"Mickey Mouse"

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Fri Dec 7 01:39:38 UTC 2001

In a message dated 12/05/2001 6:56:35 PM Eastern Standard Time,
preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU writes:

> Sorry Jim, them Micky-Mouse and chiceknshit outfits got the same
>  connotations to me.

Yes and no.  In my experience "chickenshit" is a specialized term, used ONLY
to refer to (complain about) nit-picking rules.  "Mickey Mouse" is a more
general term, usable for anything you wish to describe as petty,
petty-minded, undersized, etc.

"Chickenshit" therefore is a subset of "Mickey Mouse".

Consider "a Mickey Mouse course".  Would you also refer to that as a
"chickenshit course"?

An IBM salesman told me the following joke circa 1976:  (Buildup about a rich
man deciding to give away his fortune to his sons).  Finally he gets to his
youngest son, who is a small child.  When asked what he wants, the boy
replies, "A Mickey Mouse outfit."  So the father buys him IBM.



The OED2 outdoes itself with "Mickey Mouse".  For the derogatory usage, it
has a 1935 citation by Sinclair Lewis (who is not noted for his usage of
slang): "Goebbels...is privily known throughout Germany as 'Wotan's Mickey
Mouse' " and 1936 by another literary giant, George Orwell: "...a sort of
Mickey Mouse universe where things and people don't have to obey the rules of
space and time."

(On second thought, I'm not sure the Orwell quote is derogatory.  He may have
meant simply "an animated-cartoon-style fantasy universe" rather than a
"petty or petty-minded universe".)

One possibility: The derogatory usage of "Mickey Mouse" came from the use of
mice as a traditional reference to a very small animal, hence to anything
perceived as small, even if only metaphorically:  "Are you a man or a mouse?"
 The reference to Goebbels may be due to Goebbels's being short: "As blond as
Hitler, as slim as Goering, and as tall as Goebbels".



It is interesting to note that Mickey Mouse is NOT mouse-sized.  I do not
know if Disney or his animators ever had an exact standard size for Mickey,
but in most of the cartoons where he is shown next to some object or being
whose size can be estimated, he works out to three or at most four feet tall.
 (Hobbit-sized!)  In "Steamboat Willie" he is tall enough to operate the
controls of a steamboat.  In the scene in _Fantasia_ (both the original and
the 2000 version) immedately after "Sorceror's Apprentice" (as far as I know,
the only time Mickey is ever shown with a live human without comic intent) he
is the right height to get the conductor's attention by reaching for the tail
of the conductor's coat.

Mickey and Donald are roughly the same size, and Donald is also not

             - Jim Landau

P.S.  And who are Huey, Dewey, and Louie?  Not Donald's nephews, but rather
his acknowledged bustards.

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