18 Sounds You Probably Didn't Realize Were Trademarked

Registering an aural trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office can be difficult. Harley-Davidson famously tried for years to get this protection for the purr of their V-twin motorcycle engine, only to be locked in legal limbo for so long that they gave up and withdrew their request.

By 1998, only 23 sound trademarks had been issued in the United States. For reference, around 730,000 total trademarks had been granted by that time. Since then, more and more companies have been able to lock down so-called "sound marks," but the distinction is still relatively rare.

Harley-Davidson might've missed out, but here are 18 examples of sounds that have been successfully trademarked.

1. Mockingjay Whistle

Serial Number: 85409089

Lions Gate Entertainment is understandably protective of its lucrative Hunger Games franchise, so it's no surprise they trademarked Rue's four-note song, described to the United States Patent and Trademark Office as "a human whistling a G4 eighth note, followed by a Bb4 eighth note, followed by an A4 eighth note, followed by a D4 half note, in the key of G minor."

2. Law & Order's "Chung Chung"

Serial Number: 76641094

That iconic two-strike "chung chung" sound was created by composer Mike Post, who also wrote the show's theme song. "I sampled a jail door slamming, I sampled a couple of other things, I put together this ‘clunk clunk,’ ‘ching ching,’ ‘chong chong,’ whatever the hell you want to call it," Post said in an interview.

"It’s not a sound effect," he added. "It’s actually a piece of music that gets a royalty…I call it the ‘ching ching’ because I’m making money off of it."

While Post gets a royalty, Universal holds the trademark, describing the sound as "two musical notes, a strike and a rapid rearticulation of a perfect fifth pitch interval, which in the key of C sounds the notes C and G, struck concurrently."

3. 60 Minutes' Ticking Stopwatch

Serial Number: 85793891

The iconic ticking of 60 Minutes' stopwatch was successfully trademarked by CBS. The above video is a full hour of that sound, just in case you are bored and want to drive yourself insane.

4. Meth Being Smoked

Serial Number: 77268435

Bad news for any companies out there who want to use the sound of someone smoking methamphetamines to promote their product: The Meth Project Foundation, a group that produces anti-meth PSAs, trademarked that sound about a decade ago.

"The sound of burning methamphetamine," according to their application, features "the flick of a lighter, followed by a fizzing sound of a small flame ignition, and high pitched metallic crackling sounds."

You can listen for yourself in the above PSA.

5. “D'oh!”

Serial Number: 76280750

While it may be listed in Simpsons scripts as an "annoyed grunt," the sound of Homer Simpson saying "D'oh!" is now an official trademark owned by Twentieth Century Fox.

6. Tarzan's Yell

Serial Number: 75326989

Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. protects the intellectual property of the author and Tarzan creator, and it holds the trademark for his hero's yell, as made famous by actor Johnny Weissmuller. However, in the Tarzan books, Burroughs merely described this holler as "the victory cry of the bull ape." The trademark registration's language isn't quite as concise:

A series of approximately ten sounds, alternating between the chest and falsetto registers of the voice, as follows - 1) a semi-long sound in the chest register, 2) a short sound up an interval of one octave plus a fifth from the preceding sound, 3) a short sound down a Major 3rd from the preceding sound, 4) a short sound up a Major 3rd from the preceding sound, 5) a long sound down one octave plus a Major 3rd from the preceding sound, 6) a short sound up one octave from the preceding sound, 7) a short sound up a Major 3rd from the preceding sound, 8) a short sound down a Major 3rd from the preceding sound, 9) a short sound up a Major 3rd from the preceding sound, 10) a long sound down an octave plus a fifth from the preceding sound.

7. Darth Vader's Breathing

Serial Number: 77419252

LucasFilm trademarked the "sound of rhythmic mechanical human breathing created by breathing through a scuba tank regulator," better known as Darth Vader's robotically enhanced respiratory system. You know he's on the dark side because lawyers got involved.

8. Lightsaber Sound

Serial Number: 77419246

Use legal force, Luke.

