ENGLISCH/934: Questions to Mrs Gobbledygook (198) - Who or what is TiVo? (SB)


198. Who or what is TiVO?

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook

...Sometimes I can make no head no tail out of modern communication in the Telly. Here is one example of fashionable gobbledygook, between Miranda and Carrie, two character from "Sex and the City", a well-known American TV series:

Miranda: "While I'm eating a slice of pizza, my boyfriend is home taping my favourite TV show." Carrie: "And to which boyfriend are we referring?" Miranda: "My boyfriend TiVo."

Well by chance, I happen to know what a TiVo is supposed to be, but lots of people don't and you not only find it used without explanation in everyday's American English I have also overheard the usage "I think I'll be to dinner when Michael Phelps goes for the gold. Oh well - I'll just tivo it." Or a friend said to me: "Let's tivo 'Neighbours' and go shopping..." She also told me, that she loved to watch it and had the whole show tivoed.

Is this a new coinage, a new English word and is it used as a noun, or as a verb or what? And is the simple word "recording" no longer common? Please help.

Paula W. (living in London, Great Britain)


Dear Ms W.

It may have seemed a proud moment for marketers of TiVo, the digital video recording (DVR) device and service - not least because, even in the playful transmutation of TiVo from inanimate object to object of affection, it remained a noun.

However, the company has recently stepped up efforts to police just how its trademark is used in a sentence. Using TiVo as a verb, for instance as in "to TiVo" or "I >TiVoed 'The Apprentice' last night", is - mark my words - forbidden. It is therefore not surprising that you cannot find an explanation for the colloquial use, as it does not officially exist.

It is the TiVo company against commonly usage. In 2004 the company began sending letters to news organisations whenever it sees the term misused. So you could read in the The New York Times, published on December 13, 2004:

"We've gotten more aggressive," said Kathryn Kelly, a TiVo spokeswoman. "It's a much more talked-about subject now."

"We do aggressively protect our trademark," Ms. Kelly said, adding that with competing digital video recorders entering the market, TiVo wants to keep its name from going the way of Xerox or Kleenex."

Running a close second among uses of the word, which the company is not particularly pleased with, is the adjective "TiVo-like." TiVo is therefore breaking the old English tradition to use trademarks instead of the correct expression. So for instance, you might have learned that the German "Staubsauger" means "vacuum cleaner" in English, but staying in London you probably "hoover" the floor, even if you use a "Siemens".

On its own website, TiVo suggests that even the welcome bit of name-dropping on "Sex and the City" - part of a separate campaign by the company to get the product written into film and television scripts - may have been a trademark faux pas.

"Trademarks are always proper adjectives," the legal pedagogy at instructs. They are also "always singular." So in terms of the company TiVo is not a new English word and not a new coinage, it's just a new Trademark for a DVR recorder and nothing else. It was introduced by TiVo Corporation in 1999. The legally correct usage of the Trademark is:

"I want two TiVo DVR's," and not: "I want two TiVos."

Which implies that TiVo, in addition to not being a verb, must never be a noun, or a boyfriend. Even if the company logo shows smiling, antenna-waving television set on two feet. We'll wait and see...


Miranda Goobledygook

Ein lächelndes mit seinen Antennen winkendes Fernsehgerät auf zwei Beinen, auf dem Schirm vier Buchstaben: TiVo. - Grafik: 2011 by TiVo Inc als CC BY-SA 3.0 [], via Wikimedia Commons

'And to which boyfriend are we referring?'
Grafik: 2011 by TiVo Inc als CC BY-SA 3.0
[], via Wikimedia Commons

12. September 2017

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