George Booth

This week’s featured Condé Nast artist is New Yorker cartoonist George Booth, a master of the absurd in the everyday. And famous among linguists for his 1975 story strip “Ip Gissa Gul”:

(Click on the image to embiggen it.)

The New Yorker archives provide this flat-footed abstract for the strip:

Comic strip entitled “Ip Gissa Gul” which means, “Ape Gets A Girl.” A group of cavemen come upon an ape who is in a state of fury and says he wants a girl. While the ape goes off to look for a girl, the cavemen discover the rock, the hog, the lizzard, the bird and the puppy dog. Meanwhile the ape has found a cavegirl who throws rocks at him. The cavemen watch as the ape goes off with the rock-throwing girl under his arms, Later the cavemen come upon the ape and the cavegirl and six little creatures around them. The cavemen make guesses about the little creatures around them. One thinks they are little puppies. Another one says they are apes. In fact, they are little cave-children.

(Note that a bit of Booth’s Ip-spelling for lizard, with double Z, has been carried over into the abstract.)

A typical comment on the strip:

One of my favorite comic strips of all time was one that was handed out at my Linguistics class. (link)

Others just said it was one of their favorite cartoons of all time. Certainly it was my man Jacques’s; “Dassa krok-tron gul!”, “Issa hig!”, and “Huppy dod!”, in particular, came to be part of our household’s language.)

It’s a great spur to thinking about  first-language acquisition, second-language learning, and “foreigner talk”, “Tonto talk” and other simplified registers, not to mention the evolution of language and gender relations.

Wikipedia on Booth:

George Booth V, pen name George Booth (born June 28, 1926) is a New Yorker cartoonist.

… Over time, his cartoons have become an iconic feature of the magazine. In a doodler’s style, they feature everymen beset by modern complexity, goofballs perplexing their spouses, cats, and very often a fat dog. One signature element is a ceiling light bulb on a cord pulled out of vertical by another cord attached to an electrical appliance such as a toaster. Most of the household features in his cartoons are taken from his own home, such as the rugs, chairs, ferns, and cats.

Booth in an absurdist moment, showing Victor Frankenstein and his assistant Igor at work in the operating theatre:

Pop-culture elements of the Frankenstein films in combination with Debussy as a representative of elegant high culture. Note the characteristic Booth dog.

And then back to caveman culture, with very early parliamentary procedures: calling meetings, offering observations from the floor, and making motions:


16 Responses to “George Booth”

  1. rarasaur Says:

    I love absurdity and George Booth!

  2. RF Says:

    I’d never seen this cartoon before. To me, the storyline (kidnapping and rape?) seems a little disturbing. No one else had that reaction?

  3. Anne Says:

    Hi…My Name is Anne, I am from Pittsburgh originally and my parents, both highly educated, always had magazines like The New Yorker coming in the door..To this day my mom is a huge Booth fan…I grew up constantly hearing this cartoon and variations of it…..I still say ” Is ip a rok tron gul!” my brother sister and I used to just die laughing …..RF needs a drink or something…..thank you for posting this…..I never thought I would find it and I am trying to cheer up my mom so now I can say I found it!

  4. Sheila Trenton Says:

    RF, this cartoon was very popular among my friends in college, and it always disturbed me in just the way you say: it’s about kidnapping and rape! How is that hilarious?

  5. The Old Wolf Says:

    Ip is not an ape; he’s just another caveman who happens to be the protagonist of the story. Booth could have named him “Thag” and the story would have gone over just as well. It’s the story of a caveman finding a wife in much the same manner as we see in the movie Clan of the Cave Bear.

  6. Jane Vail Says:

    Help with an Ip Gissa translation: “Coos may huppy dod?”

  7. Happy New Year!Carole and Jay Furr Says:

    […] it was just three weeks later that the greatest New Yorker cartoon of all time, “Ip Gissa Gul“, was published. And yes, that was a Booth […]

  8. henrybowman Says:

    The ape/caveman who bops a prospective mate over the head with a giant club and drags her back to his cave has been a staple stereotype of humor for centuries. Let’s not clutch our pearls. You don’t want to know what Praying Mantises do.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      To henrybowman:

      1. It would help if you made it clear who you’re responding to here, especially since you use the trope “clutch one’s pearls” in your response, which reads in this context as an invocation of the hysterical faggot stereotype.