The sound of a lightsaber, FYI, is described as "an oscillating humming buzz created by combining feedback from a microphone with a projector motor sound."

9. Pillsbury Doughboy Giggle

Serial Number: 76163189

Pillsbury owns the rights to this "childlike human giggle," but remember, trademark infringement is no laughing matter.

10. Taco Bell Bell

Serial Number: 77805701

This trademarked entity is described as a "bong" sound, but not the one many Taco Bell enthusiasts are familiar with.

11. NYSE Bell

Serial Number: 76344794

That "clang clang" is "the sound of a brass bell tuned to the pitch D, but with an overtone of D-sharp, struck nine times at a brisk tempo, with the final tone allowed to ring until the sound decays naturally."

It's heard every workday morning on Wall Street...except when it isn't.

12. Mimsie's Meow

Serial Number:75143671

Mary Tyler Moore's MTM Productions used Mimsie, a stage cat, for their logo, which was a spoof on the MGM lion's hearty roar (which is itself a trademarked sound). Apparently, the meow had to be added in post-production because Mimsie refused to perform for the cameras. They just captured her yawning and overlaid the now-trademarked sound.

All of MTM's shows, as well as the trademark for Mimsie's meow, are now owned by Twentieth Century Fox.

13. Green Giant's "HO HO HO"

Serial Number: 75821499

This "sound of a deep, male, human-like voice saying 'Ho-Ho-Ho' in even intervals with each 'Ho' dropping in pitch" is used by an exuberant verdant monster to push frozen veggies.

14. Aflac Quack

Serial Number: 76307773

If you're in the park and hear a duck quacking the word "Aflac," please notify American Family Life Assurance Company as you may be witnessing a trademark violation.

15. ESPN's "DaDaDa DaDaDa"

Serial Number: 75676156

When you hear "six musical notes played in a fast tempo: 'D, C sharp, D, D, C sharp, D,'" you know some hot sports action is about to go down.

Grammy-winning composer John Colby created the short jingle in 1989, despite claims to the contrary from David St. Hubbins:

16. "You've Got Mail"

Serial Number: 75528557

In 1989, Elwood Edwards recorded a series of test greetings for Quantum Computer Services onto a cassette recorder at the behest of his wife, who worked for the company. The company soon changed their name to America Online, and those test greetings—"Welcome," "You've got mail," "File's done," "Goodbye"—were loaded into software that would eventually usher millions of people onto the Internet for the first time.

AOL allowed Warner Bros. to use the trademarked phrase for the 1998 Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan movie of the same name, helping make Elwood's voice one of the most famous sounds of the 1990s (not that he needed the help). Edwards spent most of his life behind the camera, though, and he recently retired from his local news production job in Cleveland, Ohio.

17. Tivo's Bloops

Tivo trademarked ten sounds produced by their remotes and digital recording boxes. Every bloop and bleep is accounted for.

18. Ice Cream Truck Music

Serial Number: 85485669

No one can own the cheery melodies that blast from ice cream trucks and bring back memories of carefree youthful summers, right? WRONG. “Turkey in the Straw," “The Entertainer," and “Camptown Races” are now trademarked by Breville, Ltd. for use with their Smart Scoop brand ice cream makers.

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The Curious Origins of 16 Common Phrases
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Our favorite basketball writer is ESPN's Zach Lowe. On his podcast, the conversation often takes detours into the origins of certain phrases. We compiled a list from Zach and added a few of our own, then sent them to language expert Arika Okrent. Where do these expressions come from anyway?

1. BY THE SAME TOKEN

Bus token? Game token? What kind of token is involved here? Token is a very old word, referring to something that’s a symbol or sign of something else. It could be a pat on the back as a token, or sign, of friendship, or a marked piece of lead that could be exchanged for money. It came to mean a fact or piece of evidence that could be used as proof. “By the same token” first meant, basically “those things you used to prove that can also be used to prove this.” It was later weakened into the expression that just says “these two things are somehow associated.”

