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In honour of Leo Baxendale

May 1, 2017

So. Farewell, then, Leo Baxendale, the great, prolific and long-lived children’s comic-strip artist, creator of the Bash Street Kids and Minnie the Minx, among many others. Baxendale’s death reminded me of a post about children’s comics I did in 2013 on the occasion of the demise of the Dandy; I reproduce part of it here:

There was a peculiar set of words used in these comics (the Dandy, Beano, Topper, Beezer, Buster, and Whizzer and Chips) 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.

P.S. May I bring to your attention my comic fantasy YA novel The Infinite Powers of Adam Gowers – here is the link: https://unbound.com/books/adam-gowers . Go there and you will see a neat little 2-minute video of me explaining why the time for this novel has come! And if you support it you will get your name in the back and an invitation to the launch party.

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6 Comments
  1. Simon Carter permalink

    My nan used to say “oo-er” to express confusion and she was more likely to read Woman’s Realm than The Dandy!

  2. Simon Carter permalink

    In retrospect there was quite a class distinction between those comics and the children’s books of the time. They were full of ‘ordinary’ kids doing recognisable things, although some things possibly because they’d appeared in other comics.
    No boarding schools or Blytonesque adventures with lashings of ginger beer.

  3. Tim Crannigan permalink

    ‘oo-er’ survives – as a reaction to an unintended double-entendre as in ‘o-er missus!’

  4. Tim Crannigan permalink

    oo-er, I of course meant ‘oo-er missus!’

  5. Simon Carter permalink

    Been doing a search on those words. Holdsworth: Campaign of the Indus of 1840 contains the line
    ‘…the greater part were cut down by the Dragoons or spifflicated by the Lancers’.
    Not sure about marmalise though Ken Dodd used it in the 1960s.
    Is there a word for neologisms which are instantly understood? Stephen Fry wrote about Hugh Laurie asking for a “spoffle” (a pop shield – the nylon filter that goes onto a microphone) and everyone there knowing what he wanted. Maybe context was everything.

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