      2. The caveman has not been a staple stereotype of humor for centuries. As a popular culture figure, he dates only to (roughly) the beginning of the 20th century, as a (probably racist) popularization of the idea of Neanderthal Man. You’re suffering from the Antiquity Illusion.

      3. Everybody knows what praying mantises do, and you know that. And that it’s entirely irrelevant to people’s responses to the caveman figure.

      4. Troll much?

      • henrybowman Says:

        1a. I was replying to at least two similar previous comments, so it became a shared reply.

        1b. I find it surprising that when I say “pearls,” someone’s mind immediately goes to “faggots.” It’s a connection I never even considered. My mind goes instead to stereotypical Progressive Era matrons, possibly because my tastes run more to Marx Brothers movies than Ru Paul performances.

        2. So then, the 20th and the 21st centuries. Not that it’s a crucial flaw in my objection.

        3. I can guarantee you that not everybody knows about praying mantises. And in fact it’s entirely relevant. Man evolved from lower forms. Lower forms exhibit more animalistic behavior. Physical and social evolution doesn’t eliminate these, they just provide better veneer to conceal it.

        4. Not hardly at all. I’m tired of seeing society careening in a direction where person A can’t state an opinion, exhibit a piece of factual history, or show solidarity with some cause or other without at least three other persons being loudly “offended” by it. Booth was a comic genius (whose cat “has never bitten anyone previously”), and deserves better treatment than that.

      • arnold zwicky Says:

        To HB on 6/15/19: troll, troll, troll.

        Go back under your bridge, whoever you are.

  9. RF Says:

    I assume henrybowman’s comment is addressed to me (I’m still subscribed to comments for this post), and/or Sheila Trenton, who shared similar sentiments. It was suggested in an earlier comment that I could use a drink. I get that for some people who take this cartoon as it was apparently intended (as lighthearted wordplay), the darker reading may seem absurd. But when I look at this cartoon, what stands out to me are the expressions on the woman’s face: afraid and desperate while throwing the rocks, and, in the final panel, deeply unhappy, locked under Ip’s arms and surrounded by their six children. I don’t think it is “clutching at pearls” to find her situation disturbing, even if the rest of the cartoon is silly, and even if the caveman theme is a trope. But YMMV.

    (Last note: When I left my earlier comment in 2012, I had recently followed links here from Language Log, with its multiple contributors and large commenting community. My comment, which is vaguely addressed to “No one else…?” and which touches on an aspect of the cartoon not really discussed in the post, might have been a better fit over there. I think it was coming out of a sense that this was still, somehow, a LL post. But it is a bit out of place as a comment on a personal blog, and I apologize if it led to an unwanted discussion.)

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      No apology necessary. Your comment wasn’t out of place. As for comments, AZBlog gets many fewer than LLog because LLog’s readership is somewhere between 10 and 100 times the size of AZBlog’s.

      Comments do get rejected, on both blogs, mostly because they’re way off the topic of the posting they’re submitted for; a fair number of people are looking to talk about something that interests or moves them, and try to use the comments section of blogs as forums for open discussion.

  10. Robert Alexander Delaney Says:

    Not sure how you can make so much from so little. I met some New Yorkers in Wales in the 1970s and when they got home they sent me the cartoon in the post. I found it funny and the language development easy and amusing; Ip was his name and not another word for ape. I saw nothing sinister and still refer back to the language. For some reason I decided to Google Ip Gessa Gull today and find that I remember it perfectly from so many years ago.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Well, making a lot from little is sort of my business: I analyze stuff (sentences, texts, cartoons, artworks, jokes, poems, photographs, children’s books, lyrics of music, gay porn flicks, everyday social interactions, sexual encounters, whatever), finding organization and content that might not be obvious to the casual observer.

      I don’t in fact view Ip Gissa Gul as sinister (and my man Jacques certainly didn’t: it was his favorite cartoon in the whole world), but I do think the sexual politics of the cartoon deserve some analysis. Humor that turns on depicting deplorable attitudes and behaviors can be risky, and can easily be seen as two-edged, treating these attitudes and behaviors with sympathy as well as criticism. (But then real people often act with mixed motives — and so do those who depict them.)

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