2. GET ON A SOAPBOX

1944: A woman standing on a soapbox speaking into a mic
Express/Express/Getty Images

The soapbox that people mount when they “get on a soapbox” is actually a soap box, or rather, one of the big crates that used to hold shipments of soap in the late 1800s. Would-be motivators of crowds would use them to stand on as makeshift podiums to make proclamations, speeches, or sales pitches. The soap box then became a metaphor for spontaneous speech making or getting on a roll about a favorite topic.

3. TOMFOOLERY

The notion of Tom fool goes a long way. It was the term for a foolish person as long ago as the Middle Ages (Thomas fatuus in Latin). Much in the way the names in the expression Tom, Dick, and Harry are used to mean “some generic guys,” Tom fool was the generic fool, with the added implication that he was a particularly absurd one. So the word tomfoolery suggested an incidence of foolishness that went a bit beyond mere foolery.

4. GO BANANAS

chimp eating banana
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The expression “go bananas” is slang, and the origin is a bit harder to pin down. It became popular in the 1950s, around the same time as “go ape,” so there may have been some association between apes, bananas, and crazy behavior. Also, banana is just a funny-sounding word. In the 1920s people said “banana oil!” to mean “nonsense!”

5. RUN OF THE MILL

If something is run of the mill, it’s average, ordinary, nothing special. But what does it have to do with milling? It most likely originally referred to a run from a textile mill. It’s the stuff that’s just been manufactured, before it’s been decorated or embellished. There were related phrases like “run of the mine,” for chunks of coal that hadn’t been sorted by size yet, and “run of the kiln,” for bricks as they came out without being sorted for quality yet.

6. READ THE RIOT ACT

The Law's Delay: Reading The Riot Act 1820
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When you read someone the riot act you give a stern warning, but what is it that you would you have been reading? The Riot Act was a British law passed in 1714 to prevent riots. It went into effect only when read aloud by an official. If too many people were gathering and looking ready for trouble, an officer would let them know that if they didn’t disperse, they would face punishment.

7. HANDS DOWN

Hands down comes from horse racing, where, if you’re way ahead of everyone else, you can relax your grip on the reins and let your hands down. When you win hands down, you win easily.

8. SILVER LINING

The silver lining is the optimistic part of what might otherwise be gloomy. The expression can be traced back directly to a line from Milton about a dark cloud revealing a silver lining, or halo of bright sun behind the gloom. The idea became part of literature and part of the culture, giving us the proverb “every cloud has a silver lining” in the mid-1800s.

9. HAVE YOUR WORK CUT OUT

The expression “you’ve got your work cut out for you” comes from tailoring. To do a big sewing job, all the pieces of fabric are cut out before they get sewn together. It seems like if your work has been cut for you, it should make job easier, but we don’t use the expression that way. The image is more that your task is well defined and ready to be tackled, but all the difficult parts are yours to get to. That big pile of cut-outs isn’t going to sew itself together!

10. THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE

A grapevine is a system of twisty tendrils going from cluster to cluster. The communication grapevine was first mentioned in 1850s, the telegraph era. Where the telegraph was a straight line of communication from one person to another, the “grapevine telegraph” was a message passed from person to person, with some likely twists along the way.

11. THE WHOLE SHEBANG

The earliest uses of shebang were during the Civil War era, referring to a hut, shed, or cluster of bushes where you’re staying. Some officers wrote home about “running the shebang,” meaning the encampment. The origin of the word is obscure, but because it also applied to a tavern or drinking place, it may go back to the Irish word shebeen for a ramshackle drinking establishment.

12. PUSH THE ENVELOPE

Pushing the envelope belongs to the modern era of the airplane. The “flight envelope” is a term from aeronautics meaning the boundary or limit of performance of a flight object. The envelope can be described in terms of mathematical curves based on things like speed, thrust, and atmosphere. You push it as far as you can in order to discover what the limits are. Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff brought the expression into wider use.

13. CAN’T HOLD A CANDLE

We say someone can’t hold a candle to someone else when their skills don’t even come close to being as good. In other words, that person isn’t even good enough to hold up a candle so that a talented person can see what they’re doing in order to work. Holding the candle to light a workspace would have been the job of an assistant, so it’s a way of saying not even fit to be the assistant, much less the artist.

