“Hoover” avoidance

On a couple of occasions (most recently) I’ve written about “hoover” as a transitive verb meaning what Americans would traditionally describe as “vacuuming up.” The usage has gained traction here, to the point where when I saw this in today’s New York Times

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I couldn’t help thinking that the author of the article (or his editor) was trying really, really, really hard not to say “hoover.”

12 responses to ““Hoover” avoidance

  1. Hoover is my verb of choice, and it was the only one I used growing up in the west of Ireland. I eventually added vacuum to my active vocab, but I’m more likely to use it in the scientific sense; it never really displaced hoover.

    • (from Oz) … for “vacuum” in science, 80% for room cleaning. “hoover” 20% for room cleaning, 100% for getting stuff into your mouth fast from a plate, “almost hoovering up his mashed potato” (using a fork, in the sense of it disappearing rapidly), or “hoovering up the meringue crumbs” (when a kid actually puts the head to plate and sucks or licks to get the last little bits of something particularly yummy)

  2. “Hoover” would have been entirely appropriate given the inappropriate, indeed unconstitutional, surveillance by J. Edgar Hoover

  3. I propose a rhyming slang-like usage: instead of “hoover”, say “J. Edgar”

  4. Not being American it’s hard to guess but with J Edgar and the FBI for so long an American icon… The very famous dam at Boulder CO…. I wonder if the word Hoover has so many other connotations for Americans.
    In the UK most people I would guess would originally only ever associate Hoover with a vacuum cleaner. The word and its usage here is quite remarkable.
    For those reasons, I would guess it will be a long time, if ever, before vacuum will be replaced by Hoover in the U.S. in any seriously large way.

  5. Just to be clear, is Hoover a well-known brand of vacuum cleaner in the US, or the word has not become generic, as it has in the UK?

  6. The former–vying with Eureka and Bissell. It has not become generic, much less a widely accepted verb.

    • Yes, I hadn’t really thought about it. Not only do Brits refer to all vacuum cleaners as hoovers, but we took it two steps further. First, we use it as a verb to mean cleaning with a vacuum cleaner. Second, we even use it metaphorically, to mean sucking/swallowing up anything. We therefore go a step beyond the genericisation (if there is such a word) of, say, Xerox, which I don’t think is used metaphorically.

    • Ah – Bissell! There is actually a lesser-known and now very outdated expression, to ‘bizzle’, meaning to clean a carpet with a Bissell, but I think it was very much the non-vacuum version, i.e. just a rotating brush gadget, that this referred to. I’ve not used the word myself ever, but I remember coming across it in a memoir by Alec Guinness. I would imagine this word has barely been heard since about 1966.

  7. I remember in history lessons at school we were studying the Great Depression. One of the boys ventured that Herbert Hoover was a poor president because he was such a big sucker !

  8. In baby-boomer circles at least, you’re doing the hoovering even if you’re using a Miele or a Bosch, just as you’re writing with a biro even if it’s a Parker or a Papermate. Perhaps less so with younger generations, as Hoover and Bic have lost market share in recent years.

  9. Dr Stephen F. Mills

    I remember being warned by a US teacher of English when I first went to work in (upstate) New York that I should beware that some words and phrases I used without thinking were actually unknown to Americans, hoover as vacuum cleaner being the one I still remember her warning me about. A couple of months later I had some time to travel and found to my dismay that hoover was used in parts of the Mid-West, and that Americans couldn’t agree on whether soda or pop was the correct American word for a fizzy drink, each side assuming the other word was a Britishism. The point is that there is already far more regional variety in US English than even most Americans fully appreciate (variations I suspect are being smoothed out by modern communications). The British can hardly recognise Canadian from British English never mind varieties of American English. Brits sometimes hear different US accents but seem to assume a common vocabulary. Well, I’m off to Dyson the carpet.

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