What does the "Q" in Q-tips stand for?
Believe it or not, the “Q” is supposed to stand for “quality.” As in “quality tips.” At least that’s what it says in the History section on the Q-tips web site, www.qtips.com. Because this company-line explanation, lame as it is, sounds less than convincing, even to someone as naïve as myself, a little further explanation might be in order.
The product we now know as the Q-tip started in 1923, when its inventor, Leo Gersenzang, first saw his wife sticking wads of cotton to the ends of toothpicks, then stuffing them in their baby’s ears, fingers, toes, and other crevices for cleaning. Understandably concerned for his baby’s health –- the swabs were just hanging on the sharp end of a toothpick, after all -– Leo decided that a ready-to-use cotton swab might be just the kind of product new mothers would want. So later that year, he founded the Gerstenzang Infant Novelty Co., specializing in baby care accessories.
The original name of the product was Baby Gays, if you can believe it. There seems to be no explanation why Leo chose such a name. However, back then, the word “gay” didn’t generally have the same connotation as it does today, so it probably didn’t have anything to do with homosexuality, at least not intentionally.
But that didn’t mean that the product’s name couldn’t unintentionally backfire. Around this same time, for example, another product -- Fairy Soap -- saw its marketing efforts go south in a hurry when its advertising slogan –- “Do you have a little Fairy in your home?" –- became the butt of jokes. To avoid a similar fate, Gerstenzang changed the name, and the packaging, of the cotton swabs to "Q-tips Baby Gays," and then finally to the "Q-tips" we all know and love.
The rest is history. The name “Q-tips” is now synonymous with cotton swabs, much as “Kleenex” is with facial tissue and “Xerox” is with copying services. While the company continues to insist that the “Q” stands for “quality,” outside observers have raised at least two other possibilities. Some suggest, for example, that the “Q” is derived from the shape of the swab itself, with its oval-shaped cotton wad atop a stick poking out the bottom. Sorry, not convinced.
The queeny set, on the other hand, ever eager to find a gay angle, even where none exists, suggests that the “Q” stands for “queer,” citing the original “Baby Gays” name, as well as the rumored cool relationship between Leo and his wife. Since this explanation, imaginative as it might be, lacks any factual support whatsoever, though, we’ll have to reconcile ourselves with the company line –- “Q” stands for “quality.”