36 Comments

  1. Whenever deadlines force us to go with an idea that isn’t that good, we simply crowd the illustration with so many secret symbols that the reader will be too busy to notice the decline in quality.

  2. I’ve never heard “see a man about a dog” before. It’s always horse. Why would see a man about a dog?

  3. Thanks, Rob W, but even with your endorsement the phrasing is unfamiliar. Is there some story (maybe well known in some circles) about smuggling a horse into a restroom?

  4. Semi-related, my favorite euphemism for drunken barfing was “phoning the Pope.” Makes no sense but everybody knows what you mean somehow.

  5. @Dana K, no, it’s not based on a story along the lines you speculate. I was going to explain you the usual usage, but Lost in AA’s link does a better job.

    I definitely am more familiar with “dog” than “horse” though certainly I’ve heard the other too. @Powers, your question “Why would [anybody] see a man about a dog?” makes it sound like you consider the “horse” version not just more familiar for you, but somehow more natural or more logical. I don’t see how to distinguish horse and dog on that basis at all. Since that “why” has a pretty clear answer — if you are engaged in breeding, or buying and selling dogs [or horses], or have been boarding your dog [or horse] with somebody, or simply have been putting it out that you’re interested in adopting a dog [probably not horse this time], all of these would make it reasonable that you would let some dog [or horse] business interrupt and pull you out from sitting at table with friends.

    But all of that is silly, as it seems based on the idea that someone really is working hard to have a plausible reason other than going to the restroom for stepping away. But in reality it is only a jocular alternative thing to say, and not meant to be literally believed. …. Unless you are at the place shown in this cartoon!

  6. I have just deleted one of my finer dissertations (and relatively brief)” on why “see a man about a horse” is the correct, original phrase; it may have been wrong in almost its entirety.

    According to Grammarist.com (who always ask readers to write in to correct any mistakes), the phrase “..see a man about a dog” came first in a play called “The Flying Scud” in 1866″. The “..see a man about a horse” variant came soon after.

  7. padraig: “Semi-related, my favorite euphemism for drunken barfing was “phoning the Pope.”

    Mine is “French-kissing the toilet bowl,” an example of a euphemism far more distrurbing than the action it euphems.

  8. Wow, I take a long time to write a reply. (embarrassing after my vow to refresh before posting)

    And somehow you managed to bluff yourself!

  9. I was not familiar with the idiom, so the first one was a complete CIDU to me until reading the comments. My mind was going into Arlo territory, but then I thought no, it can’t be!

    I hate to prolong the drunken barfing discussion, but the phrase I remember is to “kiss the porcelain goddess”.

  10. Chak, they wouldn’t introduce a new secret symbol without making a big to-do over it. You might remember the fairly recent introduction of the pipe. (Though of course there may be new variations in how they can be drawn.) So no, the monkey wouldn’t count as a new symbol.

    Wayno’s blog for this does mention that “Her self-portraits were often set against leafy backdrops filled with wildlife, which worked well for placing a bunch of Bizarro’s Secret Symbols” and we might add, holding an extraneous critter or two.

  11. So I took Kilby’s comment as a snide criticism of his (kilby’s), pretending to be in the voice of the author’s. But now I’m not so sure. Did they actually really say that (which Kilby put in quotes and italics)? If so, sorry Kilby; guess you need to attribute with footnotes as well in future…

  12. Well, Mitch’s comment wasn’t there when I posted mine, and following his footnote Wayno’s blog, I guess we’re back to, no, they didn’t say it, and it is Kilby’s comment. Well played, sir, well played.

  13. Barry Humphries, in his 1960s creation Barry McKenzie, liked to use terms such as “technicolor yawn” for barfing and “point Percy at the porcelain” for urine evacuations.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barry_McKenzie

    In the dog-horse dispute I am on the side of the dog, which I am sure is more common in the UK (and the relevant cartoon was a CIDU for me until I read the comments).

  14. I had thought “technicolor yawn” sounded contrived and not the sort of thing real people would say, but I’ve seen Australians claim that they do.

