Have you ever used the word “Flit”? That depends on the generation you belong to.
Have you ever used the word “Flit”? That depends on the generation you belong to.
If you were around in the 20s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, you have probably heard and used it. Your using it is not my headache but how you use it. The meaning it holds for you invariably informs your use of it.
Flit is the name of a popular early 20th century insecticide created by Dr. Franklin C. Nelson. It was officially unveiled in 1923. The company in charge of its production was New Jersey’s Standard Oil Company which later changed its name to ExxonMobil.
The product then contained DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), a substance popular for its environmental and insecticidal efficacy. It was used to combat typhus and malaria during the Second World War.
It was also used in agricultural industry as number one destroyer of arthropods that posed great threats to plants and seeds. Paul Hermann Muller, a Swiss chemist, discovered the potency of DDT in 1939 and bagged a Nobel Prize in Medicine for this discovery in the year 1948. However, the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring burst the bubble of DDT use as the book exposed its harmful environmental effects. DDT was harmful to the natural world and could cause cancer.
This revelation led to the 1972 ban on DDT use, especially in the U.S agricultural sector. The ban was said to be responsible for the preservation of the bald eagle – U.S. national bird. The production of the first brand of Flit stopped.
The brand name “Flit” was adopted later by another insecticide product. The marketer then was Clarke Mosquito Control. Stanco Incorporated, a subsidiary of Jersey Standard became its marketer in 1928. Flit was prominent in the public sphere again. Thanks to effective publicity made possible by the new marketer.
Theodor Seuss Geisel was the creator of the artwork for the successful adverts that had insect-looking beings threatening people. When Seuss began to write his children’s stories later, those who had seen the adverts easily understood the characters in his books. The adverts which ran for 17 years popularized the punch line “Quick, Henry, the Flit” in the States.
The 2004 Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants was to later place an international ban on the agricultural use of DDT. This was not a total ban as the convention allows its use according to WHO guidelines.
In those days, when you waged war against bedbugs, mosquitos, flies, moths etc. you used “Flit.” As far back as 1920s, adverts of Flit appeared in newspapers in the U.S, Argentina, Spain etc. Then, it came in a tin gallon with a huge yellow FLIT on the upper part of its black background. Below that was a man ready to go to war against insects.
He and every other thing on the lower part of the gallon were placed on a yellow background. In front of that soldier was a list of the insects that the insecticide could kill. You were expected to pour the substance into a yellow aerosol (spray container: Flit gun) before you pushed in and out the handle that entered the long container through the back. When you did this, you were said to be “spraying your room with an insecticide.”
That is where the problem starts. When you use Flit in the manner described above, you are not “flitting” your room, rather you are “spraying” your room with the insecticide called FLIT. Did you pay attention to my use of the verbs “flit” and “spray”?
In the year 2009, Nigerian Newspaper, Daily Champion reported that Mobil Oil Nigeria commenced an awareness campaign for a new version of Flit so that it would successfully supplant the old one which had been heavily forged. Mobil Oil Nigeria’s manager of external affairs, Akin Fatunke, explained that the new version of the insecticide had been produced in total compliance with World Health Organization specifications. Its functional elements were in the records of Nigeria’s National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Then, the insecticide was sanctioned safe for domestic use.
It is appalling that despite the national and international consent on this product, it is no longer out there but its earliest impact has affected our grammar in no mean way. I entered a shop and told the man in charge that I wanted to buy “Flit,” the man quickly got up from his chair and pointed to the upper shelf where he had arranged the contemporary names in the world of Nigerian insecticides: Mortein, Baygone, Raid, etc. He finished it with “All na Flit.” A barrage of questions nested on my face. “But we dey flit our house…” He didn’t allow me to finish before he cut in with “Yes, we dey flit our house when we use insecticides.”
That explanation knitted my brow. All the same, I thanked him and left with a reluctant promise to come back. I went to a few other stores where the revelation dazed me. I went to a very big supermarket in Lagos and told their attendants that I wanted to buy Flit.
