A lot of authors do it.
Some are sneaky about it because they don’t want to be sued by a conglomerate like, say, those who might be thought of as wearing mouse ears, or perhaps others who are associated with the golden arches. Many companies are very touchy about how their products are represented. And they always want to get paid for use of their trademarked and copyrighted properties.
Some authors are sneaky because they want to see if you get it – “How many Firefly fans are going to comment on this odd turn of phrase?” Some slide in a bit of their own properties – Stephen King does this quite a bit if you pay attention.
When it’s done right, it can bring a smile to someone’s face. But if you do it wrong?
Oy. You may not enjoy the reaction from your readers.
Sure, you’re not specifically trying to alienate your readers. No one wants to do that – your readers make it possible for you to write. You need readers.
Readers want to know you’ve done your research. You need to do research before you make those references, because what doesn’t seem like a big deal to you can be a massive problem in the fan base.
A common one I see in fiction is the use of “Ooh-rah!” for American military forces. It’s a motivational cry used by U.S. Marines. Marines are popularly perceived as the toughest of the tough in the American military structure, also the ones with the tightest bonds. A great many American movies and books tend to be about Marines because of this perception. The camaraderie. The fight against impossible odds. The heroes who pull together and sacrifice everything to save the day. OOH-RAH!
It is NOT used by the Army or Air Force. They used “Hoo-ahh!” while the Navy trends towards “Hoo-yah!” Even then, not all members of the branches do it – some branches reserve those for Security Forces and/or Special Forces only.
A tiny difference, true, but if your reader happens to be a an active duty or a veteran of one of those groups and he reads about your Special Forces Army hero yelling “Ooh-rah!” – he’s going to know you didn’t do your research. And some military members get a little touchy about their traditions being improperly represented. Many will put down your book and never pick up another written by you again because you screwed up that one detail.
That’s a bad thing. You want to keep your readers, not irritate them.
I’ve read a scenes where our hero is hanging upside down, tied to the rafters by his ankles in preparation for interrogation. The only ill effects hero feels is the blood rushing to his head.
Did you know that being hung by your ankles hurts like a son-of-a-bitch? Seriously. Dancers, actors, gymnasts, magicians and their props, set and costuming technicians know that. Joe Average? Not so much until he tries it himself.
Or until he researches how and why it’s done BEFORE he tries to escape from a straight-jacket, upside, in the comfort of his own basement (we won’t even get into the issues of load pressures per inch on 2×4 or 2×6 – on the other hand, it does make for painfully stupid YouTube entertainment).
I know I’ve harped about details before. I know I’ve made my own mistakes regarding details, despite the painful amount of research I load up on. But please DOUBLE CHECK EVERYTHING THAT YOU DON’T HAVE PERSONAL EXPERIENCE WITH.
Yes, I know it’s a pain in the butt. Believe me, I know. But those resources are out there and readily available.
And will hopefully prevent your reader from swearing off all of your work.