[Ads-l] Captain Obvious

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jul 7 06:37:33 EDT 2021

Nowadays, I think most people would view Captain Obvious as a parodic
superhero name. I do not know if the 1929 usage would have a superhero
connotation. Superheroes were popularized in the 1930s. Captain Marvel
was created in 1939. Captain America Comics #1 had a cover date of
March 1941. (So sayeth Wikipedia.)

On the other hand, the Oxford English Dictionary has citations dated
1899, 1917, and 1924 for superhero. So maybe there was a superhero
connotation even in 1929.

I broadened the search to look for a different name constructed from
"obvious": "Mr. Obvious" ("Messrs. Obvious"). Here are citations dated
1893 and 1915.

Year: June 1893
Title: Folk-Lore: A Quarterly Review of Myth, Tradition, Institution, & Custom
Volume 4, Number 2
Article: English Folk Drama II
Start Page 149, Quote Page 172
Note: Paper read before the Folk-lore Society, February 15th, 1893
Publisher: David Nutt, London
Database: Internet Archive


[Begin excerpt]
If I were asked to define the greatest danger which besets folk-lore,
I should say it was the obvious. It was the obvious which caused the
significance of children's games to be so long overlooked. It was the
obvious which dismissed the Staffordshire Guisers' play as all St.
George and the Dragon. It was the obvious which classified all the
mumming-plays and the Easter plays as "versions of some dramatic piece
written in commemoration of the Holy Wars". And I suppose Mr. Obvious,
if he is here—or perhaps I should say the Messrs. Obvious—will have no
patience with me because I hint that in the Easter play and this
Plough-Monday play we have an episode which continues the tradition of
the Summer and Winter champions.
[End excerpt]

Date: 1915
Title: Samuel Henry Jeyes: A Sketch of His Personality and Work by
Sidney Low, With a Selection From His Fugitive Writings
Editor: W. P. Ker
Quote Page 83,
Publisher: Duckworth & Company, London.
Database: HathiTrust Full View


[Begin excerpt]
It is astonishing that so shrewd and practical a man, gifted also with
a sense of humour, should impose on himself with phrases culled from a
select dialogue between Mr. Obvious and Mr. Bounceable.
[End excerpt]


On Tue, Jul 6, 2021 at 12:59 PM Baker, John <JBAKER at stradley.com> wrote:
> Jon's link doesn't work for me, but I see the article online at https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-origin-of-the-expression-%E2%80%9CCaptain-Obvious%E2%80%9D.  One of the Quora posters found an example that is earlier than I would have guessed, from the periodical Chemical Warfare, vol. 12, no. 8, p. 8 (Aug. 15, 1926), https://books.google.com/books?id=UYIkAQAAMAAJ&pg=RA7-PA8&dq=%22captain+obvious%22&hl=en&newbks=1&newbks_redir=0&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjqxYnM887xAhVKGVkFHSheBZ0Q6AEwAHoECAwQAg#v=onepage&q=%22captain%20obvious%22&f=false.  This is a photograph of the 302nd Gas Regiment's officers, with each officer listed by name and nickname.  The nickname for Captain Firebaugh is Captain Obvious; the other captains' nicknames are Captain Snores, Captain Insignia, Captain Tentpine, Captain Half Pint, Captain Big Trees, Old Campaigner, Captain Littlebit, and Captain Undertaker.
> There is quite a gap between this example and the frequent contemporary use of the term, which seems to start showing up in the 1990s, so there is a good chance that the later use is an independent coinage.
> John Baker
> From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> On Behalf Of Laurence Horn
> Sent: Tuesday, July 6, 2021 12:03 PM
> Subject: Re: Captain Obvious
> External Email - Think Before You Click
> And currently popularized in the hotels.com commercials by the (appropriately uniformed) Captain Obvious played by Brendan Moynihan, e.g.
> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQyOttaZIhM<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQyOttaZIhM>
> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJLBPAbjFUQ<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJLBPAbjFUQ>
> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhcH0c469F8<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhcH0c469F8>
> If he looks familiar, it may be because Moynihan had previously appeared in commercials for Stove Top stuffing before he acquired his commission (and beard):
> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvHMg2-1btw<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvHMg2-1btw>
> LH
> > On Jul 6, 2021, at 11:43 AM, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM<mailto:wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>> wrote:
> >
> > Discussed:
> >
> > https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-origin-of-the-expression-"Captain-Obvious<https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-origin-of-the-expression-“Captain-Obvious>D
> >
> >
> > JL
> > --
> > "If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."
> >
> > ------------------------------------------------------------
> > The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org<http://www.americandialect.org>
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org<http://www.americandialect.org>
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list