I’ll lay off the boner jokes this time.

§ February 3rd, 2021 § Filed under batman, giant-size man-thing § 4 Comments


So reader Paul reminded me of this: the Blackthorne Publishing edition of Boner’s Ark, published in 1986. Boner’s Ark was a newspaper comic strip created by Beetle Bailey‘s Mort Walker in 1968, and it ran, I was surprised to learn, until 2000. At my previous place of employment, we had one copy of this book floating around that I tried, for a very long time, to unload on eBay…in fact, at this point, I can’t even remember if it ever sold or it’s still languishing in a box in the back room over there.

At any rate, we had that item around for a good, long time (and if my former boss Ralph ordered it when it was new, then he had it in his stock three years prior to my even working there). But in all the time I was trying to get this book to sell, I don’t believe even once I thought about the naughtiness implicit in the name.

Now, much like the deal with Bill Finger the “Joker’s Boners” story he wrote, we can’t say for sure that Walker intended any kind of dirty meaning in title. I’m inclined to think not, that he liked it just because it’s a silly name and it signals that Captain Boner is bit of a goof-up (and let’s face it, Captain Boner is a genuinely amazing name). But we also know from some of the naked Ms. Buxley pics you’ve maybe seen (and some of the more adult-ish gags in Beetle Bailey*) that Mr. Walker was bit of a dirty bird and surely he knew of the alternate meaning of the word. (Plus, as Turan tells us of Scott Shaw!’s experience, if there’s a question of whether or not a cartoonist meant something to sound dirty, the answer was usually “yes they did.”)

Now, last time I suggested that, given the date of story (1951) and the seeming lack of evidence that the term “boner” was in wide use, if at all, I concluded with the assumption that Finger was likely not aware of the double-meaning at the time. But…thinking about it, Bill Finger was a writer. Maybe he wasn’t a young teen hep to the new jive, but as a professional writer he would have been more likely than the average person to have had an ear out for interesting turns of phrase, be they passé or Today’s Newest Thing.

Of course, we’re about 47 years too late to ask Mr. Finger if he’d meant the story to be a string of endless double entendres, or just purely as a synonym for “mistake.” Much like Jane Austen’s use of the word “nice” in correspondence, there remains some ambiguity. Though to be fair, Austen did include a passage expressing some feelings about “nice” in Northanger Abbey, and far as I know Mr. Finger never did the same with “boner.”

So ultimately the question is “did ‘boner’ mean, well, you know, ‘boner'” back in the 1950s?” Reader CP Bananas peeled away an excerpt from the OED featuring their information about the word and sent it my way, for which I thank this person for the contribution. It includes an attribution for the meaning with which we’re concerned from 1936:

“In his dream he had a feeling he was ‘pulling a boner.'”

…and the OED notes that while this usage is meant to refer to the then-popular sense of the term of “making a mistake,” the context made clear it was specifically the sexual definition. So at least there was an explicit, so to speak, antecedent for that usage in that form prior to 1951.

Other comments to Wednesday’s post brought up several usages of “boner” in seemingly innocent fashion, across many decades past that Batman story I keep going on about. In my very unscientific survey, that would seem to tell me, even as the naughty definition became increasingly attached to the term, the primary meaning of “mistake” remained the dominant one. Also mentioned was the supporting character from the Growing Pains sitcom, nicknamed “Boner” after his last name of “Stabone” — probably intended to get laughs just based on the fact it sounded dirty, because 1980s sitcom, but I’m sure no exact reference was made to that meaning otherwise the FCC would’ve had some words. And maybe they did, I don’t know.

I don’t know where this leaves us, exactly. I feel like, given the existence of the base term “bone” meaning essentially the same thing as the vulger version of “boner,” I would say that it did exist, at least for some people, as an active naughty word. As such, chances are good someone read this story at the time and got a solid dirty laugh out of it. But as to whether or not Bill Finger his own self loaded up the “boners” on purpose for Big Laffs…I don’t know. I still tend to think not, but it’s not impossible he did.

Or, as my experience with the Boner’s Ark book, maybe it’s just all in context. “Boner” wasn’t meant to carry its sexual definition in the Batman story,” so nobody thought about it that way and it wasn’t inteded to be read that way. Or it’s a secret dirty joke from across time left for us by Mr. Finger and his accomplices

Okay, if you have more to add, you know where the comments section is. I didn’t mean to change the main blog into “Mike Sterling’s Progressive Boner” an’ all, but I was doing it…FOR SCIENCE.
 
 
 

* Look, you’ve read the strips, General Halftrack might as well have been named “General Boner.”

4 Responses to “I’ll lay off the boner jokes this time.”

  • Mike Baehr says:

    I certainly was not expecting Jane Austen to come into this.

  • Thom H. says:

    I get the feeling that “boner” is fairly low on the swear totem pole. Like if you said “boner” in front of your mom, she’d smirk and wag her finger at you or something. It’s certainly no C-word or F-bomb.

    So I assume creative types are basically getting away with mild double entendres and most people are fine looking the other way, both now and in the past.

  • Andrew-TLA says:

    Swinging back around to Mr. Stabone for a moment, it was eventually revealed that his first name was “Richard,” and he went by “Dicky” until starting kindergarten (at which point he was renamed by young Mike).

    Someone on that show’s writing staff knew exactly what they were getting away with.

  • Martin S says:

    That character bears an uncanny resemblance to the current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and, given said PM’s numerous marriages and innumerable children, the name fits rather well too.

    (Hi! Long-time reader, first-time poster!)

  • Leave a Reply