Comic Origins of Phrases

The following is an article from Uncle John's Triumphant 20th Anniversary Bathroom Reader Who says that comic books don't contribute much to literature? Here's a few choice phrases, which origin can be traced back to comic strips:

Security Blanket

Pioneering child psychologist Richard Passman is given credit for identifying the phenomenon of children habitually clutching or carrying a favorite toy for comfort and security. Charles Schulz first used the concept in June 1, 1954, Peanuts comic strip by giving Linus a blanket to carry everywhere he went. Linus called it his "security blanket." The term is now used by psychologists to define a child's (or anyone's) excessive attachment to a particular object. (Photo: Time Magazine 1965 cover)

"We Have Met The Enemy And He Is Us"

Pogo Earth Day Poster by Walt Kelly (image via Wikipedia) After winning the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812, Commodore Oliver Perry wrote in a dispatch to General William Henry Harrison, "We have met the enemy, and he is ours." Walt Kelly, author of the comic strip Pogo, reworded the phrase as "We have met the enemy and he is us," in the foreword to his 1953 Pogo collection The Pogo Papers. The meaning: Mankind's greatest threat is ... mankind. The quote became better known when Kelly used it on a poster he was hired to illustrate for the first Earth Day in 1970.

The Heebie-Jeebies

Billy DeBeck coined the term in his hugely popular 1920s comic strip, Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, about a community of backwoods hillbillies and moonshiners. It first appeared in a 1923 strip where Barney tells someone to "get that stupid look offa your pan. You gimme the heeby jeebys!" It meant "a feeling of discomfort." Other phrases coined by DeBeck: "horsefeathers," "hotsie-totsie," and "googly-eyed" (after Barney Google, who had huge, bulbous eyes). The strip also gave us the nickname "Sparky," from the name of Barney's horse, Sparkplug. (Many young comic-strip fans were given the name "Sparky," among them, Peanuts creator Charles Schulz.)


Joe Palooka by Ham Fisher - via Wikipedia It came from the main character of the 1920s strip Joe Palooka. Joe Palooka was a boxer - likeable but dumb, a trait that probably came from repeated blows to his head in the ring. Soon after the strip's debut, any big, dumb guy might be called a palooka.


"Milk toast" was a simple dish (toast served in milk) frequently served at soup kitchens in the 1920s. Harold Webster named the main character in his late 1920s strip, The Timid Soul, Caspar Milquetoast. Thanks to the comic strip, by the 1930s the word "milquetoast" had become common slang to describe anybody who, like Milquetoast, was weak and timid.

Sadie Hawkins Day

The First Sadie Hawkins Day, by Al Capp It's from Al Capp's L'il Abner. One day a year in the comic strip's rural setting of Dogpatch, single women would chase the single men around. If they caught one, they got to keep - er, marry him. The day got its name from Sadie Hawkins, the first woman in Dogpatch who caught a husband that way. High schools in the United States still hold "Sadie Hawkins Dances," to which the girls invite the boys.

Foo Fighter

(photo: Gasoline Alley Antiques - lots of neat vintage books there!)

In Bill Holman's 1930s strip Smokey Stover, the title character rode around in a bizarre-looking two-wheeled fire engine (with a fire hydrant attached to it) that Smokey called a "foo fighter." The term was used by World War II pilots for any unidentified aircraft (including UFOs). The phrase became popular again in the 1990s when it was used as the name of the rock band Foo Fighters.

The article above was reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Triumphant 20th Anniversary Bathroom Reader. Proving that some things do get better with age, the latest Bathroom Reader is jam-packed with 600 pages of fascinating trivia, forgotten history, strange lawsuits and other neat articles.

Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!

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Wow! Now I KNOW that I am in fact..."old." Except for the Joe Palooka and Milquetoast comics, I can recall reading the others in the Chicago Tribune, in a bygone era. To "seekshelter" I don't know if this is any help, but Al Capp, the creator of "L’il Abner" in his later years became quite conservative (read: Reactionary) in his political views, and used his comic strip as a means to give voice to his ideas, much like Garry Trudeau uses "Doonesbury" today (EVERYBODY CALM DOWN, I'M JUST MAKING AN OBSERVATION, NOT LOOKING FOR A FIGHT!) Al Capp and John Lennon had a memorable encounter when John and Yoko were conducting their famous "Bed-in" media event.( I would bet that if you searched You Tube: "John Lennon, Yoko Ono. Al Capp, Bed-in" you might pull it up. Am I really THAT old, that I remember reading Pogo, Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, L’il Abner and Smokey Stover? Scary I lived this long!
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this has mostly nothing to do with the topic, but... maybe someone knows the answer to this. when i was little, the local paper started running the Lil'abner strips. for about a week, instead of the comic, there was a note in its place that said something about they chose not to run the next few strips because of some of the content. the story up to that point and after seemed to imply that there was some bit of torture or something going on. i was never sure why they didn't just skip ahead since they were all written already. does anyone happen to know what exactly would have prompted a paper to skip?
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Re "Palooka", the character, Joe Palooka, is likely not the origin of the word "palooka", meaning inept boxer. It's probably the other way around:

"Many older people first came across the word as the name of the boxer in Ham Fisher’s famous comic strip. This is variously stated as having begun in 1928 or 1930, though the truth seems to be that it was briefly syndicated in the earlier year but then disappeared for a while, only becoming widely available two years later. The strip featured the eponymous Joe Palooka as a slow-witted and inarticulate boxer, even though “his heart was pure and his ideals high”. But Ham Fisher didn’t invent the word: it had been around for several years by the time his strip first appeared. (The earliest I can find is in the Lincoln Star, Nebraska, in March 1923: “But [Jack] Dempsey against some palooka who had been press agented into greatness and into the form of a Dempsey menace — that would pack any outdoor arena.” The casual reference shows that it was even then familiar to the writer and that he expected his readers to know it.) The boxing associations seem to have been particularly strong, to judge from the magazine The Ring, which in November 1926 glossed the word to mean “A tenth rater, a boxer without ability, a nobody” and which implied it had been known for some time."

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Thanks for catching that, Skipweasel! Whatever happened to MiMi?

You know, talking about security blanket, the most famous one is Hugh Heffner's bunny blanket. That's where he got the logo for Playboy.
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