14. THE ACID TEST

Most acids dissolve other metals much more quickly than gold, so using acid on a metallic substance became a way for gold prospectors to see if it contained gold. If you pass the acid test, you didn’t dissolve—you’re the real thing.

15. GO HAYWIRE

What kind of wire is haywire? Just what it says—a wire for baling hay. In addition to tying up bundles, haywire was used to fix and hold things together in a makeshift way, so a dumpy, patched-up place came to be referred to as “a hay-wire outfit.” It then became a term for any kind of malfunctioning thing. The fact that the wire itself got easily tangled when unspooled contributed to the “messed up” sense of the word.

16. CALLED ON THE CARPET

Carpet used to mean a thick cloth that could be placed in a range of places: on the floor, on the bed, on a table. The floor carpet is the one we use most now, so the image most people associate with this phrase is one where a servant or employee is called from plainer, carpetless room to the fancier, carpeted part of the house. But it actually goes back to the tablecloth meaning. When there was an issue up for discussion by some kind of official council it was “on the carpet.”

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15 Facts About the Summer Solstice
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It's the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, so soak up some of those direct sunrays (safely, of course) and celebrate the start of summer with these solstice facts.

1. THIS YEAR IT'S JUNE 21.

June 21 date against a yellow background
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The summer solstice always occurs between June 20 and June 22, but because the calendar doesn't exactly reflect the Earth's rotation, the precise time shifts slightly each year. For 2018, the sun will reach its greatest height in the sky for the Northern Hemisphere on June 21 at 6:07 a.m. Eastern Time.

2. THE SUN WILL BE DIRECTLY OVERHEAD AT THE TROPIC OF CANCER.

A vintage mapped globe showing the Tropic of Cancer
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While the entire Northern Hemisphere will see its longest day of the year on the summer solstice, the sun is only directly overhead at the Tropic of Cancer (23 degrees 27 minutes north latitude).

3. THE NAME COMES FROM THE FACT THAT THE SUN APPEARS TO STAND STILL.

Stonehenge at sunrise.
CARL DE SOUZA, AFP/Getty Images

The term "solstice" is derived from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), because the sun's relative position in the sky at noon does not appear to change much during the solstice and its surrounding days. The rest of the year, the Earth's tilt on its axis—roughly 23.5 degrees—causes the sun's path in the sky to rise and fall from one day to the next.

4. THE WORLD'S BIGGEST BONFIRE WAS PART OF A SOLSTICE CELEBRATION.

A large bonfire
iStock

Celebrations have been held in conjunction with the solstice in cultures around the world for hundreds of years. Among these is Sankthans, or "Midsummer," which is celebrated on June 24 in Scandinavian countries. In 2016, the people of Ålesund, Norway, set a world record for the tallest bonfire with their 155.5-foot celebratory bonfire.

5. THE HOT WEATHER FOLLOWS THE SUN BY A FEW WEEKS.

Colorful picture of the sun hitting ocean waves.
iStock

You may wonder why, if the solstice is the longest day of the year—and thus gets the most sunlight—the temperature usually doesn't reach its annual peak until a month or two later. It's because water, which makes up most of the Earth's surface, has a high specific heat, meaning it takes a while to both heat up and cool down. Because of this, the Earth's temperature takes about six weeks to catch up to the sun.

6. THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE GATHER AT STONEHENGE TO CELEBRATE.

Rollo Maughfling, the Archdruid of Glastonbury and Stonehenge, conducts a Solstice celebration service for revelers as they wait for the midsummer sunrise at Stonehenge on June 21, 2012, near Salisbury, England.
Rollo Maughfling, the Archdruid of Glastonbury and Stonehenge, conducts a Solstice celebration service for revelers as they wait for the midsummer sunrise at Stonehenge on June 21, 2012, near Salisbury, England.
Matt Cardy, Getty Images

People have long believed that Stonehenge was the site of ancient druid solstice celebrations because of the way the sun lines up with the stones on the winter and summer solstices. While there's no proven connection between Celtic solstice celebrations and Stonehenge, these days, thousands of modern pagans gather at the landmark to watch the sunrise on the solstice.

