How 25 of Your Favorite Halloween Candies Got Their Names

iStock/mediaphotos
iStock/mediaphotos

Soon, small superheroes and ghosts and all sorts of other strange creatures will be canvassing your neighborhood begging for candy. But as you pass out your wares, you can also dole out some (not terribly spooky) etymologies.

1. 3 MUSKETEERS

3 Musketeers candy bar.
Erin McCarthy

When 3 Musketeers bars were introduced in 1932, they consisted of three flavors—chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry—and were labeled "The 3 Musketeers, Chocolate, Vanilla, Strawberry. 3 bars in a package.' Eventually the vanilla and strawberry flavors would disappear, although there’s evidence that they weren't ever particularly important flavors. A 1933 Notice of Judgment from the Acting Secretary of Agriculture describes a shipment of the treats that was seized in part because "[t]he strawberry and vanilla bars had no recognizable flavor of strawberry or vanilla and the strawberry bars were also artificially colored."

2. AIRHEADS

Pile of AirHeads candy.
Jasmin Fine, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

According to Steve Bruner, who invented the name, he had heard that it takes a generation for a candy name to become part of the collective consciousness—unless it was already a commonly used word. So he asked his children, "What would you call your friend who did something silly?" and one of them came up with 'Airhead.'

3. BUTTERFINGER

Three Butterfinger candy bars.
Amira Azarcon, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

According to legend, the Curtiss Candy Company of Chicago decided to run a contest to name their new candy bar, and someone suggested 'butterfinger,' a term used in the form "butter-fingered" since the early 17th century to describe someone who lets things fall from their hands.

4. CANDY CORN

Jack-o-lantern mug full of candy corn.
iStock

In the late 19th century, confections shaped like other things were all the rage (the Candy Professor tells of children then eating candies shaped like cockroaches … for Christmas). Candy corn was invented around this time, and was a stand-out novelty product because real corn kernels—which the candy vaguely resembled—were then mainly a food for livestock, not people.

5. DUM DUMS

Jar of Dum Dums lollipops.
Sarah Browning, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

According to the Spangler Candy Company, the manufacturer, the name Dum Dum was chosen because it "was a word any child could say."

6. HEATH BAR

Two Heath candy bars.
Erika Berlin

In 1914, L.S. Heath decided to buy a candy shop and soda fountain so his children could have a good career. Several years later, the family got hold of the toffee recipe (potential sources range from a traveling salesman to nearby Greek candy makers) that made them famous, especially after they started supplying candy to troops during WWII.

7. HERSHEY'S

Hershey's chocolate bars in a basket.
slgckgc, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Milton Hershey had worked for a few years in various candy businesses, but it was in Denver that he came across the caramel recipe that would become a massive hit. Not resting on his laurels, he learned of the new European craze for "milk chocolate" and brought it to the masses in America.

8. HERSHEY'S COOKIES 'N' CREME

Hershey's Cookies 'n' Creme candy bar.
Like_the_Grand_Canyon, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

The candy bar came about in 1994, somewhere around 15-20 years after the ice cream flavor that it was capitalizing on. Where the ice cream comes from is a mystery—claimants range from South Dakota State University to a Blue Bell Creameries employee (to make matters more difficult, many versions of the story have the invention happening after a visit to some anonymous ice cream parlor that put Oreos on their ice cream, and as early as 1959 Nabisco was suggesting that crumbled Oreos in-between layers of ice cream made a great party parfait). No matter the culinary origin, the name origin is generally agreed upon—Nabisco balked at allowing ice cream companies to use their Oreo trademark.

9. HERSHEY'S KISSES

Hershey Kisses on an orange table.
Song Zhen, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Over 100 years ago, kiss was a generic term for any number of small pieces of confectionery. So when Hershey came out with their product, it was a natural generic name. As years went by and "kiss" lost this particular meaning, Hershey was able to assert control over the name.

10. JOLLY RANCHERS

Bowl of Jolly Rancher candies.
Thomas Hawk, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

When William and Dorothy Harmsen set out to Colorado, their goal was to start a small farm/ranch. Eventually, they decided to open up an ice cream parlor named The Jolly Rancher, evoking both Western hospitality and the Jolly Miller—a hotel in their native Minnesota. The story goes that as sales declined in the winter months, the Harmsens decided to add candies to their menu, which soon outstripped the popularity of all their other offerings.

