Punch in the presence of the passenjare

About the British humo(u)r magazine (my cartoon/comics library has two anthologies from the publication; the second has the Ed Fisher cartoons I posted about yesterday) and about its long history (going back to 1841). The magazine was given to plays on the word punch, but so far as I can tell, not involving the quotation in the title of this posting — a 140-year-old meme, but a North American one.

To come: the magazine; uses of the word punch; and “Punch in the presence of the passenjare”.

The magazine. The two anthologies, Cole 1964 and Cole 1969:



(There’s at least one earlier anthology and one later one.)

From Wikipedia:

Punch, or The London Charivari was a British weekly magazine of humour and satire established in 1841 by Henry Mayhew and engraver Ebenezer Landells. Historically, it was most influential in the 1840s and 1850s, when it helped to coin the term “cartoon” in its modern sense as a humorous illustration.

After the 1940s, when its circulation peaked, it went into a long decline, closing in 1992. It was revived in 1996, but closed again in 2002.

[History:] Punch was founded on 17 July 1841 by Henry Mayhew and engraver Ebenezer Landells, on an initial investment of £25. It was jointly edited by Mayhew and Mark Lemon. It was subtitled The London Charivari in homage to Charles Philipon’s French satirical humour magazine Le Charivari. Reflecting their satiric and humorous intent, the two editors took for their name and masthead the anarchic glove puppet, Mr. Punch, of Punch and Judy; the name also referred to a joke made early on about one of the magazine’s first editors, Lemon, that “punch is nothing without lemon”.

… The term “cartoon” to refer to comic drawings was first used in Punch in 1843, when the Houses of Parliament were to be decorated with murals, and “cartoons” for the mural were displayed for the public; the term “cartoon” then meant a finished preliminary sketch on a large piece of cardboard, or cartone in Italian. Punch humorously appropriated the term to refer to its political cartoons, and the popularity of the Punch cartoons led to the term’s widespread use.

For a long time, the magazine was mostly devoted to political and social satire, rooted in the events and customs of the time, so that its cartoons tend to be hard to appreciate today. A famous exception:


From Wikipedia:

A “curate’s egg” describes something that is mostly or partly bad, but partly good.

… The term derives from a cartoon published in the humorous British magazine Punch on 9 November 1895. Drawn by George du Maurier and titled True Humility, it pictures a timid-looking curate eating breakfast in his bishop’s house.[4] The bishop says: “I’m afraid you’ve got a bad egg, Mr Jones.” The curate replies, desperate not to offend his eminent host and ultimate employer: “Oh no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!” (This clearly cannot be true of a bad egg.)

Lots of punches. The name of the magazine is directly based on Punch and Judy (punch-4 in the list below), but already at the beginning there were plays on the name as involving the drink (punch-3): “punch is nothing without lemon”, and (much later) the title of the anthology in #1. The anthology in #2 has a title with yet another play, on punch line, the line of a joke that provides the punch, the main thrust, of the joke (punch-1). A brief inventory of senses, from NOAD2:

punch-1 ORIGIN late Middle English (as a verb in the sense ‘puncture, prod’): variant of pounce.


1 strike with the fist: she punched him in the face and ran off. [-] drive with a blow from the fist: he punched the ball into his own goal. 2 press (a button or key on a machine). [-] (punch something in/into) enter information by pressing a button or key. 3 N. Amer. drive (cattle) by prodding them with a stick.


a blow with the fist. [-] informal  the strength needed to deliver a blow with the fist: he has the punch to knock out anyone in his division. [-] [in sing.] informal  the power to impress or startle: photos give their arguments an extra visual punch.


beat someone to the punch informal  anticipate or forestall someone’s actions.

punch the (time) clock (of an employee) punch in or out. [a] be employed in a conventional job with regular hours.

punch someone’s lights out beat someone up; knock someone unconscious. (lights in the sense ‘lungs’)

punch one’s ticket do or achieve something that enables one to progress to the next step: Krueger punched her ticket to the Championships by taking eighth at the NCAA South Regionals.

[also: pack a punch, throw a punch, pull one’s punches, punching bag]


punch in (or out) N. Amer. register one’s arrival at (or departure from) work, especially by means of a time clock: she couldn’t punch in, because there were no time clocks.

punch something up 1 use a computer keyboard to call something to the screen: people will be able to punch up Andy Warhol and get text, photographs, and video on the entire Pop Art period. 2 informal  enliven: he needed to punch up his meandering presentation.

[also: punch line the final phrase or sentence of a joke or story, providing the humor or some other crucial element.]

punch-2 ORIGIN early 16th cent.: perhaps an abbreviation of puncheon, or from the verb punch-1.


