Funny Papers

Comics strips capably speak for themselves.  Even very young children can understand them and like to hear them read aloud.  At the turn of the Nineteenth Century, The Yellow Kid cartoon (above) initiated the concept of yellow journalism, or sensationalism, but the funnies mostly prompt smiles and convey subtle points.  I chose a few that have marked my reading enjoyment, evoking nostalgic thoughts when I come across them again.

Snuffy Smith:

Dagwood and Blondie:



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Beetle Bailey:

Beetle Bailey Birthday Strip Comic Art


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Calvin and Hobbes:

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The Far Side:


Did I overlook your favorite?



Brit Wit

Oh, the deadpan barbs of the English: sovereigns and subjects alike.

Fans think that Mr Beans unusual habits are a result of his out-of-this-world origins

Mr. Bean.

Some consider British humour an oxymoron — it’s just not funny.  But Brits say their word has a u in it because the joke’s mostly on them.  They make fun of themselves by citing awkward moments and human flaws.

It is part of their tradition.  Queen Victoria’s daughter denied she ever said, “We are not amused.”  Rather, she could laugh merrily, and sometimes uncontrollably.  It might have had something to do with all the hours she had to keep a straight face for foreign dignitaries.  She liked theatre, especially performances of farces and pantomimes — and was known for repeating the Pull My Finger prank.

One time she was seated next to an elderly admiral.  “Tell me about the repairs to your wrecked ship,” she ventured.  He said nothing.  So the queen changed the subject.  “How is your sister?”

“Ah, she’ll be fine, Ma’am, when we turn her over and scrape the barnacles off her bottom.”  The queen got a big kick out of it, hiding her face behind her handkerchief.

On another occasion, a duchess presented her with an ostrich egg on which she’d written her own name.  “You’d think,” Victoria whispered, “that she had laid it herself!”

Surprises are foolish things.  The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable.  –Mr. Knightley in Emma

Though Jane Austen was not a queen, she was royalty when it came to writing novels.  The absurd conversations of her characters, which she gathered from real life, moved the plot along.  “Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do,” Mr. Bennet informed his daughter in Pride and Prejudice.

Lord Byron said, “Telford is so dull the bypass was built before the town.”  Also, “If voting changed anything, they’d abolish it.”

Winston Churchill, lately dramatized in movies and miniseries, was famous for dry wit and wordplay.  “The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter,” he admonished.  When the first female member of Parliament, Lady Astor, told him, “If I were your wife, I’d poison your coffee,” he replied, “If I were your husband, I would drink it.”

Churchill bridged the the old guard to the present.  His apprentice, the current Queen Elizabeth, seems to have the best take of all on things (perhaps due to her view from the top of the heap).  She’s sat for at least 100 portraits during her reign, remarking about one, “It could make a good stamp.”  To an Australian painter she began speaking with an Aussie accent.  Upon seeing an American tourist (and the tourist catching a glimpse of her), she’s said to have mocked, “Oh gee, it can’t be!  Yes, it is!”

Another one-liner, upon seeing Niagra Falls: “It looks very damp.”  When the heir apparent, Charles, repeated to her what a citizen said in Cockney: “Gizzawave, Liz!” she found it funny.

On the telly, Brit wit has been dished out to the masses in the form of Monty Python, Keeping Up Appearances, and Mr. Bean, among others.  Bean has had me rolling on the floor a few times.

I rang up British Telecom.  I said, “I want to report a nuisance caller.”  He said, “Not you again.”

Ricky Gervais, the administrator from Night at the Museum and award show host, is a current poster child of humour with a u.  “I’ve never worked out what the moral of Humpty Dumpty is.  I can only think of: Don’t sit on a wall, if you’re an egg.” He says, too: “Where there’s a will, there’s a relative.”  His atheist point of view is funny to some but more than unfortunate to me.  Many storytellers go unncessarily further with the lewd and macabre.

People across the Pond are known for prim and proper — but if they really like a person, they may come up with offensive remarks.  Is it genetic or learned?  There is at least one current piece of research on that subject.  I quite believe I may have some of that “u” gene in my DNA.  By the way, in the storytelling you hear words like quite, rather, a bit, or actually mixed in.

It can be quick.  Once at a conference I was able to ask one of my favorite authors, E. L. Konigsburg, if she thought the film adaptation to one of her books had been well-done.  I didn’t realize there’d been two of them.





That was it.  I smothered a smile and thought, well, that’s about as close to a terse British exchange as I’ll ever get.  And Konigsburg was from New York.

