You say tomayto and I say tomato

At the legal translation seminar in Munich I learnt that people at the European Patent Office don’t mind whether they or I write trade mark or trademark. (I had learnt that trade mark is British and trademark is American – perhaps I’m too much affected by the neue deutsche Getrenntschreibung).

I also gathered that everybody always says patent as in cat (I will call that ‘short’), rather than paytent (I will call that ‘long’ – does the IPKAT, as a cat, do that too?). This is worrying, as I always use the long pronunciation, but persons close to the patent office only say that for patent-leather shoes.

Longman’s Pronunciation Dictionary (first edition) says the standard BrE pronunciation is the long one, and the standard AmE pronunciation is the short one. It also says that when the short A is used in BrE it is mainly restricted to technical use (which is the use I’m concerned with), and when the long A is used in AmE it is only in the sense of ‘open, obvious’ (as in the latent / patent contrast).

Collins English Dictionary has an equally long note to the same effect. It does say that even in the technical sense, the long A pronunciation is commoner in BrE. So am I not alone?

9 thoughts on “You say tomayto and I say tomato

  1. Well, these changes occur. I’m posting here the email I got from IPKAT on the topic:

    >>Dear Margaret,
    Everyone in the IP fraternity in the UK says patent in US way (as in cat). If you say paytent you reveal yourself to not be very familiar with the ways of IP practioners. I think the general population tends to say paytent though.

    However, trade mark is written as two words in the UK. Again, if you do the opposite, you reveal yourself to be someone who doesn’t spend much time in the company of IP people or someone working for a US company/writing for the US market.

    It’s all rather snobby isn’t it?
    Best wishes,
    The IPKat

  2. In the US, I think we might say that something is “paytently offensive.” I’ll have to check that one out later today.

  3. Jim: That confirms the quote from Longman’s.

    David: Yes, that’s like me, except that I sometimes translate in the field, so it’s useful to know that it’s not just in Germany that that pronunciation is used.

  4. I’ve known and used the IP-context pronunciation of ‘patent’ with a short ‘a’ for at least the last 30 years, as distinct from the long A for ‘patent’ in the ‘evident, obvious’ sense.
    As for the separate/closed-up spelling, I really can’t get worked up about it (there are far greater horrors committed that merit greater grinding of teeth). Though I do I suppose see the separate version as nowadays a bit morning-suit-wing-collar-and-spats. It’s surely just another example of the progression over the years from separate through hyphenated to joined that we’ve long seen in things like ‘boy friend>boy-friend>boyfriend (and even the fairly conservative SOED shows that joined).

  5. But Derry, you haven’t been holed up in Franconia during that time!

    As for ‘trade mark’ being old-fashioned, that had not been my impression. I shall follow the IPKAT on that one (two university lecturers on intellectual property law in Britain), albeit only when translating specifically for Britain.

  6. The Canadian Intellectual Property Office uses a hyphen for marques de commerce: trade-mark! I associate the single word approach with both the US and the UK.

    I trained for almost a year at a patent and trademark agency in London, and only ever heard the short ‘a’ used to pronounce patent, which is how it is pronounced both here in Canada and in the States.

  7. In the U.S. the general population and IP lawyers say “patent”. (Including for patent leather shoes.) The more educated someone is the more likely they are to say “PAYtent” for “obvious” but it’s common for people to say it with a short a for that meaning too. The difference will likely keep disappearing in this country – the shift is to a short a.

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