Facial tissues are the generic term for Kleenex; cola is the generic term for Coca-Cola and Pepsi.

Is there a generic term for a deli-counter numbering machine?

Numbered ticket dispenser and an LED number display


Good question!

When I ran a Google search just now, I obtained the following results at my time and location:

"ticket dispenser" — 224,000 hits
"take a number dispenser" — 17,600 hits
"number dispenser" — 12,000 hits
"number ticket dispenser" — 93 hits
"ticket number dispenser" — 38 hits
"take a ticket dispenser" — 17 hits.

Some of those totals will be inflated by spurious matches because the context is different to what the questioner has in mind. To pluck an example out of the air, a string like "random number dispenser" (which gets 14 hits) would logically also have been counted in the search for "number dispenser".

So bear that caveat in mind: these totals are just a rough guide, not a scientifically validated result.


The crudeness of the "Google total" method is demonstrated by the paradoxical results for "take a number dispenser" (17,600 hits) versus "number dispenser" (12,000 hits).

The search for the string "number dispenser" is less restrictive than the one for "take a number dispenser", yet it achieves 5600 less hits. This makes no logical sense.

I'd love to know why the Google search algorithm produces anomalous results like this.

  • Ticket dispenser probably includes kiosks at movie theatres and subway stations. – Barmar Nov 4 '14 at 22:04
  • @Barmar - I am certain you are right about that. Unfortunately, the "Google total" method of assessing prevalence is not capable of resolving such overlaps. – Erik Kowal Nov 4 '14 at 22:09
  • I think most of the anomalies in Google's estimates arise from the fact that they don't directly count the number of entries. Even if you put your search term in quotes, they base their guesses on how often each word occurs in isolation. But I get "About 12,200 results" from "number dispenser", compared to "About 2,110 results" for "take a number dispenser", so I can't see anything unusual about that one. – FumbleFingers Nov 4 '14 at 22:53
  • Also, there is no way of making Google interpret something as an exact, literal string. Whatever you do, it will always ‘correct’ your search queries into something it thinks will give more hits, and it will always include words that are related but not part of your query string. Annoying as all hell, but nothing you can do about it. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 5 '14 at 0:24

Probably a number dispenser:

  • Provide fair, organized, and efficient customer service with a number dispenser! A ticket dispenser machine is a great way to organize a line of customers as they wait to be served at your grocery store, market, deli, or sandwich shop.

This machine is specifically called a digital queue unit.

If you're interested in finding out more, my Google search resulted in this which looks exactly the same:



A Google search for the exact phrase "take a number for service" draws "About 330,000 matches," although the actual number of unique entries not "very similar to the [ones] already displayed" is closer to 50. In any case, the first three matches returned are ads for "Take a Number System," "Take a Ticket Systems," and "Take-A-Number System." So if you referred generically to a "take-a-number system," you would probably be understood at once by most of your readers or hearers.

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