5 hours ago
Sunday, May 2, 2010
A Few Notes On A Popular Brand Of Swabs
Unilever, the curiously named (it always sounds to me like the title of a lost Philip K. Dick novel) manufacturer of Q-Tips, promotes its product as "the ultimate beauty tool," which, let's be honest, is complete horseshit.
On both the front and back of the package of 170 cotton swabs that I now have on my desk there is the phrase "Variety of Uses," which is the sort of literal truth that might apply to a great many things, including sticks.
Q-Tips were invented in the 1920s by a fellow named Leo Gerstenzang, and were originally introduced as Baby Gays. In the U.K. they are known as cotton buds.
Baby Gays is certainly a curious name for a swab (and I'd be curious to know what Gerstenzang and his cohorts were thinking at the time), but if they'd stuck with it who's to say it wouldn't eventually have become as devoid of awkward speculation or real meaning as many another absurd brand name. You know what I'm talking about? There are all sorts of products whose names I would feel foolish uttering aloud --and some of them I am occasionally required to utter aloud-- if I allowed myself to stop and really think about what I was saying. Many candy names and fast food restaurant offerings certainly fall under this category. I would furnish some examples, but don't much feel like it. I will say, though, that I would welcome your own contributions to such a list.
At any rate, Q-Tips were once Baby Gays, but whatever you wish now to call them they are indisputably swabs.
I adore the word swab. Truly, I love it, and wish I had more opportunities to throw it around. I also am a devotee of Q-Tips (I go through a lot of them), but they do not, for me, have a variety of uses. They have exactly one use: I employ them to clean my ears, to scratch my ears and dig around deep inside my ears with a zeal that many have found alarming. All of those, in fact, who have seen me at it would, I feel sure, agree that they have never seen anyone swab with such concentrated ferocity.
It says right on the box: "Do not insert swab into ear canal," but I am a maverick of swabbing and will not be deterred by small print designed to protect against litigation brought by artless, swabbing morons who puncture their ear drums.
I have now, very slowly, read every word on the Q-Tip package and feel as if I have been told a dozen lies and had my intelligence insulted for ten uninterrupted minutes, and still I have not learned the one thing I hoped the Q-Tip package would tell me: what does the Q stand for?
I have already steeled myself for what I feel is the obvious (too obvious) and entirely uninspired answer to this question, so uninspired that the folks at Unilever are probably (and understandably) a bit sheepish about providing this piece of embarrassing information anywhere on their packaging.
I will not, however, google for the answer to this question. Instead, first thing Monday morning I will call the company headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, NJ (201.894.4000) and I will force someone in marketing or public relations to give me what I'm almost certain will be a hesitant answer. Given the realities of corporate communication today, I'm prepared to spend some time on hold, and to be passed along to as many as three, or possibly four, parties, hopefully working my way up the chain of Unilever command. And if --as I suspect they will-- someone finally tells me that the Q in Q-Tips stands for Quality (I have mulled ever other Q word in my dictionary, and the only other possible candidates, however outlandish, are Quell and Quotidian), I will first lodge a formal complaint, and then I will immediately begin my search for a new swab, an alternate, perhaps more creative or even edgy swab, a swab that's not such an unimaginative, lying prick of a swab, however convenient and effective I may have personally found it for excavations of my ear canal, etc.
In the meantime, I'd be eager to hear of your experiences (pleasant or not so pleasant) with alternate swabs that I might find in the swab aisle of my local drugstore.