  15. I usually heard it as “horse”, but in Oscar Brand’s 1961 recording of “Four Letter Words,” he gives it as “dog”. https://youtu.be/GCgLn_cHq4k

    @narmitaj: “Percy” comes from “person”, a 19th-century euphemism for that certain very personal item you point at the porcelain or petunias or pavement or whatever.

  16. For the record, Frida Kahlo did have a pet monkey. Wayno usually does his research before drawing the comic.

  17. @ larK – The snide comment was entirely mine, but I was paraphrasing something that Watterson did write about his own work: “Whenever deadlines force me to go with a [weak idea], I go for broke on the illustration.” This is the strip he was writing about:

  18. @Brian in STL: “Technicolor yawn” was fairly common in southern California in the early 80s. Maybe not as common as “praying to the porcelain god” or “tossing your cookies”, but top 5 easily.

    And add me to those who find “dog” a little more natural than “horse”.

  19. @Brian in STL – I believe “technicolor yawn” was coined by Humphries for his fictional comic strip, so in that sense it was indeed contrived rather than found in the wild.

  20. When you’re holding onto the sides of the toilet so you don’t fall in, you’re “Driving the porcelain school bus.” If you’re old enough to remember those old school buses that had horizontal steering wheels.

  21. @ Narmitaj – Even if it was “artificially” constructed, the phrase “technicolor yawn” definitely did escape into the “wild”; as DemetriosX said, it was definitely common parlance. In my college, too.

  22. When we saw “Barry Mckenzie holds his own” they would “shout ruth” (their name for it) when they barfed. (Doubled checked with husband that I remembered correctly.)

  23. A certain Raymond A. Levesque says Drunken vomiting was always “Calling Ralph on the Big White Phone.”

    And on that train of thought, there is still the simpler “ralphing”.

  24. Grawlix: Your cited book is interesting, particularly on the word “toilet”. In Samuel Johnson’s day it meant “A dressing table.” Johnson’s dictionary gives an example from Alexander Pope: “The merchant from the exchange returns in peace, And the long labours of the toilet cease.” Probably not a poem you can assign to fifth-graders.

  25. Traditionally a lady performs (or does) her toilette in her dressing room and preparing to go out and about for the day. I am pretty sure based on the ette on the end of the word that it comes from French and toilet is derived from same.

    And in the 18th century (and I am guessing before) a closet is a room which is personal space. Closets as we know them come along later. In the Peyton Randolph house in the Colonial Williamsburg Restoration the room to the right as one comes up their stairs is Elizabeth’s (his wife) closet. It is a full sized room with bed, tea table and other furniture in it. It is not her/their bedroom – it is her personal room – sort of a like a female office space for her to do her “work”. (It is adjacent to their bedroom). She could “closet”herself away there with or without close friends

  26. There is also a connection to the fabric term toile. The closet for storing your toiles.

    toile
    /twäl/
    noun
    1.
    an early version of a finished garment made up in cheap material so that the design can be tested and perfected.
    2.
    a translucent linen or cotton fabric, used for making clothes.

  27. Toile as a fabric –

    In 1759 in France they started printing (with printing press) on fabrics. Prior to this fabric was solid color, had designs woven into it (such as stripes and checks being the easy decorations to weave in – and all the decoration that Robert can do on his small rigid heddle looms) or was printed on (mostly in India) with cut wooden stamps.

    A 1700s printing press prints on up to a rectangular area of 16 3/4 by 9 3/4 (based on my measurement of a Colonial Williamsburg reproduction newspaper). In France they started printing on fabric with a printing press. They would print a section (up to this size, presuming French presses were the same size) and then move the fabric to print the next section.

    Hence, toiles are fabrics with relatively small designs – (generally) dark ink on light color/white fabric – with repeat after repeat. Found this example of what they look like – though the design is not an 18th century design and probably has more detail.

    (And since our reenactment unit will be interpreting the house we do every year – barring Covid closings – at the local restoration village at their Christmas candlelight nights , I will be explaining toile many times per night when talking about the expense of the bed and its hangings (toile) in the parlor of the house and how expense the toile fabric itself is.)

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