Words interest me. I’ve been reading them since I was five years old or so, and working with them for profit ever since I sold my first writing while I was in high school.
Which is why I wonder who invents all those unusual names that are hung on brands of medicine.
I see them in advertising in magazines, especially in ones about travel or gardening or entertainment, aimed at a middle-aged audience. They are astonishingly meaningless.
I jotted down a few of them: Cequa, Dovoto, Fanaft, Isbrance, Keytruda, Nexletol, Nuplazid, Prevagen, Rinvoq, Rybelsis, Skyrizi, and XiiDRA.
There is no way most of us could tell that Cequa treats dry eyes, and Fanaft is for schizophrenia. Maybe they teach it in medical school like a foreign language.
It was always like that in a way, but the names on most medicine bottles were not in impossible language when I was a little boy. So I looked into some of the medicines then inflicted on me.
Castor Oil, a nasty-tasting laxative dreaded by little kids, was labeled in plain English, and still is. You can buy a bottle for a few bucks at Walmart. You can buy a castor bean plant and grow your own. And there are places where you can buy a gallon for about 25 bucks. I don’t want to think about a gallon.
Aspirin is short for acetylsalicylic acid, which German chemist Charles Frederic Gerhardt created in 1853. By 1899, the Bayer firm had named it Aspirin and sold it around the world. The word Aspirin was Bayer's brand name, but, its rights to the use it were lost in many countries.
On May 4, 1818, American inventor John Callen received a patent for magnesium hydroxide. In 1829, Sir James Murray used a "condensed solution of fluid magnesia” to cure the Marquis of Anglesey of stomach pain. This was so successful that he was knighted. His fluid magnesia product was patented two years after his death in 1873.
The term milk of magnesia was first used by Charles Henry Phillips in 1872, and sold under the brand name Phillips' Milk of Magnesia.
I find that another of my grandmother’s collection of cures is still extant. Father John's Medicine was first formulated in a Lowell, Massachusetts pharmacy, by creators named Carleton and Hovey, in 1855 to give relief to one Father John O'Brien. It was made of cod liver oil and had a licorice taste.
The company was sold and moved to Cody, Wyoming in the 1980s. Today, the active ingredient in Father John's Medicine is something calledDextromethorphan HBr. Many of Father John's Medicine Co. records are housed at the University of Massachusetts Lowell's Special Collections.
You can still buy Father John’s Cough Syrup at Walmart. Another regular potion when I was a kid is harder to find these days.
It started on May 12, 1868, when a patent was granted to Dr. Samuel Pitcher (1824-1907) of Barnstable, Massachusetts, for a cathartic that’s ingredients included sodium bicarbonate, but also essence of wintergreen, dandelion, sugar and water. The remedy was first sold as Pitcher's Castoria.
In 1871, Charles Henry Fletcher bought the company, and the medicine was renamed Fletcher’s Castoria. The company was acquired by Sterling Drug during the 1920s. In 1984, Sterling sold it to The Mentholatum Company. In 1988 Rohto Pharmaceutical Co., a Japanese company, purchased it. The product has taken on a more forthright name, and is now called Fletcher's Laxative for Kids.
Visit columnist Jim Smart’s web site at jamessmartsphiladelphia.com.
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