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12 Words and Phrases that were Popularized in the Funny Pages

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Once upon a time, newspaper comic strips were as influential in molding American pop culture (and the way we spoke) as television and social media are today. Odds are we’ll still be using many of these terms long after we’ve stopped describing people as “sponge-worthy” and dismissing them by saying “talk to the hand.”

1. Goon

The word “goon” to describe a simpleton or stupid person dates back to the 16th century, when sailors sometimes compared folks to the albatross, often colloquially referred to as the “gooney bird.” But “goon,” when used to describe a muscular, not-so-bright, hired thug, comes from E.C. Segar’s Thimble Theatre (aka Popeye) comic strip. Alice the Goon, an eight-foot tall giantess with hairy forearms, debuted in 1933. She was a minion of the vicious Sea Hag and used her brute strength to do the Sea Hag’s bidding.

2. Wimpy

Another of Segar's characters that has entered the American lexicon is hamburger-loving J. Wellington Wimpy. While the word “wimp” is from World War I, the soft-spoken, intelligent but somewhat cowardly Wimpy gave us a way to describe being a wimp. He also became famous as somewhat of a moocher, thanks to his famous promise “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”

3. Dagwood Sandwich

A Dagwood is any stacked sandwich that consists of a variety of meats, cheeses, and other condiments. Readers have watched Dagwood Bumstead build these gastronomic wonders out of anything and everything he can find in the refrigerator since he married Chic Young’s Blondie in 1933.

4. Milquetoast

How do you describe someone who is even wimpier than Wimpy? Someone who makes George McFly look like Chuck Norris? That guy’s a total milquetoast, as in Caspar Milquetoast, a mild-mannered (to the extreme) character from a one-panel comic strip by H.T. Webster called The Timid Soul. Caspar’s surname was a play on the bland dish called milktoast that was often served to invalids or folks with “nervous” stomachs. Caspar Milquetoast was a guy who’d go buy a new hat rather than trespass when his chapeau blew off his head and onto a lawn bearing a “Keep Off the Grass” sign.

5. Mutt and Jeff

Mutt and Jeff were two comic strip characters created by Bud Fisher in 1907. Augustus Mutt was a tall, lanky ne’er-do-well who liked to bet on the ponies, while his pal Othello Jeff was short, rotund and shared Mutt's passion for “get rich quick” schemes. The strip became so popular that “Mutt and Jeff” entered the lexicon to describe any duo displaying opposite physical characteristics.

6. Keeping up with the Joneses

You’ve probably heard this expression a hundred times and occasionally wondered just who these Jones folks were. Guess what? Even in the comic strip of their origin, they were never seen! Keeping Up with the Joneses was written/drawn by Arthur “Pop” Momand and was first published in the New York Globe in 1913. The strip followed the daily life of the Aloysius P. McGinnis family, and Mrs. McGinnis’ envy of their wealthy neighbors, the Joneses. Poor Aloysius endured his wife outfitting him in “trendy” clothing like lime-green spats and lemon-colored gloves because that’s how Mr. Jones dressed.

7. Worrywart

Today we describe a person who frets about anything and everything as a “worrywart,” but the phrase originated with a carefree character whose reckless behavior turned those around him into a bundle of nerves. Artist J.R. Williams debuted a one-panel cartoon called Out Our Way in 1922, and eventually the strip was carried by more than 700 newspapers. Out Our Way was an umbrella title for a variety of slice-of-life illustrations that often had a recurring theme, as evidenced in the subtitles: “Why Mothers Get Gray,” “Born 30 Years Too Soon,” “Heroes Are Made, Not Born,” “The Bull of the Woods” (which was set in a machine shop), and “The Worry Wart.” The latter panel featured an 8-year-old boy who got into more mischief than Dennis the Menace.

8. Heebie-Jeebies

Billy DeBeck introduced Barney Google to the comics world in 1919, and as the strip gained popularity, he also gifted the American lexicon with a variety of fanciful words and phrases, including “googly-eyed” to describe someone with Barney’s wide, Homer Simpson-esque peepers. Barney’s retired racehorse Spark Plug was so beloved that Charles Schulz and countless other youngsters of that era were christened with the nickname “Sparky.” It was Sparky, in fact, who gave Barney such an off-putting stare on one occasion (in an October 1923 strip) that the man shuddered, “You dumb ox, why doncha get that stupid look offa your pan—you gimme the heeby-jeebys!” DeBeck also gave us “hotsy-totsy” and “horsefeathers,” though those phrases are rarely heard anymore outside of M*A*S*H reruns that feature Colonel Potter.