11. KIT KAT

No one is quite sure where this comes from. The oldest use of the word "kit-cat" in the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1665 to describe a game more commonly known as tipcat, but this is probably coincidence. More likely is that it’s somehow related to the Kit-Cat Club of the early 18th century, which met at a place operated by a mutton pieman named something like Christopher Katt or Christopher Catling. Both he and his pies were named Kit-Kats/Kit-Cats (the prologue to the 1700 play The Reformed Wife even has a line "A Kit-Cat is a supper for a lord"), and the club took its name from either the pie or the pieman.

The jump from a gentleman's club or mutton pie to a candy is more mysterious. A popular theory is that it's related to kit-cat pictures, a type of portrait that the OED describes as "less than half-length, but [includes] the hands." But like most other hypotheses, this doesn't really work because the producer, Rowntree's, registered the name years before there was a candy to go with it, and the candy was originally known as Rowntree’s Chocolate Crisp. Most likely is that someone just liked the name.

12. LIFE SAVERS

Pile of Life Savers candies.
Erika Berlin

The name Life Savers is fairly self-explanatory—they're broadly shaped like a life saver. (Any rumors of the hole existing to prevent a choking death have no merit.)

13. MILKY WAY

Milky Way candy bar.
Like_the_Grand_Canyon, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Before 1970, Milky Way had a very different connotation. That year, headlines in newspapers across the country blared "FTC Decides Candy Bar Isn't Equal to Milk." The reason for this headline is that the FTC criticized Mars for implying in their advertising things like "Milky Way's nutritional value is equivalent to a glass of milk" and 'That it can and should be substituted for milk." (Odd nutrition claims were nothing new though—early on, Hershey’s advertised their chocolate bars as being "more sustaining than meat.")

While the galaxy certainly helped with the name, the original focus of the Milky Way was about how "milky" it was, and specifically that it was milkier than a malted milk you could get at a soda fountain.

14. M&M's

Bag of opened M&Ms.
iStock

The two Ms stand for Mars and Murrie. This Mars was Forrest Mars, the son of Mars candy company founder Frank Mars. Forrest and Frank had a falling out, which resulted in Forrest going to Europe and founding his own candy company (many years later, he would return to take over Mars, Inc after his father's death).

How he came up with the idea for M&M's is a bit mysterious (with versions ranging from wholesale ripoff to inspiration during the Spanish Civil War), but is generally related to a candy-covered British chocolate called Smarties (unrelated to the American Smarties). When Forrest Mars returned to the United States to make these candies, he recognized that he needed a steady supply of chocolate. At the time, Hershey was a major supplier of chocolate to other businesses and was run by a man named William Murrie. Forrest decided to go into business with William's son, Bruce (which long rumored to be a shameless ploy by Forrest to ensure a chocolate supply during World War II), and they named the candy M&M's.

15. MR. GOODBAR

Bowl of Mr. Goodbar candy bars.
Erika Berlin

According to corporate history, Hershey chemists had been working on a new peanut candy bar. As they were testing it, someone said "that's a good bar" which Milton Hershey misheard as "Mr. Goodbar."

16. REESE'S PEANUT BUTTER CUPS

Stack of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.
Sheila Sund, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Harry Burnett Reese started working for the Hershey Chocolate Company in 1916 as a dairy farmer, but after leaving and returning to Hershey's a few times over the following years, Reese set out on his own. His great peanut butter cup invention was supposedly inspired by a store owner who told him that they were having difficulties with their supplier of chocolate-covered peanut butter sweets.

17. SKITTLES

Bags of Skittles in a vending machine.
calvinnivlac, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Skittles originated in the United Kingdom, where "skittles" is a type of bowling, either on lawns or on a tabletop in pubs. The phrase "beer and skittles" emerged to describe pure happiness (now more commonly seen in "life is not beer and skittles"). So the name for the candy likely emerged to associate it with fun.

18. SNICKERS

Bunch of Snickers fun size candies.
iStock

The candy bar was named after the Mars family horse. The Mars family was very into horses, even naming their farm the Milky Way Farm—which produced the 1940 Kentucky Derby champion Gallahadion.

19. SOUR PATCH KIDS

Two bags of Sour Patch Kids.
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Originally called Mars Men, the Sour Patch Kid was renamed to capitalize on the popularity of the '80s craze of Cabbage Patch Kids.

