Zippy exits, pursued by a board

(Warning: high fecality content, which some may find unpleasant.)

Todays Zippy strip, in which Zippy is subjected to stoner / surfer verbal abuse:

(#1) Zippy and his surf iron

As usual, there’s a lot here — I admire Beavis’s one wave shy of a wipeout (see Mark Liberman’s 7/14/05 LLog posting “A few players short of a side” on the Snowclone of Foolishness {small quantity of essential items} short / shy of a {desirable collection}) and the laundry-musician pun in the title “Bleach Boy” — but I’ve picked out the mildly abusive expression iron my shorts for full-bore scrutiny.

From Wiktionary:

Phrase eat my shorts (idiomatic, chiefly US, vulgar) An irreverent rebuke or dismissal. Quotations:
— 1977, James P. Leary, The boys from the dome: folklore of a modern American male group, page 69: Notre Dame boys greeted one another with “Eat It” to be answered by “Eat It Raw” or “Eat a Big One” or “Eat My Shorts,” sometimes “Eat My Crusty Shorts.”
— 1988, Greg Matthews, The gold flake hydrant, page 232: Her eyes are telling me, “Eat my shorts, you precocious little fart.” I definitely haven’t made a friend.
— 1996, Douglas Rushkoff, Media virus!: hidden agendas in popular culture, page 186: For instance, Bart often expresses his irreverence toward authority on “The Simpsons” by exclaiming “Eat my shorts.”

Etymology: Popularized by [the tv show] The Simpsons, where Bart Simpson says “Eat my shorts!” as a running gag. Believed [AZ: by some] to have originated from [the movie] The Breakfast Club [1985], where Bender throws the same remark at Vernon.

Note that Wikipedia merely says, correctly, that the vulgar dismissive idiom was popularized by The Simpsons, not that it originated there; actual first cites of expressions are very often not the vehicles for their spread, as here. And it says, also with appropriate care, that the expression is believed to have originated from The Breakfast Club; but it supplies a substantially earlier cite (from 1977) showing that this belief is mistaken. Finally, Wikipedia refrains, again with appropriate caution, from claiming that the Simpsons use was a quotation from The Breakfast Club; accounts from the Simpsons staff indicate that that claim too is mistaken.

As it happens, there are at least two possible sources for the vulgar idiom, and either of them could have inspired a fresh coinage at any time, so that eat my shorts might have arisen independently many times. That runs against most people’s preference, or perhaps desire, for linguistic histories that move in a single (though perhaps tortuous) story line, though actual histories are very often much messier. In fact, multiple possible sources often influence one another, straightforwardly or subtly, so that the actual histories are murkier still. Bear all that in mind as I wade into the dirty stuff.

Two fecal understandings of shorts. The shorts in eat my shorts! might be

(A, the shit story) a euphemism for shit, in the vulgar dismissive idiom family eat (my) shit! (possibly connected to the vulgar dismissive idiom family eat it / me!)

But it’s also true that shorts are undershorts ‘underpants’, garments likely to be dirtied with skid marks (NOAD on the euphemistic compound noun skid mark: informal a fecal stain on the inside of a person’s underpants), so that eat my shorts! could be a fecal reference at two removes rather than one (the fecal reference made a bit more overt in the Notre Dame boys’ eat my crusty shorts). That is, the shorts in eat my shorts! might be

(B, the skid mark story) a reference to underpants dirtied by skid marks

The Mental Floss account. Assumes story A, is cautiously inclined towards a Breakfast Club origin. From the Mental Floss site, “8 Slang Terms from The Breakfast Club, Decoded”, by Angela Tung on 3/24/17:

4. EAT MY SHORTS: While this euphemism for “eat my shit” may seem quintessential Bart Simpson, it’s uttered by Bender in The Breakfast Club two years before The Simpsons makes its premiere on The Tracey Ullman Show. Even earlier is a (pretty funny) 1984 song called “Eat My Shorts” by comedian and radio personality Rick Dees.

The phrase comes full circle when on Futurama, Bender the robot — who, by the way, was named by show creator Matt Groening for The Breakfast Club’s John Bender — finds a Bart Simpson doll which says “Eat my shorts!” Bender obliges.

A possible side association. From my 2/17/19 posting “Eat it! The oral humiliation you deserve”:

[from GDoS] excl. eat it!: (… it is the penis) a general term of dismissal, disdain [so, a variant of dismissive eat / suck (my) dick / cock!]

GDoS asserts confidently that the it of eat it is the penis, and that might indeed have been its historical source, but speakers don’t know etymologies, nor should they be expected to, and some speakers report that they think the it refers to feces — in which case the eating is literal, not metaphorical, though the idiom does involve a specialization in the interpretation of the object of eat — and many report that they think the it refers to the penis, but also calls feces to mind. [so, a variant of dismissive eat (my) shit!]

Story B — my own reading — assumes that when Bart Simpson says shorts, the word straightforwardly means ‘underpants’, but that the word comes with all those associations that make it a source of both anxiety and vulgar humor among children (from “I see London, I see France, I see X’s underpants” to the marvel of Captain Underpants; see my 6/4/20 posting “I see London, I see France, I see Batman’s underpants”). The point is that eating someone’s underpants would be not only ridiculous, but also disgusting and therefore humiliating.

For what it’s worth, Bart Simpson says the phrase a number of times, sometimes in variants, and sometimes waves his clothed butt in the face of his audience, but seems not to have actually offered his shorts; he does, however, moon various targets, displaying his bare buttocks, and the catchphrase is paired with mooning in images on t-shirts etc., as here:

(#2) On the mooning gesture, see the first section of my 11/7/18 posting “Arousing the beast”

Finally, on its appearance in  The Simpsons. From the Simpsons wiki on “Eat my shorts!”:

The real history behind the phrase is that Nancy Cartwright, Bart’s voice actor, improvised the line during a table read. She first said it as a prank when she was in her high school marching band at Fairmont High School [in Kettering OH]. The band was supposed to chant, “Fairmont West! Fairmont West!” but instead she and the entire band chanted “Eat my shorts! Eat my shorts!”.

… There has been speculation that [instead of this history] Matt Groening got this phrase from the stoner rebel John Bender in The Breakfast Club.

Speculation, I assume, from people who hope for a single story line in phrase histories.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: