Fritinancy: Names, brands, writing, and the quirks of the English language.
Tabloid: A reduced-format newspaper, generally half the size of a traditional broadsheet paper, that opens like a magazine for easier reading on buses and subway trains. Introduced in the late 19th century in England and the United States, tabloid newspapers quickly became known for their sensational content. Tabloid is often shortened to tab.
So far, so familiar, at least for this lapsed journalist. What I hadn’t known was that tabloid derives from an old trademark for a pharmaceutical brand. Ralph Keyes enlightened me in his recently published book with the excellent title I Love It When You Talk Retro: Hoochie Coochie, Double Whammy, Drop a Dime, and the Forgotten Origins of American Speech:
At first readers didn’t know what to call this compact type of newspaper. By analogy it resembled a kind of compressed medical pill introduced in 1884 by Burroughs, Wellcome. That pharmaceutical company called its new product line Tabloid. It didn’t take long for this term to be applied to any compressed item, including the vertical-fold newspaper format pioneered by London’s Daily Mail and New York’s Daily News. Because tabloid newspapers tended to emphasize sensational news coverage, their name itself came to signify that style of reporting.