Space cadet

Today’s Zippy, on the comics of our childhoods:

In the first panel, Griffy is reading a book with Scrooge [McDuck], [Little] Lulu, Nancy, and Tom Corbett [Space Cadet] strips in it; Mr. The Toad is perusing a Plasticman comic in the third panel. Comics of days past.

Now some words about Tom Corbett.

Corbett came up in this blog here, in connection with the address term pal in an episode of the Tom Corbett, Space Cadet tv show; and here, in connection with zeugmoids on the show; plus Corbett phallic imagery on AZBlogX, here. A summary of Corbett’s media history, from Wikipedia:

Tom Corbett is the main character in a series of Tom Corbett — Space Cadet stories that were depicted in television, radio, books, comic books, comic strips, coloring books, punch-out books and View-Master reels in the 1950s. The stories followed the adventures of Tom Corbett, Astro, and Roger Manning, cadets at the Space Academy as they train to become members of the elite Solar Guard. The action takes place at the Academy in classrooms and bunkrooms, aboard their training ship the rocket cruiser Polaris, and on alien worlds, both within our solar system and in orbit around nearby stars.

Joseph Lawrence Greene of Grosset & Dunlap developed Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, inspired by the Robert A. Heinlein novel Space Cadet (1948) but based on his own prior work. Greene had submitted a radio script for “Tom Ranger” and the “Space Cadets” on January 16, 1946, but it remained unperformed when Heinlein’s novel was published. Greene then reworked his radio script into a script for a daily newspaper adventure strip, which was never produced.

TV is the medium where Tom Corbett first appeared. The stories initially closely followed the scripts written for the unpublished newspaper comic strip Tom Ranger, Space Cadet, by Joseph Greene from 1949. The series aired, in different years, on all four major television networks: on CBS from October 2 to December 1950, ABC from January 1951 to September 1952, NBC from July to September 1951, DuMont from August 1953 to May 1954, and on NBC again from December 1954 to June 1955, with the final broadcast on June 25, 1955.

[Books] 1952 – 1956 published by Grosset & Dunlap. Written under the pseudonym Carey Rockwell, with Willy Ley as technical advisor.

[Comic strip] The Tom Corbett — Space Cadet comic strip, drawn in Milton Caniff style by Ray Bailey, ran Sunday and daily in American newspapers, from September 9, 1951 to September 6, 1953. Paul S. Newman scripted through February 8, 1953.

[Comic books] The original Tom Corbett series was published by Dell Comics beginning in their 4-Color series [Feb. 1952 – Sept.-Nov. 1954]. The 4-Color series was used to try out new story lines on the public to obtain feedback. If successful the series would be spun off to form its own title. Tom Corbett won his own title after three tryout issues. As the popularity of the television series waned, Dell stopped producing the comic book and the series was then taken up and produced by Prize Comics [May – Oct. 1955]. There were a small number of Tom Corbett comic books in Manga style published in the 1990s by Eternity Comics, but these are universally rejected as non-canonical by Tom Corbett fans.

[Radio] The cast for the radio program was the same as for the television series. The show ran from January 1, 1952 – June 26, 1952, initially in 15-minute segments three times a week and then as a half-hour show twice a week. A radio version produced in Australia used local actors.

These are sci-fi action-adventure stories and so don’t have a great many features of linguistic interest. A couple covers (Dell #4 and #11) give the flavor:

But there is the compound space cadet, which has an interesting history.

OED3 (Sept. 2008) says of the noun space as the first element in compounds:

With reference to outer space regarded as a field of human activity, as space bus, space conquest, space crew, space doctor, etc.

Some of the more established compounds of this type are treated separately… Many of them are modelled on analogous uses of air.

The first cite of this pattern is from 1931, of space-liner, parallel to air liner / airliner (and before that, ocean liner; the vocabulary goes from water to air to space). On space cadet specifically:

(a) a trainee spaceman or spacewoman; also in extended use;  (b) slang a person regarded as out of touch with reality, esp. (as if) as a result of taking drugs; a person prone to flights of fancy or irrational or strange behaviour. [the connection is to being “spaced out” or “spacey”]

1948   R. A. Heinlein (title)  Space Cadet. [so Heinlein does seem to be the source]

1952   Newsweek 13 Oct. 39/2 (caption)  Test pilot A. M. ‘Tex’ Johnston..resembles a space cadet in the new high~altitude helmet and suit designed to protect pilots in the upper air.

(The first cite in sense (b) is from 1973, in a collection of college slang.)

The Space Academy in the Corbett material is obviously modeled on the U.S. service academies, in particular the U.S. Military Academy in West Point NY, founded in 1802, and the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis MD, founded in 1845. (Then, later the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London CT, founded in 1876; the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point NY, founded in 1943; and, finally, the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs CO, founded in 1954, and sometimes known for short as the Air Academy.) Students at all these academies are called cadets — and so it is at the fictional Space Academy.

(A side point: Military Academy and Naval Academy are composites with adjectives as their first element — but non-predicating adjectives, or “pseudo-adjectives” as they sometimes known. In contrast, Air Academy and Space Academy have nouns as their first element; but the two sorts of composites are parallel in a number of ways (see here). Notably, the two types of first elements can be conjoined: the Naval and Air Academies.)

Finally, on the word cadet. The etymology goes back to French, in which the word represents a diminutive of Latin caput ‘head’ — so ‘little chief’. The sequence of senses in OED2:

1. a. younger son or brother [first cite in 1610]

b. a younger branch of a family; a member of a younger branch [1690]

c. youngest son [1646]

2. a. a gentleman who entered the army without a commission, to learn the military profession and find a career for himself (as was regularly done by the younger sons of the French nobility before the Revolution)

b. a junior in the East India Company’s service [1651]

3. a. a student in a military or naval college [cites from 1775 on]

b. a boy in an ordinary school who receives military training with or without a view to entering the army. Also attrib., as cadet corps n. a company of schoolboys who receive such training [cites from 1873 on]

3a is the Tom Corbett sense, while 3b covers cadets in ROTC programs.


2 Responses to “Space cadet”

  1. Ken Rudolph Says:

    I think I’ve mentioned this before: “Tom Corbett Space Cadet” was my favorite tv show when I was a boy. There were two similar programs running about the same time, this show and “Space Patrol”. I was a fan of both; however Cadet was infinitely superior to my youthful mind. Also, I thought at the time that the show was based on Heinlein’s novel “Space Cadet”, which I had received as a present in 1948 (age 7) and re-read every year after that. I find it intriguing to find out here that Lawrence Green’s unaired radio script for “Tom Ranger and the Space Cadets” supposedly pre-dated Heinlein’s novel. Still, the comparisons were strong; and as far as I know Heinlein was never suspected of plagiarism and visa versa.

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Ned Deily in Facebook:

    Arnold’s blog post today about “Tom Corbett, Space Cadet”… brought back memories of my ill-spent youth, before the interwebs made books obsolete. A few years back, I was able to restore a few of the series to my shelves. Here’s the picture accompanying the first page of the first book of the series: appropriately enough, “Stand By For Mars!” — at The Space Academy.

    Chapter 1: “Stand to, you rocket wash!”

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