October 20, 2009

“Enquiring minds want to know.” No use in inquiring why.


There’s a tipping point at which a famous phrase becomes a cliché.

The well known ad slogan for The National Enquirer supermarket tabloid – “Enquiring minds want to know” – passed that point long ago.

The Enquirer trademarked the slogan in 1981.

According to the information filed in the U.S. trademark database, it was first used by the gossipy tabloid on October 20, 1981.

During the rest of the 1980s, the slogan was heavily used in print, radio and TV ads and soon became a pop culture catchphrase. (Check out this funny example of a vintage Enquirer TV ad on YouTube.) 

Interestingly, the word “tabloid” was originally a trademarked name for a type of pill made by Burroughs, Wellcome and Co., a British pharmaceutical company founded in 1880.

The company’s “tabloid” combined several different ingredients in one pill.

The editors of the Westminster Gazette liked the term and, in 1902, decided to use it as a name for their newspaper. Burroughs, Wellcome sued the Gazette for trademark infringement but lost – thus paving the way for the term to evolve into its current form.

The term is still applied in publishing parlance to newspapers printed in the tabloid format, rather than the  broadsheet style.

But in popular usage it now tends to be associated with sensationalistic, celebrity-obsessed publications like The National Enquirer and The Star.

Of course, in recent decades, the tabloid “rags” inspired the broader field of “tabloid journalism” in magazines and on TV and the internet. Online, the TMZ site is one of the best-known examples.

Apparently, enquiring minds do want to know, as much or more than ever.

And, people still remember and repeat The National Enquirer’s famed ad slogan – even though it is usually misquoted as “Inquiring minds want to know.”

Here are some of the other famous quotes and phrases linked to October 20:

“It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations.”  - Winston Churchill’s famous quotation about quotations, from his autobiographical book My Early Life, which was published on October 20, 1930.

“Big girls don't cry.” - The well known song title and lyric by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, released as a single on October 20, 1962

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