Q&A: Is it an esky?

Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week we are filling our esky with fun facts about its origin…

Q: This seems like the perfect time of year to ask. Can every type of cooler box now be called an Esky?

A: Well Joe Public in Australia certainly calls any portable box that keeps your drinks cold an “esky”.

Q: Unlike Temuera Public over in New Zealand, who calls it a “chully bun” haha.

A: Yes, the Kiwis call theirs “chilly bins” and Americans just call them “coolers”. But here in Australia, we took a brand and ran with it.

Q: Tell me more. Diddly doo, diddly doo, diddly doo…

A: What’s that?

Q: We’re travelling back in time. Diddly doo, diddly doo…

A: Ah okay. So, back in 1952, a Sydney company called Malley’s invented the “Esky Auto Box” – said to be the world’s first portable cooler. The Esky name (derived from “eskimo”) had been around a bit longer – used on many refrigeration products during the 1940s.

Q: But not portable ones till 1952?

A: That’s right. The others were like stand up freezers that needed regular visits from the ice man.

Q: Val Kilmer from Top Gun?

A: No, never mind. Anyway, the Esky brand took off in the 1950s and 60s as Aussies embraced the new outdoor BBQ culture. And it’s still being made today.

Q: So back to my original question, can any cooler call itself an Esky?

A: Almost. When a single brand becomes so synonymous with the entire category, its trademark becomes “genericised”. This is a legal sticking point for many brands – and something of a punishment for being so dominant in a market.

Q: Because now anyone can call their product an “Esky”?

A: Not quite. The “Esky” brand – capital letter – still exists. But the “esky” – lower case – has become the generic name.

Q: Aha… so now anyone can call their product an “esky”?

A: That’s right. Every generic cooler in Australia is now typically called an “esky” – you’ll even find it in Macquarie Dictionary as a noun for a “portable icebox”. But “Esky” with a capital is still clinging on as a legal trademark.

Q: What other products has this happened to?

A: Genericide (yes, that’s really the term) has happened to many global brands including Band-Aid, Velcro, Kleenex, Thermos and Speedo.

Q: I guess we couldn’t mention eskies without speedos.

A: That’s right! By the way, we’ve actually chatted about generic trademarks before – so learn more about them by going here.

Q: Excellent. Wait, I just said “eskies” plural – but is it actually “eskys”?

A: We recommend the term “eskies” for the generic plural, but if you’re ever talking about more than one authentic Esky, you should use “Eskys”.

Q: Nice. Well, if you’ll excuse me, I’m taking my generic esky to the beach, so I’d better pack the budgie smugglers…

A: Ah yes, the name for tight-fitting speedos – used here in Australia since the 1990s and even added to the Oxford English Dictionary in recent years.

Q: “Eskies and budgie smugglers” – Aussie summer favourites for storing your goods…

If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!

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