What, me worry?

Today Zippy, the well-known pop culturist, interviews pop icon Alfred E. Neuman:

Neuman’s Wikipedia page leaves his origins murky:

Alfred E. Neuman is the fictional mascot and iconic cover boy of Mad magazine. The face had drifted through American pictography for decades before being claimed and named by Mad editor Harvey Kurtzman.

… Kurtzman first spotted the image on a postcard pinned to the office bulletin board of Ballantine Books editor Bernard Shir-Cliff. “It was a face that didn’t have a care in the world, except mischief,” recalled Kurtzman.

Griffy and Zippy are both Mad enthusiasts. I posted a few years ago on Griffy’s love for expressions from the comics (Griffwords), including, from Mad, the word potrzebie:

Potrzebie is a Polish word popularized by its non sequitur use as a running gag in the early issues of Mad not long after the comic book began in 1952. The word is pronounced “pot-SCHEB-yeh” in Polish and is a declined form of the noun “potrzeba” (which means “need”), but in “English” it was purportedly pronounced “PAH-tur-zee-bee” or “POT-ra-zee-bee.” Its Eastern European feel was a perfect fit for the New York Jewish style of the magazine.

Mad editor Harvey Kurtzman spotted the word printed in the Polish language section of a multi-languaged “Instructions for Use” sheet accompanying a bottle of aspirin, and Kurtzman, who was fascinated with unusual words and Yiddishisms, decided it would make an appropriate but meaningless background gag. After cutting the word out of the instruction sheet, he made copies and used rubber cement to paste “Potrzebie” randomly into the middle of Mad satires.

I continued:

Not yet in the OED.

Mad was also responsible for axolotl (the name of a salamander-like reptile) as a nonsense reference and ferschlugginer (adapted from Yiddish) as a sort of all-purpose modifier of negative affect.  Ferschlugginer hasn’t made it into the OED yet; axolotl, of course, is there, but without a reference to Mad.

One Response to “What, me worry?”

  1. Doug Says:

    Wonderful stuff. Polish and Nahuatl loanwords are some of my favorites.

    I am reminded also of the blivet, termed for the nonce a ‘poiuyt’ (the letters following QUERTY on a keyboard, as typed from right to left) by the Mad men.

    I can’t check the OED for ‘poiuyt’ and doubt it’s there, but I see that ‘blivet’ and ‘blivit’ are both attested, notably in the US Armed Forces.

Leave a Reply