A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Why are Milk Duds called Milk Duds? Plus: What do morays have to do with culture?

December 28, 2001

Dear Cecil:

Why are Milk Duds called Milk Duds? The "milk" part is obvious (milk chocolate), but what, in a confectionery sense, are duds?

Cecil replies:

You got a problem with Milk Duds, David? You would prefer maybe the Milk of Dynamic Overachievement? Still, I understand where you're coming from. Milk Duds. Milk Losers. Milk Hopeless Lamers. These don't seem like names calculated to move product. Then again, candy names in general tend to be on the inscrutable side. What, in a confectionary sense, is a skittle? A twix? A jujube? How do they come up with these names, anyway? Does it involve drugs? Once that nice Mr. Ashcroft gets done straightening out the Ay-rabs, he really ought to look into the candy business.

But you want the facts. I turned to the Milk Duds Website. (What, you thought I'd have to file suit under the Freedom of Information Act?) I learned the following facts: (1) "In 1928, Milton J. Holloway took over F. Hoffman & Company of Chicago, the original manufacturer of Milk Duds chocolate covered caramels." The brand passed through many other hands in subsequent years and is now owned by Hershey. (2) "The Milk Duds name came about because the original idea was to have a perfectly round piece. Since this was found to be impossible, the word 'duds' was used."

On the one hand you have to wonder what kind of marketing department sits around and thinks, "Hm. How can we call attention to the defects of our product?" On the other hand, there's a sort of heroism in this approach. Here's the product development team, contemplating a bunch of nonspherical chocolate covered caramels lying forlornly on the lab bench. Their leader speaks: "You know, boys, if this were New York or Los Angeles, we'd go nuts trying to put a positive spin on this, like here's the alternative candy for those who aren't afraid to be a little off-center and blah blah blah. But this is Chicago. I say we just call a spade a spade."

Dear Cecil:

How did the word moray become associated so closely with culture? I have looked it up everywhere I can think of, and the only thing I come up with is something about eels. What are morays exactly (other than really long, slimy things that live underwater)?

Cecil replies:

Morays. Culture and morays. Cultural morays … whoa. Well, your motto is siempre hay esperanza, "there's always hope," and we're sure going to put that to the test now. The word you're looking for is "mores." It's the plural of the Latin mos, custom, and it means the generally accepted customs, practices, traditions, and whatnot that keep a society going, and which come to assume moral and legal force. It's pronounced "morays" but has no connection with moray eels (family Muraenidae). Practice using mores in this sentence: "Poetic, tragic, humorous and mythic, the film crosses the borders of personal values, cultural mores, and the discipline of filmmaking itself." (Got it from a Notre Dame Website. And you thought all Domers talked about was football.) What does this mean? How should I know? But drop it into your next conversation with the meter reader and he'll look at you like you're Albert Einstein. While we're getting you fixed up here, Karon, I have to ask — are you sure it's spelled "Karon"?

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