Kärcher the scum

Article published on Aug. 28, 2008
Article published on Aug. 28, 2008
How brand names have taken on different identities in European expressions

If you get a runny nose whilst in Germany, looking in a dictionary will be no use – people do not ask for a tissue but ask, Do you have a Tempo?Tempo was the first German brand for tissues, and has been around since 1929.

In America and England, however, Kleenex claims the success story (do you have a Kleenex?) and was so popular that it made the journey across the English Channel to France (as-tu un Kleenex?).

The ballpoint pen was invented in 1938 by Hungarian László József Bíró and was produced in England. Even today people use the brand name Biro for a pen in many English-speaking countries and also commonly in Italy. In 1950, however, the French Marcel Bich secured himself the industrial property rights and began the mass production of good value disposable pens. As a result people write with a Bic in France, Belgium and Greece – the ‘h’ of the company founder was dropped to avoid a mix-up with a not so flattering English word.

Did French president Nicolas Sarkozy know that he was using a brand name when he declared that the housing estates should be cleaned with Kärcher - On va nettoyer la cité au Kärcher - after the suburb riots in Clichy-sous-Bois in 2005? In Poland, people use the Electrolux for cleaning jobs instead. In England, a mother will shout out to her messy child to Hoover his room.

A worldwide brand name, which in hindsight earned its inventor less credit, was heroin. The narcotic drug, patented by Bayer in 1898, is actually called diacetylmorphine. The chemist quickly discovered that the substance was simply ‘heroic’ – it helped aches and pains, depression, bronchitis, asthma, and even stomach cancer. Even healthy people willingly took the stuff. Members of Alpine clubs were advised to take some heroin before a mountain tour, in order to be able to breathe better. The walkers just got higher and higher.