9. Sadie Hawkins Day/Dance

At the U.S. schools that still recognize it, Sadie Hawkins Day is a gender-reversal “holiday” on which females have the option to invite the male of their choice on a date or to a special dance. Not such a big deal today, but back in 1937, when Al Capp first introduced the concept, the very idea of such boldness on a young woman’s part sent many matrons reaching for their smelling salts. According to the Li’l Abner comic strip, on Sadie Hawkins Day (now traditionally November 13), all the bachelors of Dogpatch gather and start running when the starting pistol is fired. When a second shot is fired, the unmarried women give chase, and any man who was caught and dragged across the finish line was obliged to marry the fleet-footed lady.

10. Dinty Moore

Both the Hormel canned stew and the triple-decker corned beef/lettuce/tomato/Russian dressing sandwich that bear this name were inspired by the tavern owner in the popular George McManus comic strip Bringing Up Father. Maggie and Jiggs, the main characters, were Irish-American immigrants who won a million dollars in a sweepstakes. “Lace-curtain Irish” Maggie eagerly adapted to their nouveau rich lifestyle, but former bricklayer Jiggs missed his boisterous pals and frequently sneaked off to hang with them at Dinty Moore’s, where they’d feast on corned beef and cabbage and Irish stew while enjoying a tipple or two.

11. Sad Sack

This phrase, used to describe an inept clod who usually fails despite his good intentions, has its roots in the military—but in the Army circa World War II, the full phrase given to misfits who failed to shape up was “sad sack of (bad word).” Sgt. George Baker began submitting cartoons to Yank, The Army Weekly that starred a bumbling private identified only as “The Sad Sack.” Sad Sack became a pop culture icon among the soldiers, many of whom identified with the character’s misadventures. After the war ended, Sad Sack was picked up by a syndicate and his popularity only grew as his struggle to adapt to civilian life was documented in newspapers and comic books.

12. Double Whammy

Has anyone ever stared at you so intently and creepily that you accused them of putting a whammy on you? You can thank Al Capp’s Evil-Eye Fleagle for that. His zoot-suited character Evil-Eye Fleagle was not a resident of Dogpatch (like the other Li’l Abner characters) but rather a hood who hailed from Brooklyn, New York. And Fleagle had a unique ability: He could shoot beams of destruction from his eyes. A regular whammy could knock a dozen men unconscious, while the dreaded double whammy could fell a skyscraper.

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15 Fun Facts About Yo Gabba Gabba!
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Since its debut on August 20, 2007 on Nick Jr., Yo Gabba Gabba!—a kids’ show featuring a red cyclops, a magic robot, a pink flower girl, a green-striped guy, a blue cat-dragon, and a host wearing orange spandex and a fluffy hat—became one of the biggest draws for the preschool crowd. But thanks to the show's hipster-friendly musical performances and celebrity guest stars, Yo Gabba Gabba! managed to transcend its kiddie roots to become a hit with fans of all ages. On the 10th anniversary of its debut, let's go behind the scenes of the beloved series.

1. THE CREATOR OF NAPOLEON DYNAMITE HAD A HAND IN GETTING YO GABBA GABBA! ON THE AIR.

Longtime friends Christian Jacobs and Scott Schultz got the idea for Yo Gabba Gabba! when, as two dads in their mid-30s, they were less-than-enthusiastic about the television shows their kids were watching. It wasn't that the other shows were bad; they were just boring and sanitized.

With their experience as musicians and videographers, Jacobs and Schultz thought they could do something different. So they scraped together about $150,000 and began writing, animating, and shooting demo episodes of Yo Gabba Gabba! in their garage. They posted these videos online and Jared Hess, director of Napoleon Dynamite, happened to see them. Impressed, Hess passed the link onto Brown Johnson, an executive at Nickelodeon, who said, “Lordy. Nothing else looks like this on television.” She quickly contacted the duo and, in a risky move that obviously paid off, gave them complete creative control of their own show on Nick Jr.

