Snagglepuss: early avatar of emphatic even

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In the face of some readers' scepticism, I'll have more to say about merely-emphatic even in a future post. Meanwhile, I'd like to suggest that current even trends may have been influenced to some extent by a 1960s pop-culture avatar of even as a wide-scope emphatic particle, namely  Snagglepuss:

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Heavens to Murgatroyd! Somebody has terribly large knuckles! To knock with, even!

From the same cartoon, around 2:49:

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Heavens to agony! Somebody hurt! In dire pain, even!

And around 4:14:

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All out! Last stop, even!

Around 5:08:

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Whoops! I'm all apologies! On account of I must be a little rusty. Stale, even.

And 6:02:

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Major Minor: Don't call me, I'll call you.
Snagglepuss: I wonder if he knows my telephone number, even.

These examples exhibit Snagglepuss's trademark phrase-final placement of even, as an adverb taking scope over the whole preceding phrase. But you can (and maybe even should) interpret these examples to express not mere emphasis, but also the standard 20th-century scalar sense of even as "Intimating that the sentence expresses an extreme case of a more general proposition".

However, with constant use, Snagglepuss's phrase-final even gets bleached to the point where there's not a lot of scalar implicature left — if any. Consider this example, from the start of another cartoon, where Snagglepuss bemoans his captive status and then sees a chance to escape:

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Oh! Would that I were free! Unfettered and uncaged!
To think that I, king of the jungle, should be so lowly treated!
Besides, the food is abdominable.
But hark! Or is it herk? The cage door is open! Ajar, even!

In most of the examples that we've seen so far, Snagglepuss's final even follows a re-statement, even if the parallel phrase is not clearly "an extreme case of a more general proposition." But it's sometimes used without any similar parallelism, as in the telephone-number example.

Or consider this case, from Fraidy Cat Lion, when Snagglepuss unexpectedly encounters a giant mouse, and says, without any previous parallel construction:

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Huh? Heavens to Murgatroyd! A veritabububble frankenmouse monster even!

Or this, from the start of Arrow Error, where Snagglepuss is fantasizing about Robin Hood:

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Hand over the gold, and the charge-a-plates, or thou shalt feeleth my sturdy bow and arrow even.

You can certainly make up some scales on which a encountering a giant mouse or  using a bow and arrow is an "extreme case of a more general proposition". But after a while, it seems to me, Snagglepuss's phrase-final evens become just another signifier of his emphatic campy flamboyance.

And maybe the generation that grew up watching Hanna-Barbera cartoons felt the same way, and transferred this mainly-emphatic sense of even to uses like "What does that even mean?" or "I don't know what that even is". (Thereby moving back towards the sense of <i>even</i> current in Shakespeare's time…)

[If you want to know why the YouTube videos start muted, it's not my fault. Sorry anyhow...]

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20 Comments »

  1. Jerry Friedman said,

    October 6, 2013 @ 7:15 am

    I wonder where the writers even got that idea.

    [(myl) Phase-final even has been around for a long time. Thus Margaret Fuller, "A Short Essay on Critics", 1840:

    Thus the essays on the works of others, which are called criticisms, are often, in fact, mere records of impressions. To judge of their value you must know where the man was brought up, under what influences, -- his nation, his church, his family even.

    Or "Imaginary Presidents: The Ideal of a National Administration", from the American Whig Review, 1851:

    Highly necessary is it then for England to conciliate America, and if possible to keep us in a good humor with her and with ourselves. And yet she knows us too well to be at much pains to do that, even.

    Or "The Hypothesis: Its Place in Reasoning", from the Yale Review, 1856:

    The declaration of Scripture is certain. The hypothesis, theory, philosophy, may be possible, reasonable, probable even. But it has not the seal of God upon it.

    Snagglepuss's contribution was to use the construction so relentlessly as to bleach it of most of its scalar meaning.]

  2. NSWainwright said,

    October 6, 2013 @ 7:28 am

    This was fun. (And, of course–) Delightful, even!

  3. Lazar said,

    October 6, 2013 @ 7:48 am

    I've seen people online use a phrase-final version, e.g. "I don't know who that is even." I'm not quite sure if this is identical to Snagglepuss's usage; I have a feeling that the "even" here may be associated with one or other of the verbs rather than with the whole phrase as in his speech.

  4. Ben Zimmer said,

    October 6, 2013 @ 7:58 am

    And then there's the "What is this I don't even" meme, which we've previously discussed.

  5. Ralph Hickok said,

    October 6, 2013 @ 9:34 am

    I have some vague association of this use of "even" with Mad Magazine and/or Max Shulman (Dobie Gillis?), but I can't pinpoint it.

    In Internet chat, I have often noticed the use of "even" to correct a typo. For example:

    "Nice tlaking to u"
    "Errrm … talking, even"

  6. GeorgeW said,

    October 6, 2013 @ 10:48 am

    Pardon a digression, but I really liked the description of the food as "abdominable." This is one I plan to use at next appropriate occasion.

  7. George Grady said,

    October 6, 2013 @ 1:54 pm

    Is it just me, or does that last Snagglepuss clip sound more like "thou shalt feeleth" rather than "thou shalt feel of"?

    [(myl) I think you're probably right.]

  8. Sam said,

    October 6, 2013 @ 3:33 pm

    Cf. "I can't even (with this)" which I'd imagine is somehow related to the "I don't even" meme BZ mentioned above.

