Editorial: Word belongs to all Kiwis

Last updated 05:00 27/01/2014

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OPINION: It has been a headline writer's dream.

It's not every day a busy sub-editor gets to use the lovely rhyming "jandal scandal", or the somewhat more subtle "retailer puts foot down".

Aside from the generous offerings of plays on words, last week's story about the use of the word "jandal" (should I put the little TM symbol sign there, I wonder?), has also shown very clearly just how stupid the rules can be, and, more encouragingly, how New Zealanders are willing to stand up for common sense.

To recap, an online discount store got pinged for using the word "jandal" to describe that ubiquitous Kiwi footwear item, with its rubber sole and strappy bit between the toes. New Zealanders call them "jandals" and have done so for as long as most of us can remember.

The company was told to stop using the word immediately, or face legal action, because they were breaching a trademark.

Journalists know about trademarks - periodically, editors receive warning letters from lawyers whose job seems to be to scour publications for breaches of trademark.

"Dear sir, we note you used the word ‘rollerblades' in the police notebook on page 2 of last Tuesday's Timaru Herald. I must ask you to cease and desist, because that is, in fact, a breach of trademark. In future, please use the term ‘in-line skates' to describe this item."

Sellotape is another one (sticky tape to be used instead), and there are no doubt a whole heap more. Generally, it's not an issue that the general public loses sleep over, or is even aware of at all.

In theory, we could start calling our favourite summer footwear item "thongs" or "flip-flops", or something equally non-trademarked, and thus the problem would disappear. But so would a little piece of New Zealand.

What next? Another favorite footwear item in New Zealand is also made of rubber, is waterproof, goes up to about the knee, and traditionally comes in farmer black or freezing worker white.

Imagine if we weren't to call them gumboots any more. Rubbers? Hmmm, we tend to use that word for another product altogether. Galoshes?

Ridiculous. Fred Dagg would be turning in his grave.

The situation smacks of big-boy bully tactics, so it is encouraging that the company threatened with legal action is fighting back, and gathering support from hundreds of jandal-wearing Kiwis.

Common sense has to prevail. If a word has been in common usage for as many years as jandals have been giving us blisters between our toes, it belongs to all New Zealanders.

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- © Fairfax NZ News


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