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On the Beano’s 80th anniversary

July 30, 2018

Six years ago, on the occasion of the last ever issue of The Dandy having been published, I wrote a post about the specialist language used in children’s comics of that type. In it, I speculated that The Beano too might come to an end soon. Happily, I was wrong, as The Beano is now celebrating its 80th anniversary – five years longer than The Dandy managed. In honour of this anniversary, I re-publish here the original post:

 

So. Farewell, then, The Dandy, the oldest British comic, which published its final British print edition last month, 75 years after the first one came out. This was the grandaddy of a particular kind of comic, aimed at younger readers of both sexes, characterised by crude drawings, slapstick humour and awful puns. Nearly all the others have long gone: hardly anyone now remembers Buster, The Beezer, The Topper, Shiver and Shake,Whizzer and Chips or Cor!. (Of these The Beezer and The Topper were by far the best, by the way). Only The Beano remains, and I wonder how long that’s got. Anyway the Dandy’s demise got me thinking about about a peculiar set of words used in these comics, which were never said in real life but which everyone understood. They were words spoken or thought by characters to indicate some sort of attitude to a situation; here are the most common ones:

Grrr! Indicates anger.

Brrr! Indicates extreme cold.

Ulp! A gulp of nervousness or fear.

Erk! Reaction to unexpected and unwelcome event.

Eek! Squeak of fear or shock, said, for example, by female character on encountering a mouse.

Oo-er! Nervousness or anxiety.

Corks! Surprise.

It’s odd that no one ever had any trouble decoding these words, since they’d never actually heard them spoken – but maybe not so odd, in that you could always rely on the drawings for a clue. Grrr! was accompanied by a picture of the character shaking their fist. Brrr! was always said by a character with their arms folded across their chest, their knees bent, and a blue nose, with little curved lines hovering around their bodies to denote shivering.

There were also three verbs commonly used to indicate the threat of physical violence:

I’ll pulverise you!

I’ll spifflicate you!

I’ll marmalise you!

Only the first of these is an actual proper word, meaning to grind to dust. The other two were just humorous nonsense words that sounded vaguely destructive. Anyway, now all these words are gone. It’s a funny sort of loss, since no one ever said them anyway, but I do feel that it is a loss.

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5 Comments
  1. Simon Carter permalink

    It seems surprising that The Beezer and The Topper were still appearing as separate entities until 1990.
    I have a friend from Belfast who still uses beezer as a superlative.

  2. Peter Howell permalink

    ‘Marmalise’ isn’t gone! It’s used quite often in rugby and cricket commentary, of a crunching (but usually legal tackle), or a particularly powerful stroke to the boundary. So: ‘The number eight steps up and absolutely marmalises the winger there’; or, ‘Buttler rocks back and marmalises it over extra cover’. It’s just possible I’ve heard the phrase in tennis commentary, but not in any other sport, which leads me to suspect what I never thought before: posh people used to read The Dandy.

  3. Richard Bickley permalink

    Spifflicate is certainly a proper word and you might like to check out the following link

    https://everything2.com/title/Spiflicate

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