What’s up with the “Acme Company”?

A STAFF REPORT FROM THE STRAIGHT DOPE SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD

Dear Straight Dope:

What's the deal with using the brand name "Acme" to denote something that is generic or of poor quality? Although I'm thinking about the frequent appearance of this name in Looney Tunes cartoons, I've seen it elsewhere. Was (or is) it a real company? Where did the name come from? Finally, why didn't the coyote ever catch the road runner?

SDStaff Ken replies:

Acme is a perfectly fine word. It comes from the Greek akme, meaning “highest point” or “summit.” Warner Brothers cartoons use the name ironically — the Acme Company products the coyote is constantly purchasing to help catch the road runner are anything but highest quality. Despite the negative publicity, lots of Acme Companies are still around — there’s a whole column of them in the Chicago phone book, plus an Acme, Michigan, near Traverse City, though no coyotes or road runners are native to that area. Acme Markets, Inc., is the company that owns Albertson’s, Osco and Jewel-Osco, Savon Drugs and Shaw’s. Their corporate statement doesn’t specifically mention profits from Wile E. Coyote, but given how much he he’s ordered over the years, he should merit at least a footnote.

As to why Wile E. Coyote never catches the Road Runner, Chuck Jones (creator of the pair) laid out these rules for all Road Runner cartoons:

  1. The coyote never catches the road runner;
  2. The road runner never actively interferes with the coyote’s plans;
  3. The road runner must stick to the road;
  4. Whenever possible, gravity is the coyote’s biggest enemy.

Read more about them in the book Chuck Amuck: The Life and Times of an Animated Cartoonist by Chuck Jones (1994).

Send questions to Cecil via cecil@straightdope.com.

STAFF REPORTS ARE WRITTEN BY THE STRAIGHT DOPE SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD, CECIL'S ONLINE AUXILIARY. THOUGH THE SDSAB DOES ITS BEST, THESE COLUMNS ARE EDITED BY ED ZOTTI, NOT CECIL, SO ACCURACYWISE YOU'D BETTER KEEP YOUR FINGERS CROSSED.

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