7. PAGANS CELEBRATE THE SOLSTICE WITH SYMBOLS OF FIRE AND WATER.

Arty image of fire and water colliding.
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In Paganism and Wicca, Midsummer is celebrated with a festival known as Litha. In ancient Europe, the festival involved rolling giant wheels lit on fire into bodies of water to symbolize the balance between fire and water.

8. IN ANCIENT EGYPT, THE SOLSTICE HERALDED THE NEW YEAR.

Stars in the night sky.
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In Ancient Egypt, the summer solstice preceded the appearance of the Sirius star, which the Egyptians believed was responsible for the annual flooding of the Nile that they relied upon for agriculture. Because of this, the Egyptian calendar was set so that the start of the year coincided with the appearance of Sirius, just after the solstice.

9. THE ANCIENT CHINESE HONORED THE YIN ON THE SOLSTICE.

Yin and yang symbol on textured sand.
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In ancient China, the summer solstice was the yin to the winter solstice's yang—literally. Throughout the year, the Chinese believed, the powers of yin and yang waxed and waned in reverse proportion to each other. At the summer solstice, the influence of yang was at its height, but the celebration centered on the impending switch to yin. At the winter solstice, the opposite switch was honored.

10. IN ALASKA, THE SOLSTICE IS CELEBRATED WITH A MIDNIGHT BASEBALL GAME.

Silhouette of a baseball player.
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Each year on the summer solstice, the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks celebrate their status as the most northerly baseball team on the planet with a game that starts at 10:00 p.m. and stretches well into the following morning—without the need for artificial light—known as the Midnight Sun Game. The tradition originated in 1906 and was taken over by the Goldpanners in their first year of existence, 1960.

11. THE EARTH IS ACTUALLY AT ITS FARTHEST FROM THE SUN DURING THE SOLSTICE.

The Earth tilted on its axis.
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You might think that because the solstice occurs in summer that it means the Earth is closest to the sun in its elliptical revolution. However, the Earth is actually closest to the sun when the Northern Hemisphere experiences winter and is farthest away during the summer solstice. The warmth of summer comes exclusively from the tilt of the Earth's axis, and not from how close it is to the sun at any given time. 

12. IRONICALLY, THE SOLSTICE MARKS A DARK TIME IN SCIENCE HISTORY.

Galileo working on a book.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Legend has it that it was on the summer solstice in 1633 that Galileo was forced to recant his declaration that the Earth revolves around the Sun; even with doing so, he still spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

13. AN ALTERNATIVE CALENDAR HAD AN EXTRA MONTH NAMED AFTER THE SOLSTICE.

Pages of a calendar
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In 1902, a British railway system employee named Moses B. Cotsworth attempted to institute a new calendar system that would standardize the months into even four-week segments. To do so, he needed to add an extra month to the year. The additional month was inserted between June and July and named Sol because the summer solstice would always fall during this time. Despite Cotsworth's traveling campaign to promote his new calendar, it failed to catch on.

14. IN ANCIENT GREECE, THE SOLSTICE FESTIVAL MARKED A TIME OF SOCIAL EQUALITY.

Ancient Greek sculpture in stone.
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The Greek festival of Kronia, which honored Cronus, the god of agriculture, coincided with the solstice. The festival was distinguished from other annual feasts and celebrations in that slaves and freemen participated in the festivities as equals.

15. ANCIENT ROME HONORED THE GODDESS VESTA ON THE SOLSTICE.

Roman statue of a vestal virgin
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In Rome, midsummer coincided with the festival of Vestalia, which honored Vesta, the Roman goddess who guarded virginity and was considered the patron of the domestic sphere. On the first day of this festival, married women were allowed to enter the temple of the Vestal virgins, from which they were barred the rest of the year.

A version of this list originally ran in 2015.

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