More Buttholes

The April 2, 1947 Archie daily featuring Riverdale’s favorite teenager using the word “butthole” continues to generate interest. We promised you a follow-up on this subject, and here it is.

Our late-May feature on the American Dialect Society (ADS) and their investigations into Archie’s usage of “butthole” prompted Friend of LOAC Mike Fontanelli to send us the following:

Hi Bruce,

Still laughing over your recent LOAC blog post re: ARCHIE and his anachronistic potty-mouth! I have a wild guess – based purely on conjecture – that the term was short for “buttonhole,” (i.e., something that’s stamped out, assembly-line fashion.)

I admit I’ve found no usage of “buttonhole” as an adjective. (It’s only usage seems to be as a noun or a verb: meaning to detain someone against their will. That usage almost fits, albeit awkwardly.)

Also too, notice that the letterer, whether or not it was Montana himself, ran out of room in that speech balloon. Shortening words is sort of a colloquial/teenage slangy motif, (as in “What’s the dif?”, etc.) Perhaps he just shortened it for practical reasons, assuming the meaning would be clear from the context.

Well, I admit this is a stretch, but at least it’s kinda feasible. I only offer it as food for thought. I predict thousands of letters and emails to follow! This mystery will boggle linguists and dialecticians and for years to come…

Best, Mike Fontanelli

Mike is a leading authority on Al Capp/Li’l Abner, by the way – you can read his invaluable essays on Al and his Dogpatchian hijinx.

Shortly after receiving Mike’s ruminations, we again heard from Bonnie Taylor-Blake of the ADS. One of their members had discovered something of interest:

[Here’s] something that Ben Zimmer [of ADS] noted during the discussion of Archie’s use of “butthole” … I’ve attached a full-page PDF of the comics page from that day from The Zanesville (OH) Times-Recorder.  As Ben notes, “butthole” is indeed seemingly (and partially) obliterated.  Looks to me that this is the only word on the page that is pretty illegible.  Even the teeny tiny print elsewhere on the page looks pretty good.

I’m guessing that Ben’s right:  someone, perhaps at the paper itself, was offended. Click anywhere on the page to see an enlargement of the strip.

Zanesville_larger

The folks at Archie Comics have recently taken steps to make their stories more topical or edgy (with the introduction of a gay character, and the twin “What If-?” Archie Marries Veronica andArchie Marries Betty story-tracks. Did they suspect that, sixty-five years ago, Archie would be generating so much additional interest over his casual use of the word “butthole”?

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