2. THE TITLE IS MEANT TO BE MIMIC BABY TALK.

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According to Jacobs, the name of the show is a nonsense phrase meant to be reminiscent of the first words spoken by a baby. However, that doesn't mean Jacobs and Schultz aren't happy the name also pays homage to The Ramones, who used the phrase “Gabba Gabba Hey!” in their song “Pinhead.” But that actually makes it an homage of an homage, as The Ramones were paying tribute to the original source of the phrase, the 1932 cult classic film Freaks. In the film, “Gabba Gabba Hey!” is part of a chant uttered by a group of circus freaks as they welcome a new member into the fold.

3. ITS THEME SONG IS REMINISCENT OF PEE-WEE'S PLAYHOUSE.

The show's intro music seems suspiciously like the intro music from another kinetic kids' show, Pee-wee's Playhouse. Pay close attention to when the trees part on Pee-wee's intro and you'll hear a lot of similarities between the two.

4. THE SHOW BECAME A WORLDWIDE PHENOMENON.

Yo Gabba Gabba! became a worldwide phenomenon, and was broadcast all over the world, including in Italy, France, the UK, the Netherlands, Australia, and Canada.

5. DJ LANCE ROCK REALLY IS A DJ.

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DJ Lance Rock is actually Lance Robertson—and he really is a DJ. Robertson grew up in St. Louis, where he started spinning records in the early '90s before moving to Los Angeles at the age of 29. While in L.A., he played with a band, The Ray Makers, who played a few gigs with a group called Majestic, which counted future Yo Gabba Gabba! co-creator Scott Schultz as a member. When the Yo Gabba Gabba! guys were looking for a host, Schultz thought of Robertson. After Robertson signed on, one of the first things he did was suggest they change DJ Lance's look to the now-iconic orange jumpsuit and fuzzy hat. The original costume included a waistcoat similar to the one worn by Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka.

6. MUNO AND BROBEE EXISTED BEFORE YO GABBA GABBA!.

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While the other characters were created exclusively for Yo Gabba Gabba!, Muno and Brobee were already around as part of the live show for Christian Jacobs's kid-friendly ska/punk band, The Aquabats. Since shortly after their founding in 1994, The Aquabats have dressed in matching superhero costumes, fighting evil under aliases like The MC Bat Commander (Jacobs), Crash McLarson, Jimmy the Robot, Ricky Fitness, and Eagle “Bones” Falconhawk. The lineup has changed frequently over the years (Travis Barker of Blink-182 was briefly their drummer under the name “The Baron von Tito”), but the band still performs live and releases the occasional studio album. Naturally, they made a handful of appearances on Yo Gabba Gabba!, as well.

7. THE SHOW HAS A CONNECTION TO DEVO.

While most kids only know him as the kookie art teacher on the show, Mark Mothersbaugh was one of the founding members and lead singer of the New Wave band Devo. Even when he’s not wearing a red terraced “Energy Dome” hat, Mothersbaugh’s career has been prolific as a composer for dozens of TV shows, films, video games, and commercials, including Apple’s famous “I’m a Mac” ads starring Justin Long and John Hodgman.

8. BIZ MARKIE WAS ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED TO DANCE ON THE SHOW.

Yo Gabba Gabba! fans learned how to beatbox thanks to rapper Biz Markie (born Marcel Theo Hall) and his “Beat of the Day” segment. Biz was initially asked to do a Dancey Dance routine for the show, but he has a bad back, so he offered to teach the kids how to do a beat instead. The producers loved it and it became a staple on the show. Parents knew Biz best from his 1989 hit “Just a Friend,” which featured his unique brand of rapping and “singing.” 

9. SUPER MARTIAN ROBOT GIRL IS THE PRODUCT OF TWO GROUNDBREAKING COMIC BOOK ARTISTS.

The comic book the Gabba gang often reads, Super Martian Robot Girl, is the creation of married underground comic book celebrities Sarah Dyer and Evan Dorkin. Dorkin is the genius behind the small press comic Milk and Cheese about “dairy products gone bad”—a milk carton and a wedge of cheese who love to drink gin and beat people up. Dyer was an influential creator in the '90s zine scene, where she was one of the few people giving female zinesters a voice with her Action Girl Newsletter, which later paved the way for the similarly-themed Action Girl Comics.

10. IT WAS NOMINATED FOR SEVEN EMMYS, BUT NEVER WON.

Yo Gabba Gabba!  received numerous Daytime Emmy nominations for Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction and Costume Design, as well as for Outstanding Pre-School Children's Series, but a win eluded the show. In addition, the series was nominated for Outstanding Achievement in Children’s Programming by the Television Critics Association Awards five times (and won twice). Internationally, the show was awarded a BAFTA in 2008. And DJ Lance received two NAACP Image Award nominations.      

