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Posted: Tue Apr 26, 2005 9:31 am
by Ken Greenwald
The name NYLON does not derive from Now You’ve Lost, Old Nippon, “supposedly a reference to DuPont’s belief that their product would destroy the Japanese silk market” [false], nor from 'New York and London,' “allegedly because the fiber was produced by collaboration of research labs in those two cities or because DuPont launched the product simultaneously in those to cites” [both false]— these are well-known urban legends (i.e. myths). For a good discussion of this see nylon in Ask the Wordwizard. It is also discussed in David Wilton’s new book Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends (2004) as well as in the Oxford English Dictionary, and many other sources. The word Nylon was invented by DuPont’s marketing department in 1938 and is “an arbitrary name with no meaning” (Wilton). “Other theories have been suggested as to the origin of this word (such as a connection with the place names ‘New York’ and ‘London’), but are not supported by any evidence” (OED).
<1938 ‘NYLON’ is a generic name, coined by the du Pont chemists, to designate all materials defined scientifically as ‘synthetic fiber-forming polymeric amides having a protein-like chemical structure; derivable from coal, air and water, or other substances, and characterized by extreme toughness and strength and the peculiar ability to be formed into fibers and into various shapes, such as bristles and sheets’”—‘N.Y. Times,’ 28 October, page 34/3>

<1940 “The du Pont letter, written by John W. Eckelberry, covers the general status of nylon as follows: ‘The word is a generic word coined by the du Pont Co. It is not a registered name or trademark . . . We wish to emphasize the following additional points: First, that the letters N-Y-L-O-N have absolutely no significance, etymologically or otherwise . . . Because the names of two textile fibers in common use—namely “cotton” and “rayon”, end with letters “on” . . . it was felt that a word ending in “on” might be desirable. A number of words . . . were rejected because it was found they were not sufficiently distinct from words found in the dictionary, or in lists of classified trademarks. After much deliberation, the term “NYLON” was finally adopted.’”—Women’s Wear Daily,’ 9 February, page 22>

<1988 “Gladding thought of norun, which would have caused problems because NYLON stockings did run. He then turned it around to nuron but thought that sounded like a nerve tonic. So he changed the r to an l, making it nulon. This apparently was very similar to an existing trademark, and Gladding realized that many advertisements would refer to new nulon, a redundant-sounding phrase. Next, he changed the u to an i and got nilon, which unfortunately has three pronunciations: nillon, neelon, or NYLON. The latter one was chosen, and Fiber 66 was given a name.”—‘Science & Corporate Strategy’ by D. Hounshell & J. Kenly, xiii. page 269>
(Oxford English Dictionary, Trade Name Origins by Adrian Room, Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends by Wilton)

Ken G – April 25, 2005