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Words, Dec. 6

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Taser is the name of an electric stun gun used by police. The first time most people heard of tase, a verb, was after a highly publicized incident in September. A disruptive student at a John Kerry speech yelled “Don't tase me, bro” at a police officer just before he was in fact tased. Don't tase me, bro has since become something of a catch phrase.

But John Wesley Hall, a Little Rock lawyer, advises that the student was not the first tase user. Hall researched the point on the Web and found that “The first use of ‘tase' as a verb in a judicial opinion on Lexis” was in 2005. He quotes from a more recent federal court opinion: “Specifically, the defendants allege that Pearson acted aggressively toward them, that he did not heed their warnings that he would be ‘tased' if he continued to resist … ” The proper name Taser appears in the opinion also, and is capitalized, “as it should be,” Hall says.

Hall also found the verb tase in an on-line dictionary that cites a local news program in November 2005: “The policeman tased the suspect while apprehending him.”

Hall writes: “I remember from law school stories about protection of trademarks: aspirin was a product name but it went into general use; Xerox is a product name, and the company did its best to protect its name from being a verb, but it has become one; Kleenex is still recognized as a trademark and not just a personal cleaning tissue.”

Whither tase? (Or Tase. The capitalization question is still unsettled too.)

Amy Jordan writes:

“A fellow teacher has asked me if it is correct to say ‘egg someone on' or ‘agg someone on.' I have heard both, but can only find ‘egg someone on' through a web search.” Egg on is the expression that means “to spur, to encourage.” John Ciardi says it was originally “edge on,” and meant “to urge on by poking with a sharp instrument.”

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