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!

Browse posts by category
Browse posts by category

Courses starting soon

About us

The Australian Writers’ Centre offers courses in creative writing, copywriting, freelance writing, business writing and much more. Our practical and industry-proven courses will help you gain confidence and meet your goals faster!

Contact us

Phone: (02) 9929 0088 Email: [email protected] Head office: Suite 3, 55 Lavender Street, Milsons Point NSW 2061


Back to top ↑

Nice one! You've added this to your cart