something else?

You can match something to something.

The professor matched the name of the student to the experiment with the same name.

You can match something with something.

He matched his purple sweater with a tie of the same color.

You can match something against something.

I’ll match my memory against yours any day of the week.

You can also match something or just match.

I finally found two gloves that match.

I match your bet and raise you again.

The skirt and sweater matched perfectly.

Some folks think that we should treat ‘match to/with’ like’ compare to/with.’ We use ‘compare to’ when we are looking at the similarities of two things.

He compared her beauty to the timeless splendor of Venus de Milo.

We use ‘compare with’ when we are simply examining two things in conjunction with one or another; we can be looking at either the similarities or differences.

I compared that batch of brownies you baked with the ones I got from the store and yours were better by far.

I set out to compare the attitudes of the subjects with those of the control group.

But ‘match to/with’ is really quite different from ‘compare to/with.’ ‘Match’ is not a verb of comparison so this usage does not hold up. So with ‘match’ either ‘to’ or ‘with’ is fine. This is one of those times I would depend on my ear and see how it sounds.

As for ‘mismatched with/to,’ that is another story. I had a difficult time with mismatch as a verb. It means to match badly or unsuitably. It is also a transitive verb, which means it requires an object. I was trying to think of sentences that used mismatch as a transitive verb. The only sentence that I was really comfortable with-that sounded correct to me-used the passive voice and assumed an unnamed actor.

The socks were mismatched.

In this sentence, the socks act as the object, and the subject, whoever mismatched the socks is unnamed.

I have a harder time with the active voice because it doesn’t sound natural to me.

He mismatched the striped suit with the polka dot tie.

It just doesn’t sound right regardless of whether I use ‘with’ or ‘to.’

He mismatched the striped suit to the polka dot tie.

I think, for the most part, I will use mismatch or mismatched as an adjective or noun. The verb form is correct and can be used with either ‘with’ or ‘to.’ It just sounds awkward to my ear.

Tip 2: When trademarks become generic terms

A word from wordboy:

What is the plural of ‘listserv’ as in “We will post the information to multiple…” is it ‘listservs’ or ‘listserves’? Idle googling turned up a website which claims ‘Listserv’ is a registered trademark, and as such, should never take the possessive or plural, etc. Pitt uses a software program called ‘Mailman’ to manage its many ‘mailing lists.’ So perhaps, I should write: “We will disseminate our findings through email mailing lists maintained by affiliate organizations.” This avoids the issue, which I define as: when something is a trademark, but not commonly recognized as such, is colloquial usage permitted in formal writing? For example, Kleenex. While this does not take the plural, we can probably come up with others. (PS, note that Outlook automatically capitalizes the first letter of Kleenex, but not listserv.)

Now back to my deadline!


An interesting question. What happens when a word becomes so commonly used that it doesn’t refer to a brand anymore, it refers to the item/service itself?

I am not a legal authority on this (or on anything, for that matter), but I suspect that, legally, it is illegal to use a trademark generically. That being said, we do it all of the time, and I suspect, with few, if any, negative consequences. What follows is just my opinion: Much ado about nothing.

Language changes and evolves over time. While admittedly, I can’t get my head around impact being used as a verb, I stopped telling people it is wrong a long time ago. It has evolved over time and is used as a verb much of the time. Same thing for trademarked words that are no longer used to refer to a particular brand but to the item or service itself.

Wordboy’s example is listserv. Heck, I never knew it was a trademarked term to begin with. I thought it was the word for a program for creating/managing email lists. After researching it for a bit, I found a couple of things: 1) It is a legal trademark of L-Soft International, 2) It is used generically all of the time. Ironically, it is when an item becomes very popular, that the name used for it begins to be used generically.

Wordboy mentioned his idle googling. Google, too, is a registered trademark and, thus, should not be used as a verb. Am I going to stop using googling any time soon? I think not.

According to Wikipedia, here are just a few examples of words that started out as trademarks but have become generic terms:

aspirin, dry ice, e-mail, freeware, laundromat, lanolin, mimeograph, thermos, trampoline, videotape, zip code, zipper

There is a pretty interesting discussion on the subject on Wikipedia that occurred as the wikipedia folks developed the entry for trademarks and generic terms.

To provide an opposing viewpoint, I checked the commentary on trademarks on Tivo’s website. In the interest of full disclosure, I acknowledge that I am an owner and fan of Tivo’s DVRs. This is what they have to say:

Our company brands, including the TiVo trademark, the TiVo logo and our other trademarks, are among our most valuable assets. To preserve and protect these brands – and to prevent their loss to the public domain – it is essential that they are used correctly…

They go on to give usage notes. Here are a few examples:

Trademarks are singular.

Because a trademark is an adjective, it should never be used in the plural form. Instead, when necessary, the generic noun can be used as a plural.


Correct: I want two TiVo® DVRs.

Incorrect: I want two TiVos.

Trademarks are never verbs.

It is never permissible to use any of our trademarks as verbs.


Correct: I want to record “Desperate Housewives”” on the TiVo® DVR.

Incorrect: I want to TiVo “Desperate Housewives.”

Trademarks are never possessive.


Correct: The TiVo® remote control

Incorrect: TiVo’s remote control

More from Tivo:

A trademark is lost when it becomes generic, i.e. when it has come to mean the product as distinguished from a certain brand of the product. If our trademarks become generic, they could be used by competitors to describe their goods or services. Consider the following now-generic nouns that were once trademarks: Escalator, Linoleum, Kerosene, Cellophane, Thermos, Aspirin, Yo Yo and Bikini. The importance of correct trademark use cannot be emphasized enough.

Oh, please. To this, I say, pish posh.

I’m often curious about what Tivo tivoed for me while I was away. And if I called the company and told them I wanted two tivos, I doubt that they would be silly enough to correct me.

So what was Wordboy’s question again? Oh yes, if we are going to use listserv as a generic term, should the plural be listservs or listserves?

According to the 15th Edition of the Chicago Manual of Style:

  • listserv, plural listservs

Enough said.



  1. Andrea said,

    Thank you so much for this conversation. I was troubled by seeing “listserves” and knew it must incorrect. I have informed my supervisor of these findings and now I can properly type “listservs” in my document (even though Microsoft Word thinks it’s spelled wrong).

  2. Mary Ann said,

    I often have difficulty with prepositions so Tip 1 (February 24, 2010) was helpful. Thank you.

  3. N said,

    Hello, thank you for your post. I’ve been looking to the answer to the match to or with question because I’ve been told at work (I am an EFL teacher) that the use of “match to” as in [“_(word)_ matches to picture __”] as grammatically incorrect.
    I was also told that a group of North American teachers all agreed that it was not correct and that “match with” was the correct way to use in a comparative/correspondence like this. This was the first time I head this. After reading this post, I would like to know what you think. I feel like they (at work) are trying to question my ability to do my job. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: