Ovaltine mornings

On Facebook, from several sources, these vintage ads for Ovaltine, notable (these days) for their use of the adjective gay ‘light-hearted, carefree’:



Two things here: the lexical items gay; and the beverage Ovaltine. Along the way we’ll pick up some Los Angeles lesbian rap.

Going gay. In brief, the various adjectives gay, from NOAD2:

1 (of a person, especially a man) homosexual; relating to or used by homosexuals.

2 lighthearted and carefree; brightly colored, showy, brilliant.

3 informal, offensive foolish, stupid, or unimpressive.

Subentry 1 has the adjective gay-1, which is currently the most frequent; its use spread rapidly in the middle of the 20th century. Subentry 2 has the adjective gay-2, which was the most frequent before then. Subentry 3 has an adjective gay-3, which developed from gay-2 late in the 20th century.

From a 3/21/11 posting about an ad (from roughly the 1950s) with the slogan “Jell-O is the gay dessert”:

This was from a time before the ‘homosexual’ sense of gay spread into general use, when the relevant sense (from OED3, August 2010) was:

Of persons, their attributes, actions, etc.: light-hearted, carefree; manifesting, characterized by, or disposed to joy and mirth; exuberantly cheerful, merry; sportive.

Now of course we’re inclined to see double entendres in material like this, and people complain that homosexuals have “stolen” the word gay— though in fact all they/we did was introduce another sense of the word (well, really, another word), usually easily distinguishable in context from the one above. Then the usage above was contaminated for people who were offended by the mention of homosexuality.

This posting was followed a few days later by one with a vintage ad for Jester Wools, with the slogan “I’ve robbed the rainbow to make you gay!” (this one combining the ‘light-hearted’ and the ‘brightly colored’ senses of gay-2).

There are now people who collect vintage ads with gay-2 in their copy — not a difficult task, because being gay-2 is positively valued, desirable. Here are two more, from a 6/14/12 posting on the Autostraddle site with the title:

16 Vintage “Gay” Advertisements That Are Funny Now That “Gay” Means “GAY”



The name of the singing teakettle in #4 is, of course, pronounced like gala /gélǝ/, but it could be interpreted as gay-LA ‘gay Los Angeles’, and in fact the Autostraddle posting suggests that this ad was the inspiration for a rap video “Gay in LA” (which you can listen to here):

Romi Klinger (The Real L Word and Casa Por Vida) raps about how good it is to be gay in LA. Featuring Shay from Love Darling. Directed by Daniel Ainsworth and produced by WorkItLA.com.

Klinger appeared in seasons 2 and 3 of tv show The Real L World. On the show, from Wikipedia:

The Real L Word is an American reality television series aired on the cable station Showtime, where it premiered on June 20, 2010. The show was created by executive producer Ilene Chaiken and Magical Elves Productions, following the success of the television drama The L Word, also created by Chaiken. The Real L Word follows a group of lesbians in their daily lives in Los Angeles, and as of the third season, Brooklyn.

Lesbians let loose on L.A.!

Ovaltine. Ads for Ovaltine plug it as a source of vitamins and minerals; as a food for convalescents; and (as in #1 and #2) as a soothing bedtime drink. Some vintage ads for it that offer refreshing and invigorating sleep, without promising it will make you gay:

(#5) Songful and perky

(#6) Glad

(#7) Well

(The copy in #7 should probably have read sleep well, look good, feel good, since the intention is to promise good looks and good feelings, not merely the appearance and feeling of not being sick — but that wouldn’t have allowed for the parallelism in verb complements.)

On the product, from Wikipedia:

Ovaltine (Ovomaltine) is a brand of milk flavoring product made with malt extract (except in the blue packaging in the United States), sugar (except in Switzerland), and whey. Some flavors also have cocoa. Ovaltine, a registered trademark of Associated British Foods, is made by Wander AG, a subsidiary of Twinings which acquired the brand from Novartis in 2003, except in the United States, where Nestlé acquired the rights separately from Novartis later on.

Ovaltine was developed in Bern [/ Berne], Switzerland, where it is known by its original name, Ovomaltine (from ovum, Latin for “egg,” and malt, which were originally its main ingredients). Soon after its invention, the factory moved out to the village of Neuenegg, a few kilometres west of Berne, where it is still produced.

Ovomaltine was exported to Britain in 1909; a misspelling of the name on the trademark registration application led to the name being shortened to Ovaltine in English-speaking markets. A factory was built in Kings Langley, which exported it to the United States as well. By 1915, Ovaltine was being manufactured in Villa Park, Illinois, for the U.S. market. Ovaltine was later manufactured in Peterborough, Ontario for distribution in Canada.

Originally advertised as consisting solely of “malt, milk, eggs, flavoured with cocoa”, the formulation has changed over the decades, and today several formulations are sold in different parts of the world.

The popular chocolate malt version is a powder which is mixed with hot or cold milk as a beverage. Malt Ovaltine (a version without cocoa) and Rich Chocolate Ovaltine (a version without malt) are also available in some markets. Ovaltine has also been available in the form of chocolate bars, chocolate Easter eggs, parfait, cookies, and breakfast cereals, where it is [only the] brand name that connects the cereals with the chocolate drink.

A regular feature of my childhood.

4 Responses to “Ovaltine mornings”

  1. Woz from Oz. Says:

    The above advert for Ovaltine with the guy in bed stretching is simply a mash up of 2 separate adverts to give the appearance of a male version of the same texted Ovaltine advert with the woman in the red gown, I like both,

  2. Paul Stipkovich Says:

    Is the first ad (#1) a real Ovaltine ad? I have always been suspect of it for several reasons, 1. It is the only version of it I have ever seen floating around the internet. 2. The copy on the bottom seems to be have been cut, pasted and abridged from ad #2. And, 3. The artwork, by John Gannam, is lifted from a Pacific Sheets advertisement.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      See the 2018 comment from Woz from Oz. Back in 2017 I was inadequately wary of material that appeared on the net. Increasingly, I’ve been demanding reliable sourcing before I’ll post things — and I’ve exposed some other clever ad mashups. But it’s emotionally and intellectually exhausting to live in a world where you have to start by assuming everything you see and read is probably an invention, probably fake.

  3. John Kelly Says:

    So Ovaltine is what makes a person gay? Fortunately I never had it so I’m hopelessly heterosexual.

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