Should "styrofoam" be capitalized?

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DeadlyAccurate

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I know that common usage would say otherwise, but as far as I can tell, Styrofoam is still a brand name and hasn't lost its trademark. So, should I say, "...into a polystyrene cup," or "...into a styrofoam cup," or "...into a Styrofoam cup?"
 
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blacbird

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I believe you are correct, and, like Kleenex and Xerox, Styrofoam is a trademark-protected brand name. You can find advisory notices in numerous writers' magazines cautioning writers against using such terms as substitutes for generic words like "facial tissue" and "photocopy". This is not a case of anal-retentiveness on the part of the trademark holders. They have to do this for legal reasons; it is possible to lose your trademark protection if such terms lapse into general usage as common nouns or verbs. The most often-cited instance of this happening is that of "aspirin", which was once a brand-name. To use a term like "Styrofoam" in its proper trademarked form, you generally need to include the little trademark symbol after it (t inside a circle).

caw
 

Rich

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I don't think you need the trademark, just the capitalization. So far, editors don't include it--and it could be annoying.
 

alleycat

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You could just use "form cup" or "plastic cup". Really, does it matter if the reader knows whether it's a Styrofoam cup or just some kind of disposable cup? What are those Starbucks cups? Paper? I don't buy $3 cups of coffee, so I don't know.
 

Rich

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Sometimes it's good to zero in on a particular brand. I've used "Listerine," "Chicklets," "Kleenex," et al--none of which an editor added a trademark. It's less words, and more identifiable.
 

blacbird

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I didn't mean to imply the need for the trademark symbol in a fictional piece, only that that is the formal way it's properly expressed. But I think capitalization of trade names is a necessity, as others have suggested. Unless you have a good reason to use the name, it's often simpler just to avoid it. Brands of cars, for instance, might often be useful to identify specifically. Kleenex, on the other hand, most often could just be "tissue". Likewise with Styrofoam; for me, as a reader, a "plastic" cup would nearly always suffice.

caw
 
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