What Do the Ms on M&M's Stand For?

iStock / Ekaterina79
iStock / Ekaterina79

In the early 1900s, Forrest Mars, Sr., the son of Chicago candy maker and Snickers bar creator Franklin Clarence Mars, worked his way through Europe learning the ins and outs of the candy business. He worked for Nestle. He worked for Tobler. He started his own little factory in England. He sold some of his father’s brands. Most importantly, he found inspiration. According to confectionery lore, Mars was in Spain during the Spanish Civil War and noticed treats frequently placed in soldiers’ rations. They were chocolate pellets coated with a hard candy shell that kept them from melting (these might have been, or been inspired by, the “chocolate beans” made by Rowntrees of York, England since 1882).

Upon his return to the U.S. in 1940, Mars sought out another son of a famed candy man to put his own spin on the Spanish candies.

Bruce Murrie’s partnership in the new venture was essential to the candy’s success during World War II. His father was William Murrie, president of the Hershey Company, which meant Bruce and Mars had access to Hershey’s sugar and chocolate stores at a time when the ingredients were in short supply. It also guaranteed customers - Hershey had struck a deal with the Army in 1937 to provide chocolate for U.S. soldiers’ ration packs.

The partners Mars and Murrie dubbed their new candy with their initials, and M&M’s soon found their way around the world with U.S. servicemen (along with the 4-ounce, 600-calorie “Ration D” Hershey chocolate bar). The story didn’t end sweetly for Murrie, though. When chocolate rationing ended after the war, Mars bought out Murrie's 20% interest in the product and went on to become one of Hershey’s biggest competitors.

Leaving Their Mark

Even with their partnership dissolved, Mars and Murrie’s initials stuck as the candy’s name and, in 1950, was even printed on it. Today, the Ms are applied to M&M's in a process that Mars Inc. describes as “akin to offset printing.” Blank M&M's sit on a special conveyor belt that has a dimple for each candy to sit in, and roll through a machine where vegetable dye is transferred from a press to a rubber etch roller that gently prints the M on each piece.

The printer can stamp some 2.5 million M&M's an hour. Some candies make it off the line M-less, but Mars doesn’t consider these rejects. Minor variations in the shapes of M&M's, especially the peanut ones, make uniform stamping difficult, and the machine is set up to let some blanks slip through rather than mark every one and break some candy shells in the process.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

Is There An International Standard Governing Scientific Naming Conventions?

iStock/Grafissimo
iStock/Grafissimo

Jelle Zijlstra:

There are lots of different systems of scientific names with different conventions or rules governing them: chemicals, genes, stars, archeological cultures, and so on. But the one I'm familiar with is the naming system for animals.

The modern naming system for animals derives from the works of the 18th-century Swedish naturalist Carl von Linné (Latinized to Carolus Linnaeus). Linnaeus introduced the system of binominal nomenclature, where animals have names composed of two parts, like Homo sapiens. Linnaeus wrote in Latin and most his names were of Latin origin, although a few were derived from Greek, like Rhinoceros for rhinos, or from other languages, like Sus babyrussa for the babirusa (from Malay).

Other people also started using Linnaeus's system, and a system of rules was developed and eventually codified into what is now called the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN). In this case, therefore, there is indeed an international standard governing naming conventions. However, it does not put very strict requirements on the derivation of names: they are merely required to be in the Latin alphabet.

In practice a lot of well-known scientific names are derived from Greek. This is especially true for genus names: Tyrannosaurus, Macropus (kangaroos), Drosophila (fruit flies), Caenorhabditis (nematode worms), Peromyscus (deermice), and so on. Species names are more likely to be derived from Latin (e.g., T. rex, C. elegans, P. maniculatus, but Drosophila melanogaster is Greek again).

One interesting pattern I've noticed in mammals is that even when Linnaeus named the first genus in a group by a Latin name, usually most later names for related genera use Greek roots instead. For example, Linnaeus gave the name Mus to mice, and that is still the genus name for the house mouse, but most related genera use compounds of the Greek-derived root -mys (from μῦς), which also means "mouse." Similarly, bats for Linnaeus were Vespertilio, but there are many more compounds of the Greek root -nycteris (νυκτερίς); pigs are Sus, but compounds usually use Greek -choerus (χοῖρος) or -hys/-hyus (ὗς); weasels are Mustela but compounds usually use -gale or -galea (γαλέη); horses are Equus but compounds use -hippus (ἵππος).

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

Can Soap Get Dirty?

iStock/vintagerobot
iStock/vintagerobot

When you see lovely little bars of lemon-thyme or lavender hand soaps on the rim of a sink, you know they are there to make you feel as fresh as a gardenia-scented daisy. We all know washing our hands is important, but, like washcloths and towels, can the bars of hand soap we use to clean ourselves become dirty as well?

Soaps are simply mixtures of sodium or potassium salts derived from fatty acids and alkali solutions during a process called saponification. Each soap molecule is made of a long, non-polar, hydrophobic (repelled by water) hydrocarbon chain (the "tail") capped by a polar, hydrophilic (water-soluble) "salt" head. Because soap molecules have both polar and non-polar properties, they're great emulsifiers, which means they can disperse one liquid into another.

When you wash your dirty hands with soap and water, the tails of the soap molecules are repelled by water and attracted to oils, which attract dirt. The tails cluster together and form structures called micelles, trapping the dirt and oils. The micelles are negatively charged and soluble in water, so they repel each other and remain dispersed in water—and can easily be washed away.

So, yes, soap does indeed get dirty. That's sort of how it gets your hands clean: by latching onto grease, dirt and oil more strongly than your skin does. Of course, when you're using soap, you're washing all those loose, dirt-trapping, dirty soap molecules away, but a bar of soap sitting on the bathroom counter or liquid soap in a bottle can also be contaminated with microorganisms.

This doesn't seem to be much of a problem, though. In the few studies that have been done on the matter, test subjects were given bars of soap laden with E. coli and other bacteria and instructed to wash up. None of the studies found any evidence of bacteria transfer from the soap to the subjects' hands. (It should be noted that two of these studies were conducted by Procter & Gamble and the Dial Corp., though no contradictory evidence has been found.)

Dirty soap can't clean itself, though. A contaminated bar of soap gets cleaned via the same mechanical action that helps clean you up when you wash your hands: good ol' fashioned scrubbing. The friction from rubbing your hands against the soap, as well as the flushing action of running water, removes any harmful microorganisms from both your hands and the soap and sends them down the drain.

This story was updated in 2019.

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