They pointed me to the section where I saw Rambo, Goodnight, Oro, Raid, Baygone, and Mortein. I could not find the insecticide called “Flit.” Does that mean “Flit” in Nigerian English is the collective word for all insecticides? But I got several justifications for our use of the word. Only a few people agreed that it was an insecticide that we may not easily get in the store down the road in today’s Nigeria.
The amazing thing was that everybody I asked was familiar with that word in one way or the other. Some of those who don’t use the word have older people who use it.
It is obvious that Nigerians use the word “flit” as a verb meaning to spray anywhere or anything with an insecticide. They also use it as a common noun for all insecticides. Is it wrong to have accepted such uses of “flit”? No. Why? This, in linguistics is termed trademark erosion. The legal term for it is genericide.
This happens when a brand name owner loses the trademark rights because the name has been popularly adopted for a particular service or product. While some companies accept the indiscriminate use of their trademark as a gesture of respect, others have fought tooth and nail to preserve theirs. Many of the words we use today are in this category.
You often hear people use the expression “Google it.” Google is the brand name for the universally respected search engine. It is now associated with the process of using any search engine to search for information online. So next time you are in doubt, just google it.
The company named Haloid Co. based in Rochester, New York first registered their photocopying machine as a trade mark. It became Xerox Company. Xerox had been gotten from Chester Carlson 1938 invention called Xerography – a photocopying system that allows an image to be transferred to a plate that is charged electrostatically before it is sent to a paper where it experiences a type of heat that makes it come out well.
The word Xerox became a verb: to photocopy something. The Xerox Company sturdily contested this use of its name as a verb but it could not win against the world bent on using that word the way it likes.
When you see a picture that you cannot believe, you say it was photoshopped. The trademark owner of the software is Adobe systems. The generic name for manipulation of any photo is now photoshop. Henkel came up with Sellotape, the British brand name for semitransparent or transparent adhesive. You can sellotape something or attach it with sellotape.
Parker brothers’ Company, Ping-Pong became a generic name for table tennis bat, table-tennis table or table-tennis generally. Super Glue Corporation produced the product, Super Glue.
Now super glue has become a general name for any substance which can be used to stick things together (Cyanoacrylate adhesive). When Unilever first produced Vaseline, little did they know it was going to become the generic name for every petroleum jelly (petrolatum). So now you can hurry your daughter to get you some
Vaseline from the store across the road. Bet you won’t question her much when she comes home with another petroleum jelly that is not Vaseline. If your face is rough and dull, you can as well Vaseline it.
Facebook has come to stay. It is a strong brand name, a social networking service, an online social media and American for-profit corporation which has affected the use of the words “face” and “book.”
Facebook, as a word is now synonymous with all the activities that people perform on the social networking site. If you bring anything into public knowledge, you facebook it. If you love to show off, you are a facebooker. Other inflections include: facebooking and facebooked.
I can’t count the number of times my friends have said to me “WhatsApp me.” Whatsaap is a brand name for the messaging app which more than a billion people now use around the globe. The name is so broadly used that when Facebook acquired the company, it could not change the name. It is now used for “chat me up.”
“Flit” is also a word in English dictionaries. It is a verb meaning “to move lightly and swiftly; fly, dart or skim along.” The Nigerian use of the word could have been informed by the idea of this kind of movement since it is understood that insects or flies move swiftly or fly away anytime you attempt killing them.
You are expected to also move quickly so that the insects don’t escape death from your insecticide-filled aerosol. “Flit” is specifically a Northern England and Scottish word for “to depart or die.” Hence, if you want the insects in your house to “flit,” you have to “flit” them with any insecticide of your choice despite the fact that “flit” does not exist in any English dictionary as “to spray” or “the act of spraying.”
Omidire, Idowu Joshua is an ardent researcher, a critic, a creative writer and an editor. His works have appeared in several magazines. He has also edited for individuals and publication firms.