Comic strips are generally regarded as throwaway entertainment, largely because they exist in such a disposable medium. Most of them end up wrapped around fish or used as emergency toilet paper. Yet for all that, comics have contributed a surprising number of enduring words, phrases, and traditions to modern society. For instance ...
#6. The Words "Goon" and "Jeep" Come from Popeye Comics
Elzie Segar via Rcsinnovations
It turns out that if you've ever been cut off in traffic by some big goon in a jeep, you can lay it all at the feet of one man: Popeye's creator, Elzie Segar. Since the Venn diagram of low-level gang members, jeep owners, and comics historians probably isn't too well-populated, we're guessing that not many people know where those words really come from ... but that's what we're here for.
In 1933, Segar created Alice the Goon, a new villain for Popeye to punch while high on vegetables. Alice was a hulking monstrosity who served as enforcer for Popeye's enemy the Sea Hag, and in fact came from an entire race of Goons.
Elzie Segar via Thecurseandthecure.co.uk
Their abundant pubic hair makes any type of clothing except hats redundant.
The word itself wasn't new: People had been "goons" as a synonym for "idiots" for decades, but Segar's character gave it a second, more sinister meaning. Since Alice the Goon was essentially a hired thug, by 1938, the word was being used in reference to hoodlums hired to break up unions, and that usage persisted -- to the point where today, when someone mentions a "goon squad," it's a cinch that they're talking about crooks, rather than morons.
Elzie Segar via Comicscube.com
The alternative "procurer of male prostitutes for sea witches" meaning never caught on.
But there's more. Three years after Alice first showed up, Segar introduced another bizarre character destined to expand the English language: Eugene the Jeep, a small critter that looks like an awkward-to-produce cross between a giraffe and a dog who can do things like teleport, walk through walls, climb on ceilings, and basically just tell the laws of physics to go fuck themselves.
Elzie Segar via Tvsinopse
It has many powers, not the least of which is having breast fingers.
Eugene the Jeep became a popular member of the highly successful comic strip and cartoons. When servicemen were introduced in 1941 to the new off-road vehicle that could seemingly go anywhere and do anything, they immediately began calling it a jeep, since such a thing seemed about as magical at the time as an omnipotent animal from a higher dimension. A couple of years later, the name was trademarked by an auto company, and it currently belongs to Chrysler.
So the next time someone tells you that jeep comes from "GP" or "general purpose," simply show them this video of R. Lee Ermey calling them morons and explaining what we just told you. That oughta shut them up.
#5. "Yellow Journalism" Was Named After the Yellow Kid
Shitty sensational journalism is a proud hundred-year-old tradition. In fact, some experts pinpoint the exact moment when editors stopped giving a shit about truthful reporting to 1895, when William "Real-Life Citizen Kane" Hearst bought The New York Journal and started competing with Joseph "Winner of Zero Pulitzers" Pulitzer's New York World. The two newspaper magnates vigorously tried to outdo each other with more sensational reporting and less accuracy, probably because dick-measuring contests hadn't been invented yet.
One of the most prominent battles between the two papers (and the one that eventually came to define their whole style of journalism) arose from an unlikely source: The Yellow Kid, history's first successful comic strip character.
Featuring that winning combination of whimsy, racism, and child drunkenness.
Starring in the strip Hogan's Alley by R.F. Outcault, the Kid was a street urchin whose pidgin slang thoughts would inexplicably appear on the yellow nightgown he always wore. His massive popularity in the World did not go unnoticed by Hearst, who dickishly lured Outcault away by offering him his weight in $100 bills.
Undaunted, Pulitzer simply hired someone else to continue the strip in his own paper, meaning that for a while, there were two competing Yellow Kid comics running simultaneously. For comparison, that would be like if Bill Watterson had decided to only let certain newspapers carry Calvin & Hobbes and the other papers brought Garfield's Jim Davis in to do his own blander, shamelessly commercial version.
"He thinks the lasagna is alive. How droll."
As it happened, this fight was raging at a time when people were starting to criticize Hearst's and Pulitzer's shady practices. The editor of another New York newspaper, after trying and discarding the phrases "new journalism" and "nude journalism" as boring and factually inaccurate, respectively, settled on "yellow-kid journalism," later shortened to just "yellow journalism." And all because no one was willing to let go of that little jug-eared bastard. The phrase stuck, and we're still using it today to describe shitty rags that abuse alarmist headlines and exclamation marks.
As for the Kid, his popularity waned, and he languished in obscurity for a century, until Joss Whedon, of all people, revived him for a time-travel story in Marvel Comics' Runaways. And gave him superpowers, because obviously. We're looking forward to his inevitable cameo in the next Avengers movie.
Runaways Vol. 2 #30
Bruce Willis is already clearing his schedule.
#4. One Cartoonist Came Up With the Phrases "For Crying Out Loud," "You Tell 'Em" and More
Sportswriter and comic strip pioneer Tad Dorgan is best known for something he probably didn't do: He's often credited with coining the name "hot dog" for a frankfurter while attending a 1901 baseball game, but it was most likely in existence before then. Clearly miffed about missing the boat on that one, Dorgan overcompensated by going on to invent pretty much every other piece of American slang for the next 20 years.
Dorgan, whose words-per-strip average was somewhere in the low hundreds, is credited with coining or popularizing terms like "hard-boiled," "For crying out loud," "You tell 'em," and "drugstore cowboy," among many others. Here's part of a 1919 strip that might be the first written use of the word "dumbbell" as an insult, as said by a talking dog with spectacles:
Can you feel the historical significance?
A lot of Dorgan's expressions are now outdated, of course -- you're probably not giving a "cake-eater" the "ol' 23 skidoo," or talking about how the movie you just saw was the "cat's pajamas" -- but at the time, they were so popular that one of his jokes, "Yes, we have no bananas," was made into a major hit song during the Roaring '20s.
More recently, Dorgan gained relevance again when Vice President Joe Biden said "That's a bunch of malarkey" on TV (since you apparently can't say "stinking heap of bullshit" in a live debate), thus sending thousands of viewers to the Internet to find out what the hell that is. If they dug deep enough, those people then found that it was Dorgan who first popularized the term in his Indoor Sports strip, although he originally spelled it as "malachy." Here's a detail from the strip:
Ironically, Joe Biden can throw a case of scotch 200 yards.
Who knows ... without Dorgan's contribution to American slang, Biden might have been forced to go with a ruder word or just break a chair on the other fellow.