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.

What’s the Difference Between Crocheting and Knitting?

djedzura/iStock via Getty Images
djedzura/iStock via Getty Images

With blustery days officially upon us, the most pressing question about your sweaters, scarves, hats, and mittens is probably: “Are these keeping me warm?” If you’re a DIY enthusiast, or just a detail-oriented person in general, your next question might be: “Were these knitted or crocheted?”

Knitting and crocheting are both calming crafts that involve yarn, produce cozy garments and other items, and can even boost your mental well-being. Having said that, they do have a few specific differences.

To knit, you need needles. The size, material, and number of those needles depends on the project; though most traditional garments are made using two needles, it’s also possible to knit with just one needle, or as many as five. But regardless of the other variables, one or both ends of your knitting needles will always be pointed.

While crocheting calls for a similar long, thin tool that varies in size and material, it has a hooked end—and you only ever need one. According to The Spruce Crafts, even if you hear people refer to the tool as a crochet needle, they’re really talking about a crochet hook.

crotchet hook and garment
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Part of the reason you only use one hook brings us to the next difference between crocheting and knitting: When crocheting, there’s only one “active loop” on your hook at any given time, whereas knitting entails lining up loops down the length of your needles and passing them between needles. The blog Darn Good Yarn explains that since each loop is attached to a long row of stitches, accidentally “dropping” one off the end of your needle might unravel the entire row.

Of course, you have a better chance of avoiding that type of manual error if you’re using a knitting machine or loom, which both exist. Crocheting, on the other hand, has to be done by hand. Since machines can create garments with extremely small stitches, some knit clothes can be much more lightweight or close-fitting than anything you’d be able to crochet—and knitted clothes can also be mass-produced.

When it comes to what the items actually look like, crochet stitches characteristically look more like knots, while knit stitches seem flatter and less bulky. However, materials and techniques have come a long way over the years, and now there’s more crossover between what you’re able to knit and crochet. According to The Spruce Crafts, socks and T-shirts—traditionally both garments that would be knitted—can now technically be crocheted.

knitting needles and garment
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And, believe it or not, knitting and crocheting can even be used to depict complicated mathematical concepts: see what a crocheted hyperbolic plane, Lorenz manifold, and more look like here.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Idioms: One or Two?

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