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WORDS AND THEIR STORIES - Teflon

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Now, Words and Their Stories, a VOA Special English Program about Amercian expressions. I'm Rich Kleinfeldt with the word "teflon", the way it is used to describe political leaders.

Teflon is a very successful product made by EI DuPont de Nemours and Company. It is used in many ways as plastic, film and cloth. Most people know teflon best as a covering inside pans and pots that are used for cooking. Food does not stick to the teflon on the cooking pan. Teflon makes the pan very easy to clean. Doctors use teflon products to replace damaged heart arteries and other body parts. Teflon is used to make clothing and shoes that can be worn in the rain. Some teflon parts were used to fix the Statue of Liberty in New York city.

DuPont developed teflon more than 60 years ago. Its chemical name is very long, Polytetrafluoroethylene. DuPont created the name Teflon and that is how it is known today. The word teflon is a trademark name owned by DuPont and protected by the United States government. Only its owner legally can use it. Yet sometimes, a trademark name becomes very successful, so successful that people use it to form new expressions that have nothing to do with a product. That happened with teflon. Former Democratic Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder tells how it happened in her book Twenty-four Years of Housework and the Place is Still a Mess.

She said that Democrats had a special problem with Republican President Ronald Reagan during the 1984 presidential election campaign. None of their criticisms or accusations of wrongdoing seemed to affect public support for Mr.Reagan. Neither unpopular policies nor mistakes seemed to make him less popular. Democrats wanted some short expressions to describe this effect. Mrs. Schroeder found one. She was cooking eggs for her children in a teflon pan and thinking about President Reagan. She realized that his political problems did not stick to him in the same way that the eggs did not stick to her teflon-covered pan. He seemed to be covered in teflon she thought. Later that day, Mrs. Schroeder made a 1-minute speech in the House of Representatives.

She spoke of Mr.Reagan as a teflon president. News programs later broadcast that part of her speech. And "Teflon President" became a part of the language. Mrs. Schroeder said Mr. Reagan never said anything about it to her. But she said she got a letter from DuPont's lawyers. The letter, she said, threatened legal action for using the company's trademark name. The Congresswoman said in her book that the teflon covering kept working for Mr. Reagan. He was re-elected president.

This VOA Special English Program Words and Their Stories was written by Frank Beardsley. I'm Rich Kleinfeldt.

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