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Hoover vs. vacuum

For the electrical appliance that cleans surfaces through suction, North Americans tend to use vacuum cleaner, or just vacuum, and Britons tend to use hoover. Both words also function as verbs, inflected vacuumed, vacuuming, hoovered, and hoovering. By metaphorical extension, hoover also means to consume completely. It’s usually followed by the preposition up. When you are very hungry, for example, you might hoover up your dinner. Vacuum isn’t commonly used this way.

Hoover also appears elsewhere in the U.K., as well as in Ireland, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, but nowhere is it quite as common as in England. Meanwhile, outside North America vacuum cleaner and its corresponding verbs are known and appear often. This same is not true of hoover in the U.S. and Canada, though it is recognized by most people who have had some exposure to British media.


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Examples

When they are hauled in, fish are pulled into the hold by suction tubes, like giant vacuum cleaners. [New York Times]

Meanwhile, I removed everything from the drawer under the stove and vacuumed it out. [Grand Forks Herald]

A dust which however often I hoovered, mopped and dusted, would reappear after a few hours. [Telegraph]

The temptation to hoover up the food because you’re starving and get a few drinks in early to steady the nerves is always a mistake. [Daily Mail]

But in the previous decade, it mutated into an acquisitive monster with a voracious appetite, hoovering up anything in its sights. [Sydney Morning Herald]

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Comments

  1. Brand names have, many times, replaced generic names of products. We use “Jeep”, “Nescafe”, “Clark”,  to denote “SUV”, “Instant coffee” and “Fork Lift” respectively, as these product were first manufactured by the respective companies. I am not surprised about the british using “Hoover” instead of “vacuum cleaner”…

  2. Pennycook says:

    As a Brit, I’d like to point out that a hoover doesn’t have to be manufactured by Hoover.

    Most people I know have Dyson vacuum cleaners, but still talk of “pushing the hoover around” or “doing the hoovering”.

  3. There are literally hundreds of brand names that have come to stand for the generic. One of the more interesting is Skeeball. We all know it as any carnival game where the object is to roll a wooden ball down a lane into rings of varying points.

    But, when the game was invented (’20s, I think) the name was trademarked. The original company went bankrupt and the brand name became the generic.

    Other great examples – Kleenex and Plexiglass.

  4. Michael Kemp says:

    There’s a peculiar irony in the British preference to call a vacuum cleaner a hoover. Hoover was an American brand of cleaner which post-dated the British invention of the vacuum by Edward Booth founder of the Goblin brand made in the UK (though sadly no longer). So it ought really to called a “booth” in the UK. Now that would really be confusing! Personally I prefer the simple abbreviation “vac”.

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