May 23, 2013

It Came from Comics: "Jeep"

Welcome to another installment of It Came From Comics, a new series of indefinite length exploring everyday terms that were popularized by comics. Click here for the archive!

Today's term is "jeep"!

A while back, I posted up some scans of the 1958 Encyclopedia Americana entry on comics, which stated that among the terms that have been popularized by comics over the years, "jeep" was one of them.  So I looked up the etymology of the word at the Online Etymology Dictionary, and this is what it gave me:

jeep (n.)
early 1941, American English military slang, from G.P. "general purpose (car)," but influenced by Eugene the Jeep (who had extraordinary powers but only said "jeep"), from E.C. Segar's comic strip "Thimble Theater" (also home of Popeye the Sailor). Eugene the Jeep first appeared in the strip March 13, 1936. The vehicle was in development from 1940, and the Army planners' initial term for it was light reconnaissance and command car.

So that's pretty interesting. It was a "general purpose" car, so they shortened it to "G.P.," and then further to "jeep," because of Eugene the Jeep from Thimble Theater, the same comic that starred Popeye and Alice the Goon! Eugene the Jeep was a mysterious animal-like creature from Africa with the power to teleport, and who only ever said the word "jeep."

Although he appeared first in March 1936, the term didn't become widespread until 1941, so Eugene's appearance in the Popeye cartoon probably has more to do with the use of the term than the comic.

But still... it came from comics!

I now want to call everyone with the initials "G.P." jeep, including former NBA superstar Gary Payton and my favorite artist, George Perez. I won't, though.

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