11. THE SHOW GOT ITS OWN LINE OF SNEAKERS.

Ever wanted to see Foofa pop a wheelie? How about Toodee ride a surfboard? In 2011, the Gabba gang shot a series of videos to promote their line of Vans shoe, a brand popular among the extreme sports crowd. The characters shared the screen with some of the biggest names in the X Games, including surfers Alex Knost and Jared Mell, skateboarders Bucky Lasek and Christian Hosoi, BMXers Alistair Whitton and Coco Zurita, and motocross stars Dean Wilson and Ryan Villopoto. You can check out the videos at Yo Gabba Gabba's official YouTube channel.

12. THEY PLAYED COACHELLA.

The gang invaded the Coachella Music Festival in 2010, where they performed, hung out with celebrity fans backstage, and even showed up to dance with the audience at other musical performances.

13. THE SHOW HAD A LOT OF CELEBRITY FANS.

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For Halloween 2009, Brad Pitt donned DJ Lance's orange jumpsuit and fuzzy hat when he took his kids trick-or-treating. Lance was later quoted as saying that Pitt looked “Awesome.”

14. IT FEATURED A LOT OF GUEST STARS.

While most celebrities only come on the show to do a Dancey Dance or Cool Tricks segment, there have been a handful of guests that played a bigger role in an episode. The first was Jack Black, who had an entire episode dedicated to his adventures in Gabbaland after his flying motorbike ran out of gas. He got the gig after his wife emailed the show and practically begged them to let Jack come on because he was such a big fan. Other celebrities who popped in: Angela Kinsey from The Office played a teacher, the Tooth Fairy was played by Amy Sedaris, Mos Def saved the day as Super Mr. Superhero, Anthony Bourdain cameoed as a doctor, Jason Bateman played an evil spy, Lost’s Josh Holloway played a helpful farmer, and Weird Al Yankovic guested as a circus ringmaster.

15. A YO GABBA GABBA! DOLL WILL COST YOU A PRETTY PENNY.

The Gabba action figures that DJ Lance brought to life at the beginning of each episode were produced by Kidrobot, one of the leading names in the vinyl toy movement. The figures are no longer produced, so when one pops up on eBay, it often commands a high price. But if you’re not willing to spend that kind of money on an action figure, there are plenty of other Gabba-themed toys, books, DVDs, comics, smartphone apps, and clothes to keep your kids happy.

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10 Witty Facts About The Marx Brothers
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Talented as individuals and magnificent as a team, the Marx Brothers conquered every medium from the vaudeville stage to the silver screen. Today, we’re tipping our hats (and tooting our horns) to Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo, and Gummo—on the 50th anniversary of Groucho's passing.

1. A RUNAWAY MULE INSPIRED THEM TO TAKE A STAB AT COMEDY.

Julius, Milton, and Arthur Marx originally aspired to be professional singers. In 1907, the boys joined a group called “The Three Nightingales.” Managed by their mother, Minnie, the ensemble performed covers of popular songs in theaters all over the country. As Nightingales, the brothers enjoyed some moderate success, but they might never have found their true calling if it weren’t for an unruly equid. During a 1907 gig at the Nacogdoches Opera House in East Texas, someone interrupted the performance by barging in and shouting “Mule’s loose!” Immediately, the crowd raced out to watch the newly-liberated animal. Back inside, Julius seethed. Furious at having lost the spotlight, he skewered his audience upon their return. “The jackass is the finest flower of Tex-ass!” he shouted, among many other ad-libbed jabs. Rather than boo, the patrons roared with laughter. Word of his wit soon spread and demand for these Marx brothers grew.

2. THEY RECEIVED THEIR STAGE NAMES DURING A POKER GAME.

In May of 1914, the five Marxes were playing cards with standup comedian Art Fisher. Inspired by a popular comic strip character known as “Sherlocko the Monk,” he decided that the boys could use some new nicknames. Leonard’s was a no-brainer. Given his girl-crazy, “chick-chasing” lifestyle, Fisher dubbed him “Chicko” (later, this was shortened to “Chico”). Arthur loved playing the harp and thus became “Harpo.” An affinity for soft gumshoes earned Milton the alias “Gummo.” Finally, Julius was both cynical and often seen wearing a “grouch bag”—wherein he’d store small objects like marbles and candy—around his neck. Thus, “Groucho” was born. For the record, nobody knows how Herbert Marx came to be known as “Zeppo.”

