You know how sometimes you can say a word over and over until, suddenly, it sounds so weird, you begin to wonder if it’s a real word at all?

And then there are words that sound like nonsense from the get-go.

Meet “nurdle.”

Why “nurdle”?

Apparently, nobody knows. Not for sure, anyway. And it doesn’t help that blobs of toothpaste aren’t the only nurdles out there. Wiktionary offers a few others:

  • In cricket, to score runs by gently nudging the ball into vacant areas of the field; also, the name for such a shot.
  • To gently waffle or muse on a subject which one clearly knows little about.
  • A cylindrical pre-production plastic pellet used in manufacturing and packaging.

According to the Double-Tongued Dictionary, the dental meaning “was probably popularized as part of an organized campaign by the American Dental Association.” Not that this answers the question…

Much more well-documented is the fierce battle that went down a couple years ago between Colgate and GlaxoSmithKline over who got to depict a nurdle on their toothpaste packaging.

Each company is seeking the right to depict, and to stop the other from depicting, a “nurdle,” a wave-shaped toothpaste blob that sits on a toothbrush head.

In its 76-page complaint, Colgate said it recently launched in the United States a toothpaste whose packaging superimposes the words “Triple Action” – suggesting cavity protection, fresh breath and whiter teeth – on a blue, white and green nurdle.

But it said Glaxo, which uses the “Triple Protection” phrase on Aquafresh products, filed a trademark application for the nurdle design regardless of color, prompting Colgate to sue to enforce its rights to use the nurdle.

“This new application is a blatant shot across Colgate’s bow, as Glaxo did not file this application until after Glaxo had already complained about Colgate’s nurdle design,” Colgate lawyer Brendan O’Rourke of Proskauer Rose LLP wrote.

Colgate is “deeply concerned that Glaxo desires to stifle competition in the marketplace through over-broad assertions of trademark rights,” he added.

Glaxo even developed a whole nurdle campaign for the kiddies – the oh, so creatively named Nurdle World.

Those so inclined can read all about this case of the dueling nurdles – which ended in a confidential settlement – here, in all its gloriously tortured detail. (And if you still haven’t sated your curiosity, the document includes a bibliography with links to aid your fulfillment.)

Image by TschiAe, via Flickr

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