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Top Cat's British alter-ego
Top Cat's British alter-ego
Top Cat’s British alter-ego (pic: Hanna-Barbera)

When it comes to calling a thing a name, some work better than others, depending on where you are. Here are five examples of successful brands—or generic names for branded items—that only work on one side of the Atlantic.

The Brits do love a pun. Leeds solicitor’s clerk Anthony E. Pratt originally designed the game he called Murder! as a way of passing the time during air raids in World War II. He presented it to executives at Waddingtons games, who convinced him that a less grisly name might work better, and they went with a portmanteau name that played with the word clue and the game Ludo to create Cluedo.

Parker Brothers, who licensed the game in America, were less bothered about wordplay, and lopped the do off when the game was released in 1949. Subsequently a massive hit, it’s a matter of no small confusion to the British that Americans seem to stop halfway through saying the title, like it has been given an affectionate nickname.

Saran Wrap
It seems unlikely that this should ever come to pass, but maybe, one day far into the future, when unlikely events have taken their course and you find yourself in the U.K. with some food that may go a bit dry in the fridge, you’ll remember this, and a moment of mild embarrassment will have been avoided. Brits have no idea what Saran wrap is, having chosen not to adopt a brand name as the catch-all term for the product. The word you’re looking for is cling-film.

Scotch tape
In this instance, both countries have adopted a brand name to describe the same thing, but chosen different brands. So while sticky-backed plastic (as it was memorably called on BBC children’s TV shows) is generically known as Scotch tape in the U.S., in Britain (and in Ireland, Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Israel, India, Serbia, Japan, Croatia, Greece, Turkey, Macedonia, Zimbabwe, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Slovenia) it is called Sellotape.

Milky Way
This is a relatively complicated tale for first-timers, so do pay attention if you wish to avoid disappointment. The candy bar Americans know as a Milky Way is called a Mars bar in Britain, and it’s enormously popular. There is also a British Milky Way, memorably advertising its own redundancy as “the sweet you can eat between meals without ruining your appetite,” which has the same makeup—nougat encased in chocolate—as an American 3 Musketeers. There is no British 3 Musketeers bar.

Top Cat
This Bilko-spoofing Hanna-Barbera cartoon has enjoyed huge popularity in the U.K., far beyond that of Phil Silvers himself. Repeats are still shown on children’s TV, from time to time, and the whole show plays out the way it always has. But from 1962 until 1989, whenever the show aired, there would be a short break at the end of the credits, after the song that goes “Top Cat! The most effectual Top Cat!” during which an interstitial card appeared, with the amended titled Boss Cat.

This was due to a branding issue. There was already a cat food on sale in the U.K. with the name Top Cat, and the BBC were concerned about being seen to promote a commercial product. Thankfully, the cat food is no longer available, and that awkward transition—always a source of confusion for children—has gone.

See also: 
Five Playground Games That Are Different In Britain
Five Great British Songs That Offer Romantic Advice
The 10 Most (And Least) Romantic British Places To Take Your Valentine
10 TV Shows That Explain British Culture

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By Fraser McAlpine