[Ads-l] another, earlier Cowabunga

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Sat Jan 25 14:11:09 UTC 2020

Some of us recall cowabunga from the Howdy Doody Show on TV in the 1950s. And later among surfers and others (e.g., Bart Simpson and, I read, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles).

According to Historical Dictionary of American Slang:
"1975 John Alego (priv. communication) (Sept. 19): "Buffalo Bob" Smith tells me that he believes the word was invented by a Howdy Doody writer, Eddie Kean [1924-2010], for Chief Thunderthud. Buffalo Bill spells it kawabonga, and says it indicated bad things. There was a companion, joyous term kawagoopa. The fact that the distressful word has survived and the joyful one not, I suppose is paradigmatic."
[Or, one might say, the surviving word meliorated.]

It may be merely quite coincidental, but Cowabunga was a place name in Queensland, Australia.
>From Trove Newspapers:

1926, March 18
Land for Lease and Selection
Cowabunga--An area of 190 square miles, comprising Crown Lands, situated on the left back of the Yappan [OCR has Tappan, I guess incorrectly] River, adjoining Headwater and Harlem holdings. [....][1]

1944, May  19
Crown Land for Pastoral Lease
Cowabunga Block will be open on...at the land office Normanton [....][2]

This may well have been unknown to Edward Keane. Wikipedia: "....Kean served in the United States Navy<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Navy> during World War II<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II>. He was based at Cornell University<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornell_University> through the V-12 Navy College Training Program<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V-12_Navy_College_Training_Program> and earned a degree from Columbia University<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbia_University>.[2]<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Kean#cite_note-LATObit-2>" Note 2: LA Times obituary, credits him for coining kowabonga/cowabunga.

The Queensland location is inland, so not a surfing spot. The name--indigenous Australian?

Stephen Goranson

PS. We had a 45 record with songs, "Howdy Doody means Hello" and "Save your pennies, and soon you'll have a nickel..."

[1] https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/60929602?searchTerm=cowabunga&searchLimits=sortby=dateAsc
LAND FOR LEASE AND SELECTION. - Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld. : 1907 - 1954) - 18 Mar 1926<https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/60929602?searchTerm=cowabunga&searchLimits=sortby=dateAsc>
The Government is offering a considerable quantity of Crown land for lease. As some is in territory blessed with rain, it may aford drought relief. ...

[2] https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/170399048?searchTerm=cowabunga&searchLimits=sortby=dateAsc
Advertising - Cloncurry Advocate (Qld. : 1931 - 1953) - 19 May 1944<https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/170399048?searchTerm=cowabunga&searchLimits=sortby=dateAsc>

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

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