Imagine a time when heroin was marketed for the whole family. It really happened! Also, how Twitter, M&M’s, and Hallmark cards got their names. Plus, restaurant slang, bad juju, having a wild hair, cutting to the quick, and use vs. utilize.

This episode first aired September 22, 2012.

Download the MP3.

 How Products Got Their Names
Nancy Friedman’s blog Fritinancy is a great source of information about how products get their names. For example, the names Twitch and Jitter were rejected before the creators of Twitter finally settled on the well-known moniker.

 Wild Hair
The idiom to have a wild hair, which dates to the 50’s, means you’re itching to do something. It’s pretty literal: just think about those itchy stray hairs under your collar after a haircut.

 Trillin on Whom
Is it fussy and pretentious to use the word whom instead of who? If you think so, you’ll be heartened by writer Calvin Trillin’s observation on the difference between whom and who: “As far as I’m concerned, whom is a word that was invented to make everyone sound like a butler.”

 Use vs. Utilize
Which is correct: use or utilize? The answer depends on the context. The word utilize carries an additional shade of meaning, suggesting that you’re using something in a way it’s not ordinarily employed. For example, you would use a stapler to staple, but you might utilize a stapler as a paperweight. In any case, use is your safest bet.

 M&M Name
One of comedian Megan Amram’s hilarious tweets made Martha wonder about how M&M’s got their name. In 1940, Forrest Mars and an heir to the Hershey fortune, Bruce Murrie, created a candy similar to the European chocolates called Smarties. The American version takes its name from the initials of the candymakers’ last names, Mars and Murrie.

 Colbertism Word Game
Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a word game full of Colbertisms, in honor of how comedian Stephen Colbert pronounces his own name, with a silent “T” at the end. Why not drop the “T” off all words ending in “RT”?

 30 at the Ends of Articles
Why do newspaper reporters end articles with the number 30 or the three-pound-sign symbol ###? No one knows for sure, although that never stopped journalists from debating the origin of this way of ending a story. The practice arose in a bygone era when reporters typed their copy directly onto paper and handed it over to copyboys, and needed a way to indicate the last page in case one was lost somewhere in the process. In 2007, a vestige of this old practice figured in an amusing correction in the New York Times.

 Writing Customer Apologies
What is the best way to write an apology to a customer, especially if you’re handling complaints for a corporation. Some tips: be sincere, and make sure your wording makes clear that you understand the consumer’s complaint and that your company takes responsibility for the mistake and wants to make things right.

 Naming Aspirin
Aspirin is now a generic drug, but it was once a brand-name product made by Bayer. It’s just one of many genericized trademarks, also known as proprietary eponyms, which includes not only aspirin, but kerosene, dry ice, and cellophane.

What is juju? Is there such a thing as good juju, or is it only possible to have bad juju? This African term for a charm or spell took off during the Back-to-Africa movement in the 1960’s, and has been mentioned in connection with international soccer matches.

 Naming Heroin
Is it true that the drug heroin was once marketed to families? Yes! In the 1890’s, heroin, a substitute for morphine, was hailed as a tremendous help to patients with tuberculosis, a leading cause of death at the time. Heroin eased the terrible suffering of tuberculosis by suppressing the respiratory system and thus the painful coughing fits associated with the disease. Nineteenth-century German doctors used the term heroisch (“heroic”) to describe powerful drugs, and the German company that would later make Bayer aspirin dubbed this promising new drug Heroin. Before the drug’s addictive nature and damaging effects were known, heroin was marketed specifically for children, resulting in some rather astonishing Spanish-language ads.

If a waiter needs a table for two, they might call for a two-top. This restaurant lingo, referring to the amount of place-settings needed, comes from a larger body of terms. Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential is a good source of additional slang from kitchens around the world.

 Cut to the Quick
If you cut something to the quick, it means you’re getting at its very essence. It comes from the Old English word cwicu, meaning alive. It the source of the quick in the phrase the quick and the dead, as well as the words quicksilver (“living silver”), and quicksand (“living sand”), and the quick of your finger, the tender part under the fingernail.

 Naming Hallmark
Hallmark Cards got its name from Joyce C. Hall, who bought an engraving shop along with his brothers in 1910. Would it have taken off had they just called it Hall Cards?

 Doctor’s Appointment
Why do we say that we have a doctor’s appointment instead of an appointment with a doctor? After all, we don’t say we have accountant’s appointments or attorney’s appointments.

Book Mentioned in the Broadcast

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Musical Works

Title Artist Album Label
Watermelon Man Baba Brooks Band Trojan Ska Box Set Trojan Records
Portrait of My Love Baba Brooks Total Reggae / Classic Ska VP Records
Lion of Judah Buster’s All Stars Lion of Judah 45rpm Blue Beat
Rock Island Rocket Tom Scott and The LA Express Tom Cat Ode Records
Pole Position Brown Out Aguilas and Cobras Six Degrees Records
Binboganin Kizi Baris Manco Binboganin Kizi 45rpm Sayan
Tom Cat Tom Scott and The LA Express Tom Cat Ode Records
Burning Spear S.O.U.L. Burning Spear 45rpm Top Pop
Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Book Verve
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  1. Re: doc’s appointment -I think you hit on a clue when mentioning childhood.
    My guess is that it is sort of pre-literate, or lower class, usage that never changed.
    Long ago only a very few very literate would have had a meeting with a Lawyer or Accountant, and would not want to refer to it as the other’s appointment. Grammer that is thought out or formal would also tend to preclude the idea of ownership of an appointment by the service provider.
    There is also the difference in the relationship, you may pay doctors and lawyers, and you may follow their recommendations, but only a health professional gives one orders, as if they were the boss. Hence, it’s OK for the doc to own the meeting, but the Lawyer appointment definately belongs to the client.
    I feel that either of these possibilities looks towards pre-literate usage, either as childhood habit, or educational progression historically.
    It would be nice to know when it entered written use.

  2. Carrie Pruhs says:

    I have always been bewildered by “doctor’s appointment” as well, but for a different reason. I never understood why there is an apostrophe s in the first place – wouldn’t it just be, “I have a doctor appointment?”

  3. ToddL says:

    The discussion of pointing to your elbow as a sign for water, indicating that the people ordering it are cheap, made me think of the sign language sign for poor. To sign poor, you squeeze or rub your elbow. I’m sure this is probably completely coincidental, but it’s a fun connection nonetheless.

  4. I agree with Carrie. I’ve had a doctor appointment, a dentist appointment. Getting others to subscribe to this usage, is to me, fool errand.

  5. hippogriff says:

    30: As one who can still hand-set type, I learned it as indicating to the typesetter than a 30 point slug (bar of metal too low to print) goes there to give some space before the next article.

    Asprin: Bayer still holds the name in Canada. There the term is “ASA tablet” from the name of the chemical compound, acetyl-salicetic acid”.

    edible juju: Any relation to jujub, a Chinese fruit resembling a crab apple, but having a bland, slightly sweet fruit rather than the crab apple’s too tart to eat straight (but great for jelly)?

    doctor: The usage is more often “dental appointment” or “going to the dentist”.

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