Outlaw won't sit still for the Language Police

ROGER SIMON

October 11, 1992|By ROGER SIMON

I suppose I knew I could not get away with it forever. I suppose I knew they would track me down someday.

It may come as a surprise to you to learn that I am an outlaw. But I am.

Just ask the folks at La-Z-Boy.

"Dear Mr. Simon," the letter began, "LA-Z-BOY is a registered trademark of La-Z-Boy Chair Company. Your commentary in the The Sun some months ago on the Perot presidency referred to LA-Z-BOY lawmaking. We appreciate the exposure, however, too much of a good thing can cause our famous trademark to become generic.

"The use of the word chair or recliner after LA-Z-BOY prevents the dilution of our mark and protects a famous American name. These days, we need all the help we can get. Thank you for taking the time to read this letter and I hope you can find your remote control soon enough to vote from your LA-Z-BOY chair if Ross Perot becomes president."

It was signed: "R. G. Micka, vice president, administration."

The faint attempt at humor at the end of the letter did not fool me.

The Language Police had tracked me down again.

In my professional life, I have worked at three newspapers.

At each newspaper, I have gotten in trouble exactly the same way:

In one of the first columns I ever wrote, I used the word Crayola.

And I immediately got a nasty letter from the Crayola people telling me they owned the word and if I didn't start using it in the manner they wished, they would shove 800 Burnt Siennas up my nose.

A few years later, I was covering Pope John Paul II's arrival at a wind-swept airport runway and wrote: "Scores of reporters stood in small clumps, huddled over Styrofoam cups of coffee for warmth."

Soon thereafter I got a letter from a Thomas A. Separa, communications manager of Dow Chemical, who informed me that my misuse of Styrofoam was a source of "serious concern" to Dow.

He said that while he appreciated the fact I used a capital "S," Dow had invented certain rules that all American citizens had to follow.

He said what I really meant to write was that those reporters had been huddling around "Styrofoam expandable plastic bead cups."

And I got the strong impression that Dow had an awful lot of napalm left over from Vietnam that it could accidentally dump on my house.

SG Giant corporations take very seriously their ability to own certain

parts of the English language.

And they employ Language Police to scour every publication in the United States for references to their products.

They do this, they say, because if a word enters common usage, a company loses its trademark and can't continue to make dough off of it.

Cellophane, escalator, linoleum, malted milk, aspirin, milk of magnesia, yo-yo, harmonica, dry ice, shredded wheat and cube steaks were once all trademarks and had to be capitalized.

But then irresponsible slugs like me used the words so much that they entered the public domain and belonged to the people.

Which is exactly what I want.

I don't believe huge companies have a right to make you say stuff like: "My, what a lovely Dacron polyester suit you are wearing. Does it come with Velcro hook and loop fasteners? And can you play a Scrabble crossword game while wearing it?"

And that is why I have become an outlaw.

If William Donald Schaefer wrote me a letter and said: "Please do not call me 'Old Pumpkin Head' in your future columns. The correct term is 'Gov. Pumpkin Head,' I could throw away the letter without fear.

And that's because the First Amendment guarantees me free speech.

But once you step on the toes of the corporate big shots in their mink-lined executive suites, the rules change.

They get to restrict your free speech and demand you use the language the way they want you to.

But I say no! I say all language to the people!

I didn't cave in to Dow or Crayola and I won't cave in to La-Z-Boy.

I am planning a nationwide language revolution. And I am doing so from the best built, most comfortable chair I own:

A Barcalounger.

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