[Ads-l] blockhead, pinhead

Bill Mullins amcombill at HOTMAIL.COM
Thu Jun 15 16:50:16 UTC 2023

The OED recently updated its entry for “blockhead”.  All senses relate in some way to a “stupid or foolish person”.  There are (at least) two more senses of the word which the OED does not capture.

blockhead – a sideshow/carnival act in which a person drives nails, spikes, ice picks, etc. deep into his nasal cavity; a person who performs a blockhead act.

1935 Billboard 3 Aug 36/3

Marvo the Great, genuine Ripley attraction from Chicago's 1933 show, added to the bill, doing his human blockhead act and mechano on bally.

1967 NY Daily News 3 Sep S23/4

The freaks, such as the Woman With the Biggest Feet in the World, or the Human Blockhead, who drives nails into his skull, and the Sloth Man, who hangs from branches, still draw as well as ever.

1971 Camden NJ Courier-Post 16 Jul 4/4

Bobby Rush, better known as the "human blockhead" will miss several performances this year at the Congress of Human Oddities, one of America's popular freak shows.


1973 Indianapolis Star 17 Aug 10/1

Backstage, Screwy Louie The Human Blockhead, alias John Bradshaw, a sociology graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, was preparing to pound nails into his head.


1996 London Observer 22 Sep C7/2

Wilson had his tongue pierced and added a Human Blockhead act in which he appeared to hammer a nail through his tongue and into a piece of wood.

2005 The Linking Ring May 150/1

Rolando Medina closed the show with his rendition of Blockhead, complete with scissors in addition to the traditional nail; and some fabulous fire-eating to close his performance.

blockhead – a ventriloquist's dummy; a wooden puppet

1905 Billboard 17 Jun 2/1

Colby keeps the old school of ventriloquialism strictly up to date, and he makes his little blockheads produce more food for laughter than half a dozen other acts of average class can show.

1907 New York Clipper 2 Nov 1011/2

Ed. F. Reynard "Fun With Blockheads"

[Reynard was a ventriloquist, and accompanying illustration shows him with a dummy]

1909 San Francisco Dramatic Review  20 Nov 6/2

Crenyon, the ventriloquist, offers his blockhead family.


1933 The Linking Ring Feb 1005/1

Next on the bill came Charles Boecker of Philadelphia, known as our "Cholly" with his talking Block Head "Gussie".

1934 Philadelphia Inquirer 5 Aug So11/6

Other amusements to be enjoyed are the Junior Zoo, Mickey Mouse Circus, Prof. Peak's Blockheads in a Punch and Judy show, Rolling Baseball, an aquarium, free dancing to the tunes of Harry Kahn's orchestra, net hauls twice daily, and free locker service is available for bathers.

1939 Tops Jan 51

Oh that it were always that way instead of finding so many who think that to talk without too much moving the lips and a blockhead that has a jaw that moves makes one a ventriloquist.

1942 Shreveport Times 12 Apr 8A/3

Charlie McCarthy will cross swords with an erstwhile feudin' partner -- namely film actor Don Ameche -- when the block-head's show airs on KTBS tonight at 7 o'clock.


1963 Detroit Free Press 5 Nov 4C/1

The world's most famous blockhead, Mr. Charles McCarthy, is celebrating his 40th year in show business, and he's just as sassy as when he started.


1979 Magigram Jan 385/1

Fields would reply, "Watch your tongue, blockhead, or I'll feed you into a pencil sharpener".

pinhead – OED has entry for “pinhead” with the definition “A person with an abnormally small head” but does not specifically include “a person with microcephaly” (slur), as has been used in reference to carnival and side show performers. [note: I found earlier similar references to "pinheads", but without confirming that the persons being referred to were microcephalic, I didn't include them]

1919 Billboard 6 Sep  68/3

For his Pinheads Doc Palmer has Frank Bennett, tickets; Tom Brown, assistant; Joe Huff, collector of tickets; Marie McBrath, nurse for Ki Ko and Sulo, the little-headed people from the Island of Zanzibar.

1932 Billboard 6 Feb 59/1

Among the other freaks corralled are Harry and Daisy Earles, midgets; Johnny Eck, half boy, who walks and runs on his hands and is quite a capable artist; Randian, born without arms or legs; Pete Robinson, living skeleton; Schlitzie and Elvira and Hattie Lee Snow, all "pin heads"; Josephine-Joseph; Coo Koo (Minnie Woolsey), bird girl; Martha Morris, armless and legless wonder; Frances O'Connor, armless, and Olga, bearded lady.

1932 Billboard 17 Dec 49/4
In the feature spot are Kiko and Zulo, pinheads, presented by Mrs. James, who is in a class by herself when putting them over.

1935 Billboard 13 Apr 66/3

Schlitzie, the Pinhead, is living up to her reputation as one of the best ballies in the business, but Little Annie is running her a close second with her dances.

1937 Billboard 30 Oct 70/3

South Street Museum continues with Black Bottom Colored Revue; Kiko, pinhead; Ted Burgess, impalement; Popeye, sailor man; James Thompson, mental act.

1971 Real Pulp Comics #1 Jan  13
"I Gave My Heart to a Pinhead and He Made a Fool Out of Me" [story title]


1976 Berkeley Gazette 17 Feb 8/4

Griffith, the originator of Zippy the Pinhead, and Deitch are regular contributors to the Berkeley Barb, while Joel Beck's "Lenny of Laredo" is recongized as the beginning of the underground cartoon movement in 1964.


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

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