Today’s Bizarro:

(If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 3 in this strip — see this Page.)

Well, yes, people do misplace these little tubes all the time, so maybe it would be a good idea to make some larger versions (though then they’d be less portable). But what I’m interested in here is the reference to chapsticks, no initial or medial cap. The brand name is ChapStick, the generic common noun is lip balm, but very few people use the “proper” generic, preferring chapstick instead.

From Wikipedia:

ChapStick is a brand name of lip balm manufactured by Pfizer Consumer Healthcare and used in many countries worldwide. It is intended to help treat and prevent chapped lips, hence the name. Many varieties also include sunscreen in order to prevent sunburn.

Due to its popularity, the term has become a genericized trademark. It popularly refers to any lip balm contained in a lipstick-style tube and applied in the same manner as lipstick. However, the term is still a registered trademark, with rights exclusively owned by Pfizer. Its main competitors in the US, Carmex and Blistex, also use the popular lipstick-style tube for their lip balm products.


The classic formulation of ChapStick; the company makes a bewildering variety of other types — flavored, with sunscreen, with moisturizer, and so on. I’m partial to the classic ChapStick.

Manufacturers hate genericization, since they see it as cutting into their profits: people can ask for ChapStick and then accept some brand from another company, like the “ALL good lips” balm (made by the Elemental Herbs company) from Whole Foods a friend got for me not long ago (sunscreen I don’t need, awfully soft, herbal flavoring — by no means evil, but not as good to my mind as the ChapStick in #2). Nevertheless, the companies seem to be pretty much powerless to keep ordinary consumers from using genericized terms; they can enjoin other companies and stores from advertising their products under protected names, but that’s about it.

Oh yes, the vernacular term chapstick can be used either as a M noun (Put some chapstick on those unhappy lips) or a C noun (Please get me two chapsticks when you’re at the drugstore).

2 Responses to “Genericization”

  1. Dennis Preston Says:

    Nope. *Put some chapstick….. Put some chapsticks…. Probably (?) like corporate plurals (I’m goin’ to Walmarts, etc….)

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Nope *what*?
      I have:
      Put some chapstick on your lips. (M)
      Put some chapsticks ‘tubes of chapstick’ in the drawer. (C)
      Are you denying the possibility of one or both or these?

      Neither looks like a corporate name — Walmart(s) — to me. The corporation is Pfizer.

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