"What? Me Worry?"

Mullins, Bill Bill.Mullins at US.ARMY.MIL
Mon Oct 24 18:42:55 UTC 2005

A speech on proto-Alfreds.


> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society
> [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Benjamin Zimmer
> Sent: Tuesday, September 27, 2005 11:13 AM
> Subject: Re: "What? Me Worry?"
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: "What? Me Worry?"
> --------------------------------------------------------------
> -----------------
> On Tue, 27 Sep 2005 11:49:59 -0400, Benjamin Zimmer wrote:
> >Nothing in the FAQ about the history of "(What) Me Worry".
> Aha, here's some history...
> -----
> http://www.projo.com/cgi-bin/include.pl/blogs/shenews/archives
> /week143.htm#mad
> February 1, 2005, 7:35 p.m.
> The Quest For Alfred E. Neuman
> <http://www.garfield.library.upenn.edu/essays/v12p162y1989.pdf>:
> The folks at Metafilter gather all the pieces of this story
> <http://www.metafilter.com/mefi/39206>.
>     In this memoir, Carl Djerassi, Stanford University,
> California, describes his encounters with the grinning face
> of Alfred E. Neuman, mascot of MAD magazine. For Djerassi,
> the face recalls anti-Semitic posters seen in his European
> neighborhood in the days prior to World War II. He discusses
> his personal inquiry into the origins of Alfred E. Neuman --
> an attempt to reconcile the comic-book face with the
> troubling images of his youth.
>     The face I'd remembered -- the face that had remained
> with me for decades and had brought me to MAD's New York
> office -- first surfaced in MAD in November 1955...
>     It took until the December 1956 issue before the likeness
> of Alfred E.
> Neuman -- tbe famous Norman Mingo portrait apparently
> familiar to all Americans but me -- filled the cover in
> lonely splendor. He was featured as a write-in candidate for
> President under the slogan "What
> -- Me Worry?"
>     I was totally perplexed by the incompatibility between
> these facts and my memory until the first glimmer of
> vindication arose. An early Letters to the Editor section, an
> amusing collection of feisty and succinct missives, contained
> no less than eleven different images of Alfred alias who
> knows who, sent in by readers claiming to have known the
> ur-Alfred. In three pictures, the hair was actually slicked down...
>     These letters and many other fascinating exhibits were in
> a huge binder containing background material from a copyright
> suit that had been filed against MAD in the 1950s. I found
> nyself rooting for MAD-my belated and, by now, favorite
> introduction to American comics.
> Therefore I was relieved to find that the magazine had won by
> demonstrating an abundance of prior art with that face and
> with legends such as "Me worry?" or "Da-a-h.. .Me worry?"
> There were references to a publication of that face by
> Gertrude Breton Park of Los Angeles around 1914; to a 1936
> advertisement from Brotman Dental Lab in Winnipeg; to a
> somewhat corny book, Hall of Fame, published in
> 1943 in Toronto by one J. J. Carrick. There was no question
> that at least in terms of chronology that face existed when I
> was a teenager in the Midwest....
> -----
> One of the links provided on Metafilter is to a button sold
> on Ebay depicting a proto-Neuman with the text "Me Worry?
> Superior - 1941":
> http://scoop.diamondgalleries.com/scoop_article.asp?ai=4264&si=123
> --Ben Zimmer

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