Medicine Cabinet Etymology: 12 Product Names Explained

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Most medicines and over-the-counter products have names that sound like unintelligible strings of chemical jargon, or sound like they were born in a focus group. But a few familiar drugs and products have names with interesting origins. Let's take a look at the etymologies behind your medicine cabinet's holdings.

1. Premarin

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2. Tylenol

Pharmacists and physicians refer to the drug we know as Tylenol by the abbreviation "APAP," which comes from the chemical's formal name, "N-acetyl-para-aminophenol." The name "Tylenol" also traces its roots back to this chemical name but with different emphasis; it comes from stressing "N-aceTYL-para-aminophENOL."

3. Listerine

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4. K-Y Jelly

Johnson & Johnson's personal lubricant brand got its start as a surgical lubricant in 1904. Since the lubricant had a natural water base, medical professionals loved that it was easier to clean up than its petroleum-based competitors. Although the product became popular, no one's quite sure where the initials "K" and "Y" came from, not even Johnson & Johnson. On the brand's website, the company admits, "The origins of the brand name 'K-Y' are unknown. Two popular myths are that it was created in Kentucky, hence 'K-Y,' or that the letters represent the key ingredients used to make the lubricant. Neither of these is true. The name continues to remain a bit of a mystery."

5. Rolaids

The antacid best friend of the upset stomach takes its name from its iconic packaging. Although you can buy them in bottles now, Rolaids originally came in foil-wrapped rolls, a marketing decision that persists even today.

6. Heroin

The highly addictive street drug probably isn't in your medicine cabinet today, but when Bayer introduced the product in 1895, it was designed as a less addictive substitute to morphine, which was widely abused at the time. The name "heroin" came from the German heroisch, because of the drug made users feel heroic, euphoric, and strong.

7. Morphine

The drug that heroin was designed to replace takes its name from Greek mythology. The name "morphine" is an allusion to Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams.

8. Codeine

The pain-suppressing alkaloid is derived from the opium poppy, so it's only natural that the opiate takes its name from the Greek word kodeia, which literally translates into "poppy head."

9. Carmex

The wildly popular lip balm in the yellow pot gets its name from Carma Labs, the site of its invention. While hearing "Carma Labs" conjures up images of white coats and teams of top-flight scientists, the actual labs were a bit humbler than that. In fact, the "lab" was really a kitchen; inventor Alfred Woelbing perfected his balm in 1937 while working on his family's stove. Woelbing and his wife made and packaged Carmex in their kitchen and sold it out of their car's trunk for an amazing 20 years until Carma Labs got a proper home in the Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa in 1957.

10. Aspirin

As you might remember from your high school chemistry classes, aspirin is also known as a compound called acetylsalicylic acid. The acid is found naturally in the flowers and leaves of the Spiraea ulmaria, so according to some sources, the name "aspirin" is a combination of the prefix a- for "without" and the name of the plant, to stress that the pills are produced chemically without using the plant. The Oxford English Dictionary, on the other hand, posits that the word "aspirin" comes from the German name for acetylsalicylic acid, acetylierte spirsäure.

11. Vicks

The maker of VapoRub and Nyquil traces its roots back to Greensboro, NC, in the 1890s. Pharmacist Lunsford Richardson began mixing up home remedies at his shop, but he needed a name for marketing his concoctions. After seeing an ad for a company called Vick's Seeds he decided to name his brands Vick's Family Remedies in honor of his brother-in-law, Dr. Joshua Vick. While Richardson initially sold 21 family remedies, one of them was particularly popular; Vicks Croup and Pneumonia Salve was the forerunner to what we now know as Vicks Vaporub.

12. Bengay

Contrary to what you might have thought, there was never a creative doctor named Ben Gay. French physician Dr. Jules Bengué realized in the late 19th century that menthol and methyl salicylate provided a nice warming, pain-killing sensation when rubbed on the skin. In 1898, Bengué brought his product to America with a twist on his own surname as Ben-Gay.

If You Want to Be a More Effective Writer, Stop Using Utilize and These Other 12 Words

iStock.com/Nattakorn Maneerat
iStock.com/Nattakorn Maneerat

If you want to become a better writer, it can be hard to know where to start. The good news is that you don't need to pad your vocabulary with $10 words to develop effective writing techniques. According to Lifehacker, an easy way to improve your writing is by replacing big, fancy words with language used in everyday conversations.

New York Times editor Dan Saltzstein recently tweeted some examples of words writers use to make their work sound more intelligent than it really is. Words like shuttered, commence, and utilize may look impressive on the page, but the extra syllables add nothing to your point. To make your writing sound more like your natural voice and less like a business email, Saltzstein recommends swapping in closed, begin, and use for the terms above.