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Sources consulted:,,,,,,,,,,, and  














Worn-out Phrases, and Long Engazes

Ha! You thought I was going to talk about unrequited love, or maybe the legacy of the Mamas and the Papas.  I just tacked on the last three words to throw you off.

Trite! Tired! Overused!  Can you spell C-L-I-C-H-E?

Expressions that have been written or said too many times should draw a penalty of some kind. A reader’s refusal to go any further? Termination of employment? Hanging by the thumbs in a newspaper office?

I’d better stop drinking this Nicaraguan coffee and slow down.

It is irritating, to some degree. to hear the same things over and over.

“Ya think?  From the get-go.  Long story short.  At the end of the day.   Don’t go there.  Too much on my plate.  Note to self.  That being said.  Quick question.”  (There never should be such a thing.)

“Not so much.  Twenty-four/seven.  Back in the day.  In the mix.  Outside the box.  I, for one.  Touch base with.  As well.” (That’s the worst.  I push for “too” and that’s it.  Would you agree, too?)

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Expressing ourselves means we should probably make an effort to think up our own way to say things.  At least most of the time.  A future rumination here will center on the commonplace use of templates.

I do disagree with three “clichés” noted by one source.  They were (1) “Thank you.”  (2) “Let me get that for you.”  (3) “Please, you go first.”  When society starts classifying manners as cliché, we’re all in trouble.

If you don’t have something original to say, don’t say it.  Maybe I’d better rephrase that.

I’m thinking.

Humor in Rough Rider’s Uniform

“Nobody ever had as good a time as I did as president,” Theodore Roosevelt reflected in 1909.  His serious side, which included negotiating peace between Russia and Japan, breaking apart trusts, and preserving the wilderness for generations of Americans, was balanced with pillow fights and outdoor adventures with his children — and boxing matches and Japanese wrestling with friends in the White House.  He often drew funny cartoons in letters he wrote to his family.

TR loved to tell stories and laugh at them.  He said, “When they call roll in the Senate, the senators don’t know whether to answer, ‘Present,’ or ‘Not guilty.'”  His eldest child was notorious for living it up, to which he responded, “I can be president of the United States or I can control Alice.  I cannot possibly do both.”

Those who served as chief of the executive branch before and after him could let their sense of humor show, too.

George Washington: When a junior officer boasted he could break a spirited horse and was thrown off head over heels, Washington was so “convulsed with laughter tears ran down his cheeks.”  He also wrote in a letter about a duel:  “They say Jones fired at his opponent and cut off a piece of his nose.  How could he miss it?  You know Mr. Livingstone’s nose and what a capitol target it is.”

John Adams: “I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm and three or more is a congress.”

Abraham Lincoln: “If I were two faced, would I be wearing this one?”  Lincoln’s stories were legendary — it was not always what he said but how he said it.  He was an expert mimic.  During the horrible days of the Civil War he often got relief by listening his two secretaries with knee-slapping laughter.  “Tell it again, John!” he said to young John Hay.

Calvin Coolidge: After a hostess said she’d made a bet she could get more than two words out of him, he replied, “You lose.”  He said in 1929 he didn’t want to run for president again.  There was no chance for advancement.

Franklin Roosevelt: “Twenty-two minutes,” he said, when asked what the next Fireside Chat was to be about.

 Harry Truman: “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”

Lyndon Johnson made some famous analogies but that doesn’t mean they should be repeated.

Jimmy Carter: “It’s nice now that when people wave at me, they use all their fingers.”

Ronald Reagan, a natural storyteller, was the only president with a prior career in entertainment.  He poked fun at himself: “Just to show you how youthful I am, I intend to campaign in all thirteen states.”   When horseback riding with Queen Elizabeth, her mount passed a substantial amount of gas.  She apologized: “I’m sorry.”  Reagan shot back, “Why, Your Majesty,  I thought it was the horse.”

George W. Bush: “These stories about my intellectual capacity really get under my skin.  For awhile, I even thought my staff believed it.  There on my schedule first thing every morning it said, “Intelligence Briefing.”

Barack Obama: At an observance of International Woman’s Day he said, “I salute heroic women from those on the Mayflower to the one I’m blessed to call my wife, who looked across the dinner table and thought, ‘I’m smarter than that guy.'”

Some information in this post came from,,, and

Mind Your PC’s and Q’s

How much flack must we tolerate from these machines before we shut them off?  Really.