3. GROUCHO WORE HIS TRADEMARK GREASEPAINT MUSTACHE BECAUSE HE HATED MORE REALISTIC MODELS.

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Phony, glue-on facial hair can be a pain to remove and reapply, so Groucho would simply paint a ‘stache and some exaggerated eyebrows onto his face. However, the mustache he later rocked as the host of his famous quiz show You Bet Your Life was 100 percent real.

4. HARPO WAS A SELF-TAUGHT HARPIST.

Without any formal training (or the ability to read sheet music), the second-oldest Marx brother developed a unique style that he never stopped improving upon. “Dad really loved playing the harp, and he did it constantly,” his son, Bill Marx, wrote. “Maybe the first multi-tasker ever, he even had a harp in the bathroom so he could play when he sat on the toilet!”

5. THE VERY FIRST MARX BROTHERS MOVIE WAS NEVER RELEASED.

Financed by Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo, and a handful of other investors, Humor Risk was filmed in 1921. Accounts differ, but most scholars agree that the silent picture—which would have served as the family’s cinematic debut—never saw completion. Despite this, an early screening of the work-in-progress was reportedly held in the Bronx. When Humor Risk failed to impress there, production halted. By Marx Brothers standards, it would’ve been an unusual flick, with Harpo playing a heroic detective opposite a villainous Groucho character.

6. GUMMO AND ZEPPO BECAME TALENT AGENTS.

World War I forced Gummo to quit the stage. Following his return, the veteran decided that performing was no longer for him and instead started a raincoat business. Zeppo—the youngest brother—then assumed Gummo’s role as the troupe’s straight-talking foil. A brilliant businessman, Zeppo eventually broke away to found the talent agency Zeppo Marx Inc., which grew into Hollywood’s third-largest, representing superstars like Clark Gable, Lucille Ball, and—of course—the other three Marx Brothers. Gummo, who joined the company in 1935, was charged with handling Groucho, Harpo, and Chico’s needs.

7. CHICO ONCE LAUNCHED A BIG BAND GROUP.

Chico took advantage of an extended break between Marx brothers movies to realize a lifelong dream. A few months before The Big Store hit cinemas in 1941, he co-founded the Chico Marx Orchestra: a swinging jazz band that lasted until July of 1943. Short-lived as the group was, however, it still managed to recruit some amazing talent—including singer/composer Mel Tormé, who would go on to help write “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” in 1945.

8. THEY TESTED OUT NEW MATERIAL FOR A NIGHT AT THE OPERA IN FRONT OF LIVE AUDIENCES.

With the script still being drafted, MGM made the inspired choice to let the brothers perform key scenes in such places as Seattle, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco. Once a given joke was made, the Marxes meticulously timed the ensuing laughter, which let them know exactly how much silence to leave after repeating the gag on film. According to Harpo, this had the added benefit of shortening A Night at the Opera’s production period. “We didn’t have to rehearse,” he explained. “[We just] got onto the set and let the cameras roll.”

9. GROUCHO TEMPORARILY HOSTED THE TONIGHT SHOW.

Jack Paar bid the job farewell on March 29, 1962. Months before their star’s departure, NBC offered Paar’s Tonight Show seat to Groucho, who had established himself as a razor-sharp, well-liked host during You Bet Your Life’s 14-year run. Though Marx turned the network down, he later served as a guest host for two weeks while Johnny Carson prepared to take over the gig. When Carson finally made his Tonight Show debut on October 1, it was Groucho who introduced him.

10. SPY MAGAZINE USED A MARX BROTHERS MOVIE TO PRANK U.S. CONGRESSMEN.

Duck Soup takes place in Freedonia, a fictional country over which the eccentric Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) presides. In 1993, 60 years after the movie’s release, this imaginary nation made headlines by embarrassing some real-life politicians. Staffers from Spy got in touch with around 20 freshmen in the House of Representatives, asking some variation on the question “Do you approve of what we’re doing to stop ethnic cleansing in Freedonia?” A few lawmakers took the bait. Representative Corrine Brown (D-Florida) professed to approve of America’s presence in Freedonia, saying, “I think all of those situations are very, very sad, and I just think we need to take action to assist the people.” Across the aisle, Steve Buyer (R-Indiana) concurred. “Yeah,” he said, “it’s a different situation than the Middle East.”

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