You can also use this guideline to edit words out of your writing completely. Leading words like so, mostly, and oftentimes aren't always necessary and can be cut without changing the meaning of a sentence. When you're scanning a piece for leading words, also keep an eye out for adverbs. Its tempting to tack words like violently, quickly, or loudly behind your action words, but too many adverbs can weaken your writing. Wherever you use a verb and an adverb together, see if you can replace the phrase with a single, more specific verb (like shouted instead of said loudly).

Here are some words to upgrade the next time you're writing or editing.

1. Closed > shuttered
2. Begin > commence
3. Open > launch
4. Use > utilize
5. Let > enable
6. Many > myriad
7. Live > reside
8. Planned > preplanned
9. Before > prior to
10. Tiptoe > walk softly
11. Whisper > speak quietly
12. Need > want badly
13. Shout > say loudly

[h/t Lifehacker]

11 Suffixes That Gave Us New, Often Terrible Words

An American 'Bookmobile' mobile library circa 1955
An American 'Bookmobile' mobile library circa 1955
Vecchio/Three Lions/Getty Images

People love coining new words. And they love making good use of them—for a while anyway. Bromance, adultescence, and Frankenstorm are just a few of the creative blends that have recently made it big but probably won't stick around.

Sometimes, however, a coinage is so apt and useful that it does stick. When that happens, we sometimes get more than just one new word; we get a new kind of word ending, one that goes on to a long, productive career in word formation. Bookmobile was born in the 1920s and went on to spawn the likes of bloodmobile, Wienermobile, and pimpmobile. Workaholic is a creation of the 1940s that led to everything from chocoholic to sleepaholic to Tweetaholic. But not all of these creative endings have staying power. We don't hear much today from the bootlegger-inspired "-leggers" of the 1940s—the foodleggers, gasleggers, tireleggers, and meatleggers who were circumventing the law to deal in valuable rationed goods.

Here are 11 other word endings that have become productive to varying degrees. You can probably think of a lot more to add to this list. Will they stand the test of time?

1. -nomics

With its origins in the staid and straightforward Nixonomics and Reaganomics, this one has rather promiscuously attached itself to almost everything: burgernomics, beeronomics, sexonomics and so on. All the better for its reproductive advantage—elementary survivalnomics!

2. -athon

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this one was "barbarously extracted" from marathon back in the 1930s, and it's proved its staying power since. Whether for a good cause or for no cause at all, our telethons, danceathons, bakeathons, drinkathons, complainathons and assorted other verbathons have made this past century something of an athonathon.

3. -gate

This mark of scandal became productive almost immediately after the break-in at the Watergate office complex was uncovered in the early '70s. Anywhere there's a lie, an impropriety, or a cover-up, -gate will find a foothold. It has even spread to other languages: see toallagate ("towelgate"), a term coined after the Mexican government was revealed to have purchased $400 towels for the presidential residences. (There's even a whole Wikipedia page devoted to –gate scandals.)

4. -splaining

Mansplaining, nerdsplaining, vegansplaining, catsplaining—seems like everybody's got some 'splaining to do these days.

5. -cation

It started with the staycation in the 1940s. Soon –cation no longer cared to preserve the rhyme with vacation, and it roamed free among our leisure pursuits: foodcation, golfcation, shopcation, sleepcation. It can also refer to a break from work. Did you enjoy a recent stormcation? Are you hoping for a few days of snowcation this winter? Or will that make you long for a kidcation?

6. -tainment

Edutainment, watertainment, agritainment, newstainment—why be boring when you can wordertain?

7. -itude

You better check your momitude, geekitude, dudeitude, snarkitude, drunkitude or New Yorkitude. And if it works for you, wear it with prideitude!

8. -tastic

It's cheesetastic! It's craft-tastic! It's awesometastic! Almost anything can be made fantastic with this ending. It can even bring out the unrecognized positive qualities of that which is grosstastic, sadtastic, or craptastic. Beware the –tastic meaning drift, however. Craptastic wavers between "so crappy it's great" and just "super crappy."

9. -licious

Babelicious, bootylicious, funalicious, partylicious, biblicious, yogalicious, mathalicious—if you like it, celebrate it with a –licious!

10. -pocalypse

Snowpocalypse! Heatpocalypse! Will the world end in firepocalypse or icepocalypse? This one seems to have begun in the domain of weather reports, but hysterical exaggeration has proved useful elsewhere. Have you not heard Rush Limbaugh's warning of Barackalypse? The e-reader's bringing of the bookpocalypse? See also: wordmageddon.

11. -gasm

This new word ending offers the … um … ultimate in excitement. Eargasm, joygasm, sportsgasm, teagasm, soupgasm, stylegasm, and yes, ectoplasmgasm.

A version of this story first ran in 2012.

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