20. TOBLERONE

Close-up of a Toblerone candy bar.
Helena Eriksson, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Toblerone is a portmanteau of the candy inventor—Theodor Tobler—and torrone, a name for various Italian nougats. As for the distinctive triangle shape, it's generally credited to the Swiss Alps, but Toblerone’s UK site suggests something a little racier—"a red and cream-frilled line of dancers at the Folies Bergères in Paris, forming a shapely pyramid at the end of a show.”

21. TOOTSIE ROLL

Pile of Tootsie Roll candies.
Lynn Friedman, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The official story is that in the late 19th century, Leo Hirschfeld invented the Tootsie Roll—Tootsie coming from his daughter's nickname. But the Candy Professor has blown multiple holes in the official story, finding evidence from patents to trademark filings that show Tootsie Rolls came into existence circa 1907. And as for the Tootsie? The Candy Professor has also found that the company that applied for those trademarks had an earlier product called Bromangelon that had as a mascot the character "Tattling Tootsie." Whether this Tootsie was named after Hirschfeld’s daughter or something mysterious is still debated.

22. TWIX

Twix candy bar.
iStock

The meaning behind Twix has been lost to time (and marketing). But the general consensus is that it's a portmanteau of twin and sticks (stix), or possibly twin and mix.

23. TWIZZLERS

Bag of Twizzlers candy.
iStock

Another term where the true origin is unknown, but it’s certainly related to the word twizzle, which dates back to the 18th century. One of the definitions the Oxford English Dictionary gives is "To twirl, twist; to turn round; to form by twisting."

24. YORK PEPPERMINT PATTIES

Two York Peppermint Patties
Barb Watson, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

The popular patties were originally created by the York Cone Company out of York, Pennsylvania, which made ice cream cones before going all in on their new invention. As for the "Peanuts" character Peppermint Patty, Charles Schulz said that the name inspiration was "A dish of candy sitting in our living room." But as the York version was still regional at the time, the inspiration was probably a different peppermint patty.

25. BABY RUTH

Pile of Baby Ruth mini candy bars.
Erika Berlin

A debate for the ages. Otto Schnering named the bar after either Ruth Cleveland, daughter of President Grover Cleveland (whose New York Times obituary said, "She was known to the Nation as 'Baby Ruth' while she was a child in the White House") or Babe Ruth, the famous baseball player. While Baby Ruth was a very popular name (and not just for Presidential daughters. An actress at the time of the candy bar’s introduction was known as "Baby" Ruth Sullivan), Babe Ruth proponents point out that Cleveland’s daughter died in 1904, around 17 years before the candy was introduced. But claims of a recently discovered court document has Schnering answering under oath the question "When you adopted the trade mark Baby Ruth…did you at that time [take] into consideration any value that the nickname Babe Ruth…might have?”

Schnering responded, "The bar was named for Baby Ruth, the first baby of the White House, Cleveland, dating back to the Cleveland administration…There was a suggestion, at the time, that Babe Ruth, however not a big figure at the time as he later developed to be, might have possibilities of developing in such a way as to help our merchandising of our bar Baby Ruth."

Mental Floss's Three-Day Sale Includes Deals on Apple AirPods, Sony Wireless Headphones, and More

Apple
Apple

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Apple

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Sony

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Martha Stewart

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20 Fall Harvest Words and Their Origins

Allie/Unsplash
Allie/Unsplash

Thanksgiving originated as a way to celebrate, and enjoy, all the fruits and vegetables harvested this time of year. But the fall harvest doesn’t let word lovers go hungry: it yields a cornucopia of etymological roots as well. Feast on the bounty of these seasonal word origins.

1. Artichoke

Artichoke ultimately comes from the Arabic al-harshuf, “the artichoke.” The word, and plant, passed into Spanish, Italian, and then English, as archicokk, in the 1530s. Speakers tried to explain its unusual name with folk etymologies: The plant’s center would choke anyone who tried to eat it, or it chokes the growth of other plants in the garden. These folk beliefs are preserved in the modern spelling.

2. and 3. Scallion and Shallot

Scallions and shallots may be two different species of onion, but they share a common root: the Vulgar Latin cepa escalonia, the “Ascalonian onion.” Ascalon is modern-day Ashkelon, an Israeli coastal city and a historically important seaport, apparently, for trading the likes of scallions and shallots. The Latin cepa, for onion, is also the source of another name for the scallion, chive.

4. Onion

If we peel back the etymological layers of onion, we find the Latin unio, which named both a pearl and a type of onion. Unio probably sprouts from unus, Latin for “one,” the idea being that this vegetable’s layers all comprise a single whole.

