Nerdom is a culture, sure, but it’s important to remember that–unlike traditional cultures–it’s largely shaped by company-owned intellectual properties. Often enough, corporate trademarks become “generic terms” that don’t legally refer to products from any specific outfit. Disney may own the name “Millennium Falcon,” for instance, but it doesn’t own “starship.” That said, you might be surprised by what seemingly-ubiquitous geeky shorthands actually aren’t in the public domain. Peruse this list, and think twice about what title you pick for your own projects going forward.
Super Hero: Marvel and DC haven’t teamed up since JLA/Avengers in 2003, but the two companies do still jointly own a trademark on this world-famous term for costumed adventurers. And they own it in all its permutations, too; so “super hero,” “super-hero,” and “superhero.” This is why you’ll often see alternative terms for caped crusaders, like the “science heroes” of America’s Best Comics or the “Alphas” of the eponymous TV show.
Zombie : While this term has roots in Haitian folklore, Marvel also had a trademark on it for several decades after it published the horror mag, Tales of the Zombie. The trademark lapsed in the 90s, but now the company owns “Marvel Zombies.” That term initially referred to dedicated fans, but then became the title for an alternate universe series penned by The Walking Dead‘s creator, Robert Kirkman.
Dungeon Master : Yes, this title was made up for Dungeons & Dragons. And it is still, in fact, owned by TSR. If you’re devising your own RPG, you might get away with referring to this position as “DM,” but if you’d prefer to play it safe, consider “game master,” “storyteller,” or “referee.”
“00” : Yes, a company can lay claim to couple letters/numbers. This was especially noticeable when there was talk of a Cyborg 009 movie a few years back and its title had to be carefully pronounced as “zero zero nine” instead of “double oh nine.” Long-time spy fans may also remember that many posters for the unofficial Bond film Never Say Never Again didn’t refer to Connery as “007,” while the world famous code-name was all over the posters for the officially released Octopussy, which came out the same year.
Orc : Worth bringing up here to demonstrate how trademarks are only as good as their enforcement. Think these snarling beasts come from folklore like all the other elves, goblins, and ogres running around Lord of the Rings? Nope. They were actually made up by Tolkien and are as unique to his book series as hobbits and Uruk-Hai. Of course, as mentioned, the professor’s estate didn’t enforce their trademark much, so you can find orcs everywhere from Warhammer to Magic and Warcraft today.
Are any of these trademarks surprising? What other geeky terms should fans double-check the TMs on? Fill our talkback with suggestions. We want to know, too.
Image Credits: Marvel, AMC, TSR, Eon, New Line
Featured Image Credit: Bo Jørgensen | Flickr