  9. AntC said,

    October 6, 2013 @ 3:35 pm

    Thank you Mark for dredging out something from my submerged childhood memory. The phrase I most remember is "Exit, stage left!"
    Is it just me? I don't remember at the time Snagglepuss sounding so embarrassingly faux-Shakespearean. I suppose channeling Laurence Olivier's hollywood productions. (But then I would have been watching the cartoons before being introduced to the bard. Neither would my sheltering parents have allowed me to understand 'camp' — despite their finding Kenneth Williams hilarious.)
    Any connection between the pink lion (1959) and the Pink Panther (1964)?

  10. maidhc said,

    October 6, 2013 @ 4:00 pm

    The voice of Snagglepuss was based on Bert Lahr. In fact, Bert Lahr made the first recorded utterance of "Heavens to Murgatroyd!" in the 1944 film Meet the People. Bert Lahr sued because he said the Snagglepuss cereal commercials implied that he was endorsing Kellogg products. As part of the settlement, voice actor Daws Butler was prominently credited in the commercials.

    Daws Butler voiced many different cartoon roles, some of which were based on his dead-on impersonations of celebrities like Joe E. Brown, Ed Wynn and Phil Silvers.

    I don't remember Bert Lahr making any particular use of "even", but he was really before my time. Some of Snagglepuss's other catchphrases, like "Exit, stage left", didn't have any specific precursors.

  11. AntC said,

    October 6, 2013 @ 4:52 pm

    @maidhc "Exit, stage left", didn't have any specific precursors.
    ?The Goon Show (Bluebottle).
    And stage directions anon.

  12. Francis Bond said,

    October 6, 2013 @ 7:47 pm

    Waits for audience applause. Not a sausage.

  13. Donald Farmer said,

    October 6, 2013 @ 9:05 pm

    Given Language Log's connection with Philadelphia, I must admit to some surprise that you did not mention Marcel Duchamp's Large Glass in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It is better known as La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même or in English – The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even.

    As the work was created in 1923, I doubt the influence of Hanna-Barbera. On the contrary, their work often feels dadaesque.

  14. maidhc said,

    October 6, 2013 @ 11:04 pm

    AntC: I'm dubious that Snagglepuss was based on Bluebottle. Among other things, the action in the Goon Show took place in the real world, not on a stage. And Bluebottle said things that were more like "Enter Bluebottle dressed in Roman toga made from Mum's old drawers".

    "Exit, stage left" is a fairly generic stage direction phrase that I don't recall being in particular use in comedy previously, although my knowledge of the comedy of the 1930s and 1940s is limited.

    [(myl) I always assumed Snagglepuss's "Exit, stage left" was one of the theatrical references that go with his hot-pink color, starched collar and cuffs, and campy prosody to project a certain sort of gay male stereotype.]

  15. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 7, 2013 @ 7:40 am

    Wikipedia confirms my impression that the titular character of "The Funky Phantom" (Hanna-Barbera, original run 1971-72) was also voiced by Daws, using a carbon copy of his Snagglepuss voice complete with the sentence-final "even" tic. I had never previously considered whether the character was "campier" than one would otherwise expect a comical 18th century ghost in a lo-budget Scooby-Doo knockoff to be.

  16. AntC said,

    October 7, 2013 @ 3:54 pm

    @myl … gay male stereotype.
    In a kid's cartoon? In 1959? What were Hanna-Barbera even thinking, even!
    Since this is Language Log: I think you should stop at camp; and drop the gay. I don't think that at the time (or even today) the former absolutely implies the latter. For example, Liberace successfully sued on that basis several times through the "Snagglepuss era".

  17. Eee said,

    October 7, 2013 @ 9:58 pm

    @JW: The Funky Phantom was a dead knock-off of Snagglepuss. A little cowardly, a little prissy, self-important, and "theatric". He wore french cuffs, and even had these strange non-human whiskers in place of a regular mustache.

  18. maidhc said,

    October 7, 2013 @ 10:04 pm

    I have read that Snagglepuss is nowadays considered a gay icon, but I don't think that was so originally. The character owes a lot to the Cowardly Lion, and I don't think he was ever considered to be gay.

    There were characters in the movies of the 1930s and 1940s who were definitely supposed to be gay, if you know how to pick up on the subtle cues. For example, Elisha Cook Jr., Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre in The Maltese Falcon, Franklin Pangborn in just about everything he did.

    But in a children's show in the 1950s? I think it was just something that was kind of silly and would amuse children.

    [(myl) Are you sure? I mean, the Cowardly Lion character himself expressed a lot of gender-connected stuff:

    Yeah, it's sad, believe me Missy
    When you're born to be a sissy
    Without the vim and verve
    But I could show my prowess
    Be a lion, not a mowess
    If I only had the nerve

    Or the other song, "If I were King of the Forest, Not queen, not duke, not prince..."

    ]

  19. maidhc said,

    October 9, 2013 @ 5:03 am

    When I was watching these shows, after elementary school let out, before my parents came home, beamed across the border from an alien land, little did I think that some 50 years later I would be debating their significance with an international crowd of intellectuals.

    Now I wish that little me had taken notes back then.

  20. Victoria Simmons said,

    October 10, 2013 @ 6:20 am

    Maybe it's the Bert Lahr connection, but this use of 'even' always sounds like Yiddish English to me.

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