1 a device or machine for making holes in materials such as paper, leather, metal, and plaster. 2 a tool or machine for impressing a design or stamping a die on a material.

verb [with obj.]

pierce (a hole) in (metal, paper, leather, etc.) with or as though with a punch.

punch-3 ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: apparently from Sanskrit pañca ‘five, five kinds of’ (because the drink had five ingredients).

noun a drink made with fruit juices, soda, spices, and sometimes liquor, typically served in small cups from a large bowl.

punch-4 ORIGIN mid 17th cent. (as a dialect term denoting a short, fat person): abbreviation of Punchinello.

noun (Punch) a grotesque, hook-nosed, humpbacked buffoon, the chief male character of the Punch and Judy show. Punch is the English variant of a stock character derived ultimately from Italian commedia dell’arte. Also called Punchinello.


pleased as Punch feeling great delight or pride. (with allusion to the delight displayed by the character Punch of the Punch and Judy show.)

So there’s plenty of room for word play here.

“Punch in the presence of the passenjare”. Found poetry, turned into a meme. With punch-2. From Wikipedia:

“A Literary Nightmare” is a short story written by Mark Twain in 1876. The story is about Twain’s encounter with an earworm, or virus-like jingle, and how it occupies his mind for several days until he manages to “infect” another person, thus removing the jingle from his mind. The story was also later published under the name “Punch, Brothers, Punch!”

The poem was not composed by Mark Twain, but by a group of people in 1876. It was the brainchild of Isaac Bromley, Noah Brooks, W. C. Wyckoff, and Moses W. Handy. Bromley and Brooks, while riding a tram one night, had taken notice of a sign informing passengers about the fare

The jingle:

Conductor, when you receive a fare,

Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
A blue trip slip for an eight-cent fare,
A buff trip slip for a six-cent fare,
A pink trip slip for a three-cent fare,
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!

Punch brothers! Punch with care!
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!

Life then imitated art as the jingle quickly spread throughout the Northeast U.S. and beyond.  I learned the first two lines by word of mouth as a teenager, 80 years after Twain published his story.

And then there’s Punch Brothers. From Wikipedia:

Punch Brothers is a band consisting of Chris Thile (mandolin), Gabe Witcher (fiddle/violin), Noam Pikelny (banjo), Chris Eldridge (guitar), and Paul Kowert (bass). Their style has been described as “bluegrass instrumentation and spontaneity in the strictures of modern classical” as well as “American country-classical chamber music.”

Initially the band was known as The How to Grow a Band. In 2007, the band officially changed its name first to The Tensions Mountain Boys and then settled on Punch Brothers. The band’s name comes from the critical line of an earworm jingle that is the centerpiece of Mark Twain’s short story “A Literary Nightmare”. The chorus of the jingle consists of two lines, “Punch, brother, punch with care, punch in the presence of the passenjare”, that are said to be the mantra of railroad conductors.



6 Responses to “Punch in the presence of the passenjare”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Tim Pierce on Facebook:

    And brought to some of us in the younger generations by way of Robert McCloskey’s “Centerburg Tales.”


  2. Robert Coren Says:

    I’m somewhat surprised that NOAD2 associates “punch one’s ticket” with punch-1 rather than punch-2 .

  3. arnold zwicky Says:

    “Punch in the presence of the passenjare” already has large-scale alliteration going for it, but why “passenjare” rather than “passenger”?

    To ensure (1) a rhyme with fare and (2) an accent on the last syllable of passenger, thus making the line into tetrameter, like the remainder of the jingle.

  4. arnold zwicky Says:

    George V. Reilly writes feelingly in Facebook about the role of Punch in the 19th century in shaping stereotypes of the Irish (lazy, shiftless, dirty, etc. — just barely above animals) and promulgating them to the middle class.

    Punch at the time represented the attitudes and opinions of a narrow segment of the privileged Establishment in England, so for the most part it was harsh on the Irish, on Catholics in general, on blacks, on Chinese, and on Jews (and probably others as well).

  5. arnold zwicky Says:

    News on the railway practice, passed on by Damien Hall on Facebook. From the Scottish Daily Mail of 5/26/16:

    Inspectors on one of the country’s busiest train lines will no longer clip tickets because bosses fear they could strain their wrists.
    Concerns over repetitive strain injunry – the pain in muscles, nerves and tendons caused by constant movement – have forced Abellio Greater Anglia to do away with the traditional clipper that punches a hole in tickets.
    Conductors on the Norwich to London Liverpool Street line will instead use a marker pen to put a cross on tickets to alert colleagues that it is valid.


    Note: ‘elf ‘n’ safety in the head is Health and Safety.

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