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Is Slang as Swell as It Used to Be? Yas!

The first Looney Tunes star character, before Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and the others, was a blandly joyous little Mickey Mouse knockoff named Bosko. Obsessives of ancient cartoons have long delighted in the possibility that in one 1933 short, Bosko dropped an F-bomb. Listen for yourself here at about 5:34.

I have been one of the people who heard Bosko this way and spread the news, but in my role as an honest academic and researcher I must correct myself. The soundtrack of the cartoon is ancient and thus a little muddy, and some recent observations convince me that what Bosko was saying was “the dirty pup.” (Some hear “the dirty fox,” but I can’t quite get there.) The reason I and others missed “the dirty pup” is how hard it is to know that in the early 20th century, the phrase “dirty pup,” as limp as it sounds to us now, qualified as fighting words, a serious charge to lob at someone. Only the internet makes it easy to ascertain that.

That is but one example of how evanescent slang is in the historical record of language. With Looney Tunes, another example is Bugs Bunny’s catchphrase “What’s up, doc?” We’re so used to it now, but when was the last time you called anyone “doc”? One of Bugs Bunny’s creators, Tex Avery, reportedly

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