Debate: Do you say “tissue” or “Kleenex”? Why?

Debate: Do you say “tissue” or “Kleenex”? Why?

by ads Converclick on June 24, 2024

Discover the debate on whether to say "tissue" or "Kleenex" and understand why some brand names become generic terms. Explore user opinions, fun facts, and FAQs to delve into this linguistic phenomenon.


Language is a fascinating tool that evolves over time, adapting to new realities and reflecting cultural and technological changes. One of the most interesting phenomena in everyday language use is the tendency to use brand names to refer to generic products. 

A classic example of this is the debate over whether we say "tissue" or "Kleenex." In this article, we will explore this phenomenon, analyze user opinions, and discover why some brands have become synonymous with the products they represent.

The Brand Name Phenomenon

The use of brand names to refer to generic products is not new. This practice has its roots in the lack of vigorous defense of trademarks by their owners. 

An example is Xerox, which had to launch an expensive advertising campaign to prevent its brand from becoming a generic term for the photocopier.

In the United Kingdom, "cello tape" is commonly used for what is known in the United States as "Scotch tape," both names of registered trademarks. The adoption of these terms is usually the result of effective marketing and the popularity of the original brand.

User Opinions

Paul Zink:

"Like many people, I say Kleenex®— the trademarked product of Kimberly-Clark, when I should say “tissue”. This habit is common and probably dates back to the existence of registered trademarks. It occurs when a trademark holder does not vigorously defend its ownership and exclusivity."

Janet Hale Tabin:

"I use both terms interchangeably and clearly understand that Kleenex is a brand of tissue. I often say ‘Xerox’ when I mean ‘copy’. I might very well speak of a ‘Kodak moment’ when I mean we should get a photograph of this event. Why? Because the words communicate what I wish to communicate. No one is confused by these uses."

Ashmede Asgarali:

"Both, depending on the situation and context. Kleenex is associated with tissues and thus referring to tissues as Kleenex is synonymous and understood. It’s the same as referring to copying a document as “xeroxing”."

Charliss Green:

"The use of the term is the result of effective commercials and marketing. 'KLEENEX' is a brand name. 'Tissue' refers to a specific product type. Not all tissue is manufactured by the KLEENEX Company."

Elizabeth Henderson:

"I say whichever comes to mind at the time I’m speaking. Like 'Hoover' and 'Xerox', 'Kleenex' has come to stand for all types of paper tissues except toilet tissue, which I normally call 'Andrex' as that’s the brand I always buy."

Fun Facts and Explanations

The use of brand names as generic terms is a linguistic phenomenon known as antonomasia. This occurs when a proper name becomes a common term due to the popularity and recognition of the brand. 

Examples of this include "Tupperware" to refer to any plastic food container and "Google," which has gone from being a brand name to becoming a verb: "to google," referring to the act of searching for information on the internet.

The confusion in using brand names instead of generic terms can be cultural or regional. For example, in Trinidad, nail polish was commonly referred to as "cutex" due to the popularity of the Cutex brand.

Historical Context

The phenomenon of using brand names as generic terms has a rich history. Understanding the origins of this practice provides insight into how certain brands have become embedded in our everyday language.

Kleenex: In the 1920s, Kleenex was introduced as a disposable facial tissue by the Kimberly-Clark Corporation. Initially marketed as a cold cream remover, its use as a disposable handkerchief quickly gained popularity. 

Thanks to a successful advertising campaign, Kleenex became so well-known that the brand name started to be used generically to refer to all facial tissues.


Why do people say Kleenex instead of tissue?

In the United States, the first manufacturer of facial tissues was Kleenex. They did a lot of advertising, so they were well known. There may have been other companies, but they didn't get any shelf space in stores, so the only one that people knew about was Kleenex. For that reason, everyone referred to tissues as “Kleenex”.

Do you say tissue or Kleenex?

Capital K “Kleenex” is a brand name for facial tissues and is trademarked by Kimberly-Clark Worldwide. But the word kleenex (lowercase k) has become shorthand for disposable facial tissues.

What is it called when you call a tissue a Kleenex?

When you use a brand name as a generic term, you're using a proprietary eponym, or, more simply, a generic trademark. You're probably familiar with this phenomenon, but there are more examples of it than you might realize. You may be aware of Kleenex, Velcro, and ChapStick, but what about escalator? Or dumpster?

Is tissue toilet paper or Kleenex?

They're both made of paper pulp and meant to be used once, then tossed away. That's where the similarities end. Facial tissue is smoother and often has lotions and scents added. Toilet paper does have one important feature that facial tissue does not — it dissolves in one to four minutes in water.


The debate over whether we say "tissue" or "Kleenex" reflects how brands can become deeply integrated into our everyday vocabulary. This phenomenon not only demonstrates the power of marketing and advertising but also how our need for efficient communication leads us to adopt terms that everyone easily understands. 

As we continue to explore and adapt to new realities, it is likely that we will continue to see how brands influence our language and the way we communicate.

Exploring these linguistic habits helps us better understand the relationship between language, culture, and commercialization, allowing us to appreciate the subtleties of how we express ourselves in our daily lives.