Why Are Movie Previews Called 'Trailers'?

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iStock

There is no part of a film's marketing that's more important than its trailer. An entire film's financial success—and a studio's very future—can be determined by a mere two-and-a-half minute preview released months in advance of a movie's premiere. Case in point: More than 13 million people watched Warner Bros.' first Wonder Woman trailer on YouTube within 48 hours of its release—giving the movie the type of buzz that executives can only dream of.

But amid all the hype attached to trailers, there's one big question that we don't really think about: Why are these previews even called trailers when they're shown before films? 

Well that's just the thing, they weren't always played before movies—and the very first trailer on record wasn't even for a film. It was actually for a 1913 play called The Pleasure Seekers.

As pointed out in the above video by FilmmakerIQ, the moviegoing experience was much different in 1913. You would pay your admission—usually just a couple of cents—and you could basically sit inside a movie house all day and watch whatever was playing, often a combination of feature-length movies, short films, and cartoons. To take advantage of the audience members sitting and waiting for the next movie to play, Broadway producer—and movie theater advertising manager—Nils Granlund came up with the profitable idea of advertising upcoming plays in between screening rotations at Marcus Loew's East Coast theater chain. By using rehearsal footage from The Pleasure Seekers, Granlund put together a short promotional film for the play, creating buzz and bolstering publicity for the production. He also, unknowingly, revolutionized film marketing. 

In the spirit of cramming advertising into every nook and cranny of our lives, the idea quickly evolved. That same year, producer William Selig brought the popular serial format from the newspapers to the big screen—producing short action-adventure story installments that always ended with some type of thrilling cliffhanger that implored people to come back next week to find out if the hero escaped certain death. Well, how else do you get an audience back for more? Selig figured the best way to do this was to have a brief teaser for the following episode play after the main feature, so the audience would leave the theater wanting more. This was the first step toward a traditional movie trailer. 

These initial trailers for Selig's first serial, The Adventures of Kathlyn, were usually nothing more than a brief bit of footage accompanied by text that screamed questions at the audience, like "Does she escape the lion's pit? See next week's thrilling chapter!" This idea worked so well that studios were soon cutting their own trailers, as opposed to the individual theaters doing it for them. After that, trailer production was outsourced by studios to the National Screen Service, which held onto a trailer monopoly for more than four decades. 

Trailers soon became big business, eventually moving to the familiar position we know today, before a movie begins. This ensures more eyes on the product, and probably made more sense once the serial storytelling model was phased out. So while the term "trailer" might not make sense anymore—especially since these previews are mainly viewed on YouTube nowadays anyway—we're too set in our ways to change it now.

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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