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"product in your hair" yields "About 602,000 results" on Google. To clarify, for those who are unfamiliar, I'm asking about the common case wherein the word is used alone, not in conjunction with some other word. "You should use product to keep your hair tidy," "I stopped putting product in my hair a couple years ago" etc..

Does anyone know where this usage came from, or have any information on its background?

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+1 for Whence. Good question, though. –  Andrew Neely Aug 21 '11 at 1:34
    
I would guess that it's going to be found to originate with producers of said product, in their literature (marketing and otherwise). And that they needed a generic term to encompass shampoo, conditioner, gel, etc. –  JeffSahol Aug 23 '11 at 16:19
    
@JeffSahol I think your final sentence is probably closer to the truth. It is possible that product arose from a need to generically describe a collection of items that share the same objective yet have a large material variance. That is to say: aerosols, gels, cremes, etc. may seem obtuse, but product is concise. –  HaL Nov 16 '11 at 17:49
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5 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I don't know who first said it, but the Oxford English Dictionary has a little information about its background:

orig. N. Amer. Any commercial preparation used to style the hair or (occas.) as a cosmetic.

1989 St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Nexis) 27 Apr. (Style West section) 4 The key to making mascara work is ‘to make sure that there is not too much product on it’.

1993 Chatelaine (Electronic ed.) Nov., Two of the most common mistakes people make with gel are using too much product and applying it incorrectly.

2001 N.Y. Mag. 25 June–2 July 58, I don't wash my hair or even rinse it after the beach—I just put a lot of product in to make it shiny.

2004 S. Olson Children of God go Bowling iii. 44 There was just the right amount of product in his hair to make it look both coifed and neglected.

So, the first published usage the OED knows about is 1989, but it was used there to mean mascara, not a hair care product. It was used for hair care products by 1993. (You could argue that in the 1989 and 1993 citations, product is actually referring back to an earlier noun, standing in for mascara or gel to avoid awkward repetition; in that case, the earliest OED citation that definitely uses product all by itself to mean hair care product comes in 2001.) The usage seems to have started in North America.

Anecdotally, the first place I heard the word used this way (I am not what you'd call fashion-forward) was on the TV show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy sometime around 2003 or 2004. After that, I started hearing it everywhere. Clearly they weren't the first to do it, but they may have been the ones who brought the term into the mainstream. (Then again, what's more mainstream than the St. Louis Post-Dispatch? I may need to rethink this theory.)

One more reference: on the animated TV show Drawn Together, in the episode entitled "Gay Bash," God appears as a character and says,

I love the gays! Come on, they're adorable! And calling hair gel product? That's just fancy, that's what that is!

The episode aired in 2004, at the height of Queer Eye's popularity.

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+1 for the OED citations, though I'm not sure about the speculation in the later half of the answer. –  ShreevatsaR Aug 21 '11 at 5:31
    
I'm going to go ahead and accept this for thoroughness, tho it doesn't totally answer my question. I realize now that the question itself doesn't have a good answer. "It's short for 'hair product'" is what I knew going in, and that's really the best answer there is. Thanks for the research and examples! –  sequoia mcdowell Sep 12 '11 at 14:36
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I believe "product" comes from the broader term "hairstyling product" and has just been shortened.

I just used some hairstyling product on my hair and it looks great!

This would naturally progress to:

I just used some styling product on my hair and it looks great!

Finally, we reach the present day:

I just used some product on my hair and it looks great!

This seems to make the most sense, though a concrete source on the matter does not seem to exist.

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Have a look at the following links on the history of hairstyles (esp. the second link).

History of Hair Styles

Hairstyle History

Not sure how credible these sources are but, according to the information provided, the term "product" appears to have entered the vocabulary of hairdressing as far back as the early 1900's. Unfortunately, one has to subscribe to the website of the second link in order to obtain any further information.

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The word product is used in that fashion in all industries and distribution chains that deal with any kind of product. In the soft drink industry they refer to their beverages as product, in the back rooms of many grocery store they have "product" the same way that milk companies have "product" in their warehouse.

It is easier faster way of dealing with what could be hundreds of different actual products, the usage is becoming more general in terms of who is using it in this way, its just natural evolution of the word usage.

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The difference is that no lay person refers to milk as product, e.g. pouring product on your breakfast cereal or avoiding product because of lactose-intolerance. In contrast, product is in common usage for hairstyling products, e.g. washing out product residue or using too much product. –  choster Jan 13 at 15:31
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This is purely anecdotal, but I first heard this usage of product as jargon in a bottling facility where I worked. The liquid inside of the bottle was always referred to as "product."

So I'll reinforce the first reply: producers of the product coined the phrase.

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What year was this? I wonder if producers of, say, lemonade also refer to the liquid inside the bottle "product" as well... –  Hugo Nov 16 '11 at 19:55
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