Reader Brian wants to know: Why is Acme the stock company name used in cartoons and other pop culture?
The Acme Corporation is a mysterious conglomerate that appears to make every product imaginable—from rocket-powered roller skates to dehydrated boulders—across several fictional universes. It’s a ubiquitous go-to name for cartoons (thanks largely to its repeated use in the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote segments on Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies), but also the name of plenty of reputable, real-world businesses.
Acme isn’t a made-up word or a jokey acronym, but comes the Greek akme (the "highest point” or “peak,” and often used to mean the best of a category). Its heavy use in cartoons comes from its popularity as a name in the era when the Yellow Pages and other alphabetized phone directories became common.
We’ll turn it over to Chuck Jones, who worked as an animator, writer and director on Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons for some 30 years, to explain it a little more. He said in interviews for the 2009 short documentary, Chuck Jones: Memories of Childhood:
“Since we had to search out our own entertainment, we devised our own fairy stories. If you wanted a bow and arrow, you got a stick. If you wanted to conduct an orchestra, you got a stick. If you wanted a duel, you used a stick. You couldn't go and buy one. That’s where the term acme came from. Whenever we played a game where we had a grocery store or something, we called it the ACME corporation. Why? Because in the yellow pages if you looked, say, under drugstores, you'd find the first one would be Acme Drugs. Why? Because “ac” was about as high as you could go. It means the best, the superlative.”
You can check out all things ACME—in the Looney Tunes universe, anyway—at The Original Illustrated Catalogue of ACME Products.