Yellow Journalism

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Thu Aug 1 18:42:05 UTC 2013

[Begin excerpt from John Baker]
It seems to me that when Ervin Wardman referred to "yellow-kid
journalism," he was not inventing a wholly new phrase, but instead
making a play on words with "yellow-covered literature" and the
well-known Yellow Kid.  In other words, "yellow journalism" is not
so-called because of the Yellow Kid, but follows directly from the
earlier "yellow-covered" books/literature.
[End excerpt from John Baker]

John Baker's hypothesis is very valuable, I think.

Here is an 1896 rant in "The Medical Age" which contended that the
daily press was even worse than "yellow-backed literature".

Journal: The Medical Age
Volume: 14
Date: September 25, 1896
Article: Editorial: The Daily Press in Relation to Crime
Start Page: 560
Quote Page: 561

[Begin excerpt]
The daily newspaper reaches all classes of society, from the highest
to the lowest; it is perused by wives and children, though often more
demoralizing and productive of more evil than the foulest
yellow-covered monstrosity ever perpetrated by the ingenious
imagination of an irresponsible author; yet the daily press is
admitted to every home in the community and received with open arms,
while the lesser evil, the yellow-backed literature, is denied
[End excerpt]

An 1895 article in Harpers Monthly discussed "yellow literature". I
think this term was probably derived via simplification/deletion from
"yellow-backed literature" and "yellow-covered" literature.

Interestingly, the article mentioned Aubrey Beardsley and stated
"London has a bad attack of the Literary Jaundice." This suggests to
me another possible influence in the construction of the term "yellow
literature". Artwork by Beardsley was used extensively in a scandalous
quarterly literary periodical called "The Yellow Book" which was
published from 1894 to 1897.

Periodical: Harpers Monthly
Date: February 1895
Article: Editor's Study
Start page of article 481,
Quote pages 481 and 482

[Begin excerpt]
It is time for scientists, alienists, and psychological investigators
to make a careful study of the phenomena of the Yellow literary
atmosphere. It is generally agreed that it is a sign of degeneration,
like the phosphorescent light from decaying vegetable matter, but we
need to get at the causes behind this appearance in order to prevent
the spread of the

[Begin excerpt]
The present "yellows" in literature is only a local infection of dust
and impurity spread by our modern facilities of communication.
The Yellow literature is not new. There have always been diseased
people seeking notoriety by reason of their maladies.
[End excerpt]

[Begin excerpt]
And no doubt there are idiots all over the world who get their fog and
their fashions from London, and think they love the yellow literature
of a few decadent spirits because it is the momentary atmosphere of
[End excerpt]


On Wed, Jul 31, 2013 at 11:57 PM, Douglas G. Wilson <douglas at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Douglas G. Wilson" <douglas at NB.NET>
> Subject:      Re: Yellow Journalism
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On 7/31/2013 7:33 PM, Baker, John wrote:
>> It is generally accepted that the term "yellow journalism" came into use in=
>>   or around early 1897 and derived its name from the Yellow Kid, a character=
>>   in the comic strip Hogan's Alley in the New York World.  What, then, to ma=
>> ke of this earlier variant on the phrase?  (Spoiler alert:  I'm going to ar=
>> gue that the Yellow Kid's role is overblown.)
>> The earlier example is from the (Bangor, Maine) Whig & Courier, Oct. 11, 18=
>> 83, at 2, col. 1 (19th Century U.S. Newspapers).  The piece is too long to =
>> quote in full, so I quote selectively.
> --
> Seems likely.
> On brief search, I see "yellow covered journalism" from Feb. 1898.
> Also "yellow back journalism" from March 1898, May 1898, Oct. 1901.
> I can give citations if necessary.
> -- Doug Wilson
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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