Amnesia: Threat or Menace?
April 7, 2006 2:29 PM   Subscribe

What's the origin of the phrase, "X, threat or menace"?
posted by leotrotsky to Writing & Language (10 answers total)
My memory tells me it's the Simpsons (more specifically, a Kent Brockman news report), but my memory tells me a lot of things that turn out not to be true.
posted by dersins at 2:41 PM on April 7, 2006

It's the editorial stance of Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson towards Spider-Man.

I believe "Spider-Man: Threat or Menace?" has appeared as a headline in the Bugle in the comics on multiple occasions, and it's in the first movie.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:43 PM on April 7, 2006

ISTR it in Calvin and Hobbes before The Simpsons were on the air. (as in Girls: Threat or Menace?)
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:44 PM on April 7, 2006

A search in google groups for "threat or menace phrase origin" turns
up this thread. which points to "Reefer Madness" as a probable source of the phrase, or maybe a film called "Marijuana: Threat or Menace" .
posted by Laen at 2:44 PM on April 7, 2006

"threat or menace" plus "?"--thus, as a joke--I recall it from the Harvard Lampoon in the sixties. Later swiped and used regularly by the National Lampoon.
posted by jfuller at 4:21 PM on April 7, 2006

I definitely remember it from National Lampoon days. (But "swiped" is a little harsh—wasn't the NL an offshoot of the HL?)
posted by languagehat at 5:03 PM on April 7, 2006

I'm pretty sure mr_roboto is right. According to this page (warning: your eyes will bleed) it appears in second appearance of Spider-Man ever, in 1963.
posted by jacobm at 5:47 PM on April 7, 2006

One of the big issues, Spider-Man #300 or something from around 1980, plays with this amusingly. Jameson sets up the famous headline, having nothing better to do for the morning. Doctor Octopus decides to hold the city ransom, or millions of citizens will die. Over the course of the comic book, the same next morning's front page is redone perhaps five times, reflecting this breaking story.

Spidey figures out that Doc Ock's delivery mechanism for the poison is the ink in the Daily Bugle. When this plot is foiled, Jameson wants to run a headline explaining that Doc Ock was thinking of poisoning Daily Bugle readers. His assistant editor explains that this will be bad for sales. Back to "Spider-man: Threat or Menace?"

Comic ends with Jameson skulking by a newsstand next day in the rain. "Why you gotta do this?" complains the newsie. "Every time you run this Spider-man stuff, sales go in the toilet."
posted by Aknaton at 8:30 PM on April 7, 2006

I'd bet any 1960s Harvard Lampoon usage came after the 1963 Jameson/Spider-Manusage that boosted the phrase into wider popcult use. But that thread about the possibility of a 1953 marijuana film is interesting, too, if inconclusive. That could be where the Marvel folks got the phrase. Maybe they were even spoofing it a little.
posted by mediareport at 6:31 AM on April 8, 2006

The thread Laen links to suggests that the Spider-Man origin is a myth:

That was the title of Amazing Spider-Man Annual #15, published in 1981. When the origin of the headline was discussed on rec.arts.comic.misc, no one was able to find it in the Stan Lee comics of the '60s (Jameson's first headline was simply "Spider-Man Menace"):

(Someone in that thread also links to languagehat's blog.)

In the actual the rec.arts.comic thread, opinions are divided. The guy claiming he can't find the phrase used before 1980? Kurt Busiek!
posted by painquale at 12:42 AM on April 12, 2006

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