Thursday, July 09, 2015

Word of the Day -- Worry Wart

The origin, as so often with popular phrases, is a comic strip. In this case, it was the highly popular Out Our Way by J R Williams, which began life in 1922 and ran until 1977. In the early days it often featured a small-town family. One of the boys, aged about eight, was nicknamed Worry Wart by his elder brother. In one early frame, the boy is in bed alongside an open window, his bedclothes and face blackened with soot from nearby factory chimneys. He gets an unsympathetic reaction from his brother:

So somebody told you it was good fer you t’sleep with a winder open, hah? Well answer me this, Worry Wart, without no sarcasticism — does this somebody live in a shop neighborhood? -- Out Our Way, by J R Williams, in the Canton Daily News (Canton, Ohio), 3 Apr. 1929.
The phrase came into the language at around this time and became quite popular in the 1930s because Williams produced many gently humorous cartoons featuring Worry Wart. What’s intriguing about its early history is that it didn’t mean what it does now — somebody who constantly worries about everything and anything. Instead it took its sense from the cartoon — a child who annoys everyone through being a pest or nuisance.


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