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Grrr! Brrr! Ulp! Erk! Eek! Oo-er! Corks!

January 16, 2013

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.

Now 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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One Comment
  1. “Oo-er” survives elsewhere, typically in the phrase, “Oo-er, Missus!”, a facetious response to something risqué.

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