Krazy Kat

Fred Shapiro on ADS-L yesterday:

Since I am now working on the second edition of the Yale Book of Quotations, let me ask, were there any particularly memorable catchphrases or one-off quotations from the Krazy Kat strip?

John Baker replies:

Well, Krazy Kat referred to Ignatz Mouse as “Li’l Dollink,” and the strip’s captions referred to Joe Stork as “purveyor of progeny to prince & proletarian.”  I don’t know if either of those really qualify as particularly memorable.

KK’s Dollink (for Darling): it’ sounds like Yiddish-English, but it begins to look like KK’s dialect is sui generis.

Wikipedia on the comic:

Krazy Kat is an American newspaper comic strip by cartoonist George Herriman (1880–1944), which ran from 1913 to 1944. It first appeared in the New York Evening Journal, whose owner, William Randolph Hearst, was a major booster for the strip throughout its run. The characters had been introduced previously in a side strip with Herriman’s earlier creation, The Dingbat Family. The phrase “Krazy Kat” originated there, said by the mouse by way of describing the cat. Set in a dreamlike portrayal of Herriman’s vacation home of Coconino County, Arizona, Krazy Kat’s mixture of offbeat surrealism, innocent playfulness and poetic, idiosyncratic language has made it a favorite of comics aficionados and art critics for more than 80 years.

The strip focuses on the curious love triangle between its title character, a guileless, carefree, simple-minded cat of indeterminate gender (referred to as both “he” and “she”); the obsessive antagonist Ignatz Mouse; and the protective police dog, Offissa Bull Pupp. Krazy nurses an unrequited love for the mouse. However, Ignatz despises Krazy and constantly schemes to throw bricks at Krazy’s head, which Krazy interprets as a sign of affection, uttering grateful replies such as “Li’l dollink, allus f’etful”. Offissa Pupp, as Coconino County’s administrator of law and order, makes it his unwavering mission to interfere with Ignatz’s brick-tossing plans and lock the mouse in the county jail.

Despite the slapstick simplicity of the general premise, the detailed characterization, combined with Herriman’s visual and verbal creativity, made Krazy Kat one of the first comics to be widely praised by intellectuals and treated as “serious” art.

Like many other classic comic strips, most Krazy Kats are very busy multiple-panel productions, which makes it hard to find examples that can be successfully posted (within reasonable space limits) on this blog. Hard, but not impossible. Here’s the one from January 6th, 1918 that’s reproducible — and definitely about language:

Note the raising of /æ/ to /ɛ/, and not just before nasals. Plus the vaguely Italian-English udda for other. I looked to the Wikipedia article on George Herriman for a clue about where the dialect features come from:

George Joseph Herriman (August 22, 1880 – April 25, 1944) was an American cartoonist best known for the comic strip Krazy Kat (1913–1944). More influential than popular, Krazy Kat had an appreciative audience among people in the arts.

… Herriman’s work has been a primary influence on cartoonists such as Will Eisner, Charles M. Schulz, Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Bill Watterson, and Chris Ware.

Herriman was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, to mulatto Creole parents, and grew up in Los Angeles.

… The strip was noted for its poetic, dialect-heavy dialogue; its fantastic, shifting backgrounds; and its bold, experimental page layouts. In the strip’s main motif, Ignatz Mouse would pelt Krazy with bricks, which the naïve, androgynous Kat would interpret as symbols of love. As the strip progressed, a love triangle developed between Krazy, Ignatz and Offisa Pupp.

Tentatively, I suggest that Herriman playfully pasted together features from several sources to create KK’s dialect.

2 Responses to “Krazy Kat”

  1. eric zwicky Says:

    my dad’s an “oshkosher”. lots of zwickys there, a few no more closely related than you and i are. have you ever been there?

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Nope. Never been to Oshkosh — perhaps because there’s no linguistics program there. (My travels have been mostly confined to places with linguistics!)

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: