Thursday, May 06, 2004

Styrofoam blog.

Yesterday, mysteriously, the inflow of spam into my office computer dwindled to a trickle. I was sure something was wrong. I'm still not convinced something isn't wrong, but I've been able to send and receive messages that I want to read, so if there's a problem with my e-mail service, we should all have problems like that.

Before last fall, I never got that much anyway. Then one week, a big virus passed through the cyberfirmament like a bright comet, though I've forgotten its name. Using a Mac seems to offer some protection from these pests, but after that my incoming spam increased dramatically. This week I hear there’s another virus afoot well enough known to make the mainstream news. Has it had the effect of reducing spamage? Probably not, but the idea's got an appealing symmetry.

At about midday, a UPS man brought a small box to me. It looked suspiciously anonymous, but then I noticed a return address in small print -- the Dow Chemical Co., Building Materials, somewhere in Michigan. Excitement! A transnational chemical manufacturer has sent me something!

"Dear Valued Editor: [The letter inside begins. Nice, but not quite as classy as the salutation I once got from a Saudi business concern that wanted a subscription to a magazine I used to edit -- "Dear Esteemed Editor."]

"Enclosed is your complimentary coffee mug and AP style book, courtesy The Dow Chemical Company, manufacturers of STYROFOAM insulation. Like many other products, including Kleenex, Jet Ski and Frisbee (see how many you can come up with), STYROFOAM is often used as a generic term, when actually it is a registered trademark of The Dow Chemical Company. We need your help in encouraging the proper use of STYROFOAM amongst your staff."

I don't know that those examples are good ones to show the error of using a trademark as a generic, since I'd think the battle is all but over for kleenex, jet ski, and frisbee, though we could all call that last one a Pluto Platter, the original name. Off the top of my head, I did think of three more trademarks that are fully generic now: aspirin, trampoline, and nylon.

It's a nice royal blue mug, with the following on it: "There's no such thing as a STYROFOAM cup." True. There are styrofoam cups. Those ALL CAPS are like screaming at the reader, and there's usually no call for it when discussing beverage containers. Dow insists that those are merely "foam" cups, but I think it's pretty much a lost cause for the company.

As for the AP style guide, 2003 edition, there was a bookmark in it from the helpful people at Dow, inserted at the entry on Styrofoam, which reiterates what the letter says. More interesting is the notice near the front of the guide. "WHAT'S NEW in this edition... New entries: al-Qaida, Amber Alert, assassination, Bahai Faith, bioterrorism, earthquakes, farmworker, Founding Fathers, Global Positioning System, ground zero, hand-held, hillbilly [?], blog and PDA, Line of Control, 9-11, Saddam, software titles, special forces, SWAT, Ten Most Wanted Fugitives, till, watt."


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