Spic and Span
Spic and Span is a major U.S. brand of all-purpose household cleaner, invented by housewives Elizabeth "Bet" MacDonald and Naomi Stenglein in Saginaw, Michigan, in 1933. The women experimented until they came up with a formula that included equal parts of ground-up glue, sodium carbonate, and trisodium phosphate. Stenglein observed that all the testing in her house made her home spotless, or "spick and span," which is an idiomatic term for "clean". They took the k off Spick and started selling the product in brown envelopes to local markets. From 1933 to 1944, both families helped run their "Spic and Span Products Company." On January 29, 1945, Procter & Gamble bought Spic and Span for $1.9 million.
Until 2001, Spic and Span was made by Procter & Gamble, a major international manufacturer of household and personal products based in Cincinnati, Ohio. This product has sponsored many soap operas, serving perhaps most notably as the main sponsor of Search for Tomorrow for two decades.
In January 2001, Shansby Group, a San Francisco investment firm, purchased the brand from P&G along with the Cinch line of multi-surface cleaning products. GTCR Golder Rauner acquired the brand in 2004, after a reformulation of the Spic and Span product line.
The current owner, Prestige Brands, continues to market the product for consumer use. Procter & Gamble still markets Spic and Span for commercial use. However, the product is no longer advertised on television.
About the name
The spelling spick and span is preferred, although in America the cleaning product called Spic 'n' Span is probably to blame for the popularity of the spic spelling here. The original spick spelling reveals that there is no relation between this phrase and the ethnic slur. Spick and span, in fact, dates back to at least the 16th century when Samuel Pepys (pronounced "peeps") used it in his famous diary. Prior to that it was span-new. What exactly does that mean? Well, a span was a wood chip, and such chips were used to make spoons. Something that was span-new was a freshly cut chip or, metaphorically, anything as new as a freshly cut chip. This term dates from at least 1300 in the metaphorical sense. Spick was added in the 16th century, though why is not exactly known - perhaps for the alliterative sense. A spick was a spike or nail, and something that was spick and span was neat and trim. The "clean" sense appears to have arisen only recently.
Nevertheless, in 1999, the Mexican-American organization LatinosUSA organized a boycott against Spic and Span because of the use of the word spic, which is a derogatory term for a person of Latino descent. In addition, the term "spic and span" was used to derogate mixed-race couples of African American and Puerto Rican origin.
The powdered form must be mixed in water prior to use; a liquid version is also available. Although considered all-purpose, it is "not recommended for carpets, upholstery, aluminum, glass, laundry or mixing with bleach or ammonia".
- Michigan History, November/December, 2007. Pgs. 13-15.
- "Spic and Span All Purpose Cleaner". Procter & Gamble. Retrieved 2009-06-17.
- Take Our Word for It June 21, 1999, Issue 45 of etymology webzine. Accessed January 16, 2007.
- Online Etymology Dictionary detailing British phrase evolving from Dutch spiksplinter nieuw, "spike-splinter new". Accessed January 16, 2007.
- Jonathon Green, "Spic and span", The Cassell Dictionary of Slang (1998) p. 390.
- As written on product label