5. Fennel

Fennel looks like an onion, but it’s actually in the carrot family. Appearances, though, are still the key to the origin of this word. Fennel, which is documented in English as early as 700, comes from a diminutive form of Latin faenum, for hay, which the plant’s feathery foliage and aroma evokes.

6. Carrot

Speaking of carrots, this orange vegetable is rooted in the Greek karaton. The origin of the Greek word is unclear. It could be from an Indo-European root ker, for horn, thanks to its shape. Ker could also mean head, possibly alluding to the way the carrot grows—and making a red-headed carrot-top etymologically redundant.

7., 8., 9., and 10. Kale, Collard, Kohlrabi, and Cauliflower

These seasonal superfoods have a super-etymology. Latin had a word caulis, for stem, stalk, or cabbage, which produced quite the lexical bumper crop.

Old Norse borrowed caulis as kal, source of the word kale and the cole in coleslaw. In English, cole itself was an old word for cabbage as well as other leafy greens, like colewort, which American English speakers came to pronounce as collard, hence collard greens.

Kohlrabi literally means “cabbage-turnip” in German, cultivating its kohl from an Italian descendant of the original Latin caulis. And cauliflower, from Modern Latin cauliflora, is simply “cabbage flower.”

11. Cabbage

If Latin’s caulis means cabbage, what does cabbage mean? Head, from the Old French caboce, in turn from the Latin caput. It doesn’t take too much imagination to understand why the Romans so named this heavy and round vegetable.

12. Turnip

A turnip is a neep that looks like its been “turned” into its round shape, or so some etymologists guess. Neep comes from the Latin napus, a kind of turnip.

13. Parsnip

This vegetable was once believed to be a kind of turnip, and so was made to look like turnip as a word. (The parsnip is actually related to the carrot while the turnip is related to the cabbage.) Parsnip stems from pastinaca, the Latin name for the vegetable, which may be related to pastinum, a two-pronged tool used to harvest tubers like parsnips.

14. and 15. Radish and Rutabaga

The roots of these roots are “roots.” Radish comes from the Latin radix, a root, both botanically and metaphorically, as we can see in derivatives like radical and eradicate. This radix, according to Indo-European scholars, grows from a more ancient soil: wrad, believed to mean root or branch. Wrad is featured in another vegetal word: rutabaga, which English took from the Swedish rotabagge by the 1780s. Rotabagge literally means “root bag,” with bag a kind of bundle in Old Norse.

16. and 17. Pumpkin and Squash

If you thought turnips and parsnips were all mixed up, then have a look at pumpkin. English immediately carved pumpkin out of French and Latin roots. The word’s ending, -kin, is influenced by a Germanic suffix for "little," also seen in words like napkin. The ultimate root is the Greek pepon, meaning “ripe” and related to its verb for "cook."

A Greek pepon was a kind of melon enjoyed when ripe. And the word melon, squashed from the Greek melopepon, literally means “ripe apple.” So, etymologically, a pumpkin is a melon, which is an apple. Early British colonists applied the word pumpkin—which, to make things more confusing, is technically a fruit—for the type of squash they encountered in the Americas.

Squash has nothing to do with smashing pumpkins. The word is shortened from the Algonquian askutasquash, literally “green things that may be eaten raw,” as the Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology glosses it.

18. Potato

You say potato, I say batata. Christopher Columbus is said to have brought the word batata back from his voyages. The batata, probably from the Haitian Taíno language, was actually a kind of sweet potato. Later, Spanish conquistadors brought what we commonly think of as the potato back from South America, where it was called papa in the Quechuan language. Botanically, sweet potatoes and potatoes are completely unrelated, but that didn’t stop English speakers from confusing them by using the word potato as a common term.

19. Yam

Sweet potatoes aren’t a type of potato—and nor are they yams, even if we insist on calling them so. Yam crops up as inany in 1588, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, a borrowing of the Portuguese inhame or Spanish igname, possibly from a word in West African languages meaning “to eat.” Because of the slave trade, yam may have been directly borrowed from a West African language in American and Jamaican English.

20. Beet

Beet comes from the Old English bete, in turn from the Latin beta. These words just mean, for a refreshing change, beet. But even the humble beet has its baggage. The word was common in Old English but disappeared from the existing record until about the 1400s. It seems the English language didn’t much want to eat its vegetables in the late Middle Ages.