More French Cultural Vocabulary: Proprietary or Brand Names

Proprietary or brand names are also a cultural aspect of learning languages. Many times people aren’t even aware that a word they use for a certain object is in fact a brand name and not the generic name. In English, we have several brand names that have become more common than the original terms, such as kleenex (tissue), Q-tip (cotton swab), and band-aid (adhesive bandage).  This also extends further than nouns because we have verbs such as to tweet and to google.  And of course, some dialects of English do not use the same proprietary names as others (it’s plaster and not band-aid in British English.)

Here are a few proprietary names (with their generic names) used in France.

critérium / portemine

stabilo / surligneur

tippex / correcteur fluide

sopalin / essuie-tout

cotons-tiges / bâtons ouatés

Check out other Cultural Realia of France.

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  • Patricia Barthélémy

    We also use “q-tips” (coton-tige), “kleenex” (mouchoir) and “band-aid” (sparadrap) in Quebec, as well as “liquid paper” (correcteur liquide), frigidaire (réfrigérateur; but it’s been a while since I’ve heard it) or “scott towel” (essuie-tout!).

  • Ali

    il y a aussi “le scotch” (adhesive tape brand) et le verbe “scotcher”

  • Cynthia

    I don’t always understand what my BF is talking about because he uses so many of those brand-names I don’t know!

    Oddly enough, in Montreal I’ve always said plaster in French and band-aid in English for adhesive bandages.

  • Helene

    2 more in office supplies : bic (stylo a bille = pen), and also patafix ( equivalent of handitak i have here in the usa – some yellow paste used to put posters on walls)

  • Helene

    About the frigidaire, it is also used in France.

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  • Andrew

    I learned about many of these things in English from watching Top Gear, haha. I think you got most of them, also I think another one that’s sort of funny because it’s in reverse is that in the U.S. if you say “Coke” then you’re referring specifically to regular, classic Coca-Cola (if you’d had wanted diet coke, you’d have said “diet coke”, etc.) whereas in many other parts of the world “Coke” is a generic term that means any type of soft drink, it’s used the way we use the word “soda”. Weird.


  • Jennie Wagner

    Well personally I say pop, not soda. Soda is for baking! :)

    Most of the southern US uses coke the way I use pop and the way you use soda. It gets really confusing for foreigners and even for Americans who don’t know that different regions use different words. I tried teaching the pop/soda/coke thing to my ESL students in the US and I think I just confused them even more.

  • Jennie Wagner

    Hahaha yes the K-way! :) Thanks for sharing the Danny Boon sketch. LOL

  • Jennie Wagner

    Hahaha yes the K-way! :) Thanks for sharing the Danny Boon sketch. LOL

Why is Jennie no longer in France?

I created this blog in September 2006 when I moved to France from Michigan to teach English. Many of the earlier posts are about my personal life in France, dealing with culture shock, traveling in Europe and becoming fluent in French. In July 2011, I relocated to Australia to start my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Although I am no longer living in France, my research is on foreign language pedagogy and I teach French at a university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling and being an American abroad.


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