I give mine a little credit.  It occasionally says, “Please wait.”  But it takes too long.  I thought the whole purpose of using a personal computer was to get things done faster.

“You can’t sign in to your PC right now” may be the rudest way ever to greet someone in the morning.  Who says I can’t?  I paid for it.  And the electricity, and the wireless.  Don’t tell me I can’t sign in.

It thinks it knows how to spell every word I write, too.  I’ve sent some pretty stupid-sounding messages on Facebook when letters were changed seconds after I typed them, and I didn’t catch it, like the time “FB” magically turned into “FBI.”  That’s the pot calling the kettle black.

Then it presumes to know me in my friends’ pictures.  I believe I’ve been identified as someone else more times than as myself.

I’ll admit it thanks me for entering the HGTV Dream Home Sweepstakes twice a day for two months, five years in a row.  But if you really mean it, give me the house!

And one more thing.  We’ve never been properly introduced.  Why does it think emails should be allowed to address me as, “Margaret?”  We’re not on a first name basis.  “Margaret, we’ve missed you.”  “Margaret, you need to finish filling out your order.”  “Margaret, check out Imelda Smitzpickle’s new skills on LinkedIn.”  Eleven-year-olds at school used to do a better job than this laptop as far as respecting their elders.  Waitresses who say: “you guys” are more courteous — at least they bring you food.

“Your computer needs to be updated,” it informs me.  I say, “Why don’t you add some manners to your chip?”  Then maybe we’ll talk.

Erma Made Me Laugh

I was talking with someone the other day who didn’t remember Erma Bombeck.  Of course, he/she was younger than me.  Why does there seem to be more of those all the time?

I owe Erma for making me laugh — when it was easy and when I didn’t think I could.  She never wrote anything rude or lewd to do it.  I think the closest she got to that was when she referred to her expertise in cooking.  “I thought a pinch of Rosemary was something my husband did once at a cocktail party.”  Her columns and books came straight from life, which she was very perceptive about — and often happened to describe things we had in common with her.

She could pick out absurdities so apparent that they were lost: “I didn’t fight my way to the top of the food chain to be a vegetarian.”

She grimaced about sports widowhood: “If a man watches three football games in a row, he should be declared legally dead.”

She had fun with some issues of the day: “I believe in buying natural products to save the environment, but don’t you think giving up blue plaid toilet paper is going a bit too far?”

But she was vehemently supportive of the Equal Rights Amendment.  No one was sorrier when Congress failed to pass it.  She worked endlessly when appointed to the President’s National Advisory Committee for Women.

Erma was often pragmatic: “No one ever died from sleeping in an unmade bed.”

She could justify almost anything: “I am not a glutton.  I am an explorer of food.”

Once, when my children were young, I was asked to do a reading for a Mother’s Day banquet.  I chose a story where Erma was worrying about her son coming home on his first day of school.  What if the bus windows were steamed up, and he couldn’t see outside and missed the stop?  I laughed so hard I couldn’t finish it.  The audience was laughing partly at Erma and partly at me because I was so tickled.

Her book titles were as good as the one-liners inside the covers.  The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank; If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, Why Am I in the Pits? and I Lost Everything in the Post-Partum Depression dished up more laughs, but she could be serious, too.  I Want to Grow Hair, I Want to Grow Up, I Want to Go to Boise was an empathetic look at children with cancer, whom she worked with.

For eleven years she livened the screen of Good Morning America with short segments.  But a couple of sitcoms based on her work did not work themselves and were cancelled.  I think it was because on paper, people could see themselves in those situations.  When actors were involved, it wasn’t the same.  A TV movie was also made based on one of her books.  She once said, “Success is outliving your failures.”

Erma had grown up near Dayton, Ohio, where her efforts as a writing mom gradually grew into a syndicated newspaper column, At Wit’s End.  Her feature Up the Wall appeared every month in Good Housekeeping magazine for women “who at long last had found someone who understood them.”

It was our country’s great loss when she passed away at age 69, in 1996 after a kidney transplant.  For me, the timing was poignant: it was a month before our older daughter graduated from high school.  I guess God thought I could take it from there.  I often go back to my first memories of reading her take on home, family, and life in general.

The University of Dayton, Erma’s alma mater, has a writers’ workshop in her name each year, and maintains a website,, well worth visiting.

“When humor goes, there goes civilization,” she said.  I’m thankful Erma Louise Fiste Bombeck took her turn spinning the plate at the top of the pole.