Y Cant Kats Spel Gud?
August 4, 2007 11:56 AM   Subscribe

LOLcats teach us that cats can write, they just don't have very good spelling or grammar. The same idea has been used in advertising ("Eat Mor Chikin") and of course Far Side cartoons. Was Gary Larson the father of this concept, or were there other places where it was pervasive before he came along?

There are some comics like Pogo and Krazy Kat where the characters spoke in dialect, but what I'm looking for is a bit different, comedy where animals as animals rather than as anthropomorphic human substitutes can write, but can't spell well.
posted by L. Fitzgerald Sjoberg to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah, I see where you're going with this. The Gary Larson cartoon was, I recall, two dogs standing in anticipation behind an open washing-machine door to which was affixed a sign pointing toward the washer and the words "Kat Fud". I seem to recall similar bits from Tex Avery and old Warner Bros cartoons, but I don't recall poor spelling being a feature....hmm. Lemme think on this and report back.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:16 PM on August 4, 2007 [2 favorites]

To this day, my wife and I still call food "Fud."
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 12:25 PM on August 4, 2007 [2 favorites]

Before Larson, it was certainly an ancient humorous cliche for children to have poorly spelled signs (with a backwards S, for example), and the Larson humor is a natural extension of that, and LOLCATS of that. But I can't off the top of my head think of intermediate stages between the Our Gang cliche and Larson.
posted by commander_cool at 12:45 PM on August 4, 2007

I remember a Kilban cartoon from about 1975 that showed a cat singing, "Love to eat them mousies, mousies what I love to eat/Bite they little heads off, nibble on they tiny feet." Bad grammar, if not bad spelling.

I just found this blog, which discusses why the whole phenomenon is funny in the first place. It may not answer your question exactly, but there are some interesting comments, and it's worth it just for this.
posted by Evangeline at 1:16 PM on August 4, 2007 [3 favorites]

two dogs standing in anticipation behind an open washing-machine door

Only one, hiding in the shadows, and as the cat approached the trap he was saying "oh please oh please".

Here's a Kliban example of good cat spelling, but bad cat grammar.
posted by vito90 at 1:18 PM on August 4, 2007

Oh Evangeline, will u b mine?
posted by vito90 at 1:19 PM on August 4, 2007

Wot no history of Chads?
posted by lalochezia at 1:19 PM on August 4, 2007

Well, I had the gist of it. Wonder what else I've misremembered? (besides most of the 80s and 90s).
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:25 PM on August 4, 2007

It's an old, old comedy standby. Here's a Straight Dope column on the origins of OK which came from a humorous misspelling meme in the 1840s. Here's the relevant part:
The abbreviation fad began in Boston in the summer of 1838 and spread to New York and New Orleans in 1839. The Boston newspapers began referring satirically to the local swells as OFM, "our first men," and used expressions like NG, "no go," GT, "gone to Texas," and SP, "small potatoes."

Many of the abbreviated expressions were exaggerated misspellings, a stock in trade of the humorists of the day. One predecessor of OK was OW, "oll wright," and there was also KY, "know yuse," KG, "know go," and NS, "nuff said."

Most of these acronyms enjoyed only a brief popularity. But OK was an exception, no doubt because it came in so handy. It first found its way into print in Boston in March of 1839 and soon became widespread among the hipper element.
posted by Kattullus at 1:34 PM on August 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Winnie the Pooh has a "hunny pot". I think the spelling on the pot was "hunny" also in the drawing in the original book, first published 1926.
posted by iviken at 1:45 PM on August 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

vito90, I has husband.
posted by Evangeline at 1:46 PM on August 4, 2007 [5 favorites]

I also refer to food as "fud" thanks to The Far Side.
posted by k8t at 1:54 PM on August 4, 2007

Yeha I think Owl from Winnie the Pooh was the first example I knew of this. Owl spells his own name Wol.

"Christopher Robin told me what it said, and then I could."
"Well, I'll tell you what this says, and then you'll be able to."
So Owl wrote . . . and this is what he wrote:


Pooh looked on admiringly.

"I'm just saying 'A Happy Birthday'," said Owl carelessly.

posted by jessamyn at 1:57 PM on August 4, 2007 [5 favorites]

And "anyone who can get 'HIPY PAPY BTHUTHDTH THUTHDA BTHUTHDY' out of 'Happy Birthday' has got to be a great drug connection, if nothing else."
posted by Johnny Assay at 2:22 PM on August 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

We also spell cat food "fud"! I don't think I always even notice when I write it that way on the grocery list. (I am human though.)
posted by Hey, Cupcake! at 5:40 PM on August 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

I always attributed the odd grammar of the B. Kliban cat song to the cat's being a folksy folk-singer, not to the cat being a cat.
posted by hattifattener at 6:11 PM on August 4, 2007

Kliban has a rendition of it on his site that has kind of a Delta Blues feel.
posted by L. Fitzgerald Sjoberg at 6:53 PM on August 4, 2007

The characters in Winnie the Pooh are being played with by Christopher Robin. Their spelling is bad because his is bad - he's the one who really wrote the sign, so of course he knows what it was supposed to say- that's part of the humor.
posted by LizardOfDoom at 9:21 PM on August 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Can I just stop by to say that this is a great AskMeFi question, and much better than the typical questions posted here?
posted by davejay at 11:03 PM on August 4, 2007

Owl lived at The Chestnuts, and old-world residence of
great charm, which was grander than anybody else's, or seemed so to Bear, because it had both a knocker and a bell-pull.

Underneath the knocker there was a notice which said:


Underneath the bell-pull there was a notice which said:


These notices had been written by Christopher Robin,
who was the only one in the forest who could spell; for Owl,wise though he was in many ways, able to read and write and spell his own name WOL, yet somehow went all to pieces over delicate words like MEASLES and BUTTEREDTOAST.

posted by slightlybewildered at 1:48 AM on August 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

As Anil Dash points out, it’s not that lolcats “don't have very good spelling or grammar”. They do have (mostly) consistent spelling and grammar, it’s just different from standard English. For example, “OH HAI” is correct Lolcat, while “OH HIE” would be incorrect. And “I EATED IT” is correct Lolcat, while “I EATEN IT” would be incorrect. These are the sort of rules you need to decide on if you translate lolcats into another language.

“Simpler” spelling, pronunciation, or grammar is often attributed to creatures considered less intelligent. Perhaps the most famous example is the language of Jar Jar Binks. (Conversely, people often assume that the language variants spoken by other ethnic groups are “simpler” or “incorrect”, even when they aren’t.)

As for when it began, Language log has an example from 1922 (well pre-dating Winnie The Pooh):
“Little Tinky-Ting don’t need no liver-pad, he don’t,” said Mrs. Luella Mainprice Jopp, addressing the animal in her arms, “because he was his muzzer’s pet, he was.”
Granted this is an example of an adult speaking to an animal, but the principle is the same: assuming that the animal has simpler pronunciation and grammar. On the other hand, I doubt that Winnie the Pooh is a relevant example, because it seems implied that all misspellings in the Hundred Acre Wood are the fault of Christopher Robin rather than the animals.
posted by mpt at 4:59 AM on August 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

LOLcats pidgin reminds me strangely of Gollum-speak.
posted by Evangeline at 12:11 PM on August 5, 2007

Not quite what you're looking for, but I hope it helps...

Archy and Mehitabel, by Don Marquis. Archy was a cockroach who operated a typewriter by jumping on the keys. The result was everything was in lowercase, without punctuation.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 9:34 AM on August 6, 2007

y'all are wrong.

[1] on the blue
posted by juv3nal at 11:48 AM on August 16, 2007

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