What word is Bosko using?

Below is an excerpt from a new documentary Thou Shalt Not: Sex, Sin and Censorship in Pre-Code Hollywood which aired the other night on TCM. I appear briefly (the clip below is my entire appearence) to point out a line of dialogue from one of my favorite cartoons, Bosko’s Picture Show (1933).

This mystery has been dogging me since Will Friedwald and I first pointed it out in our 1981 Scarecrow Press book, The Warner Brothers Cartoons. To this day I still can’t quite make what word Bosko is using. “The dirty Thug?” “The dirty Fox”? “The dirty F-ck”?

Thou Shalt Not is the best documentary on pre-code Hollywood films I’ve ever seen. It’s available on DVD as bonus feature on Warner Home Video’s Forbidden Hollywood Collection Vol. 2.


  • doug holverson

    I’m thinking that it’s “dirty mutt!”

    Well, the guy’s called a cur later on.

  • http://portapuppets.does.it uncle wayne

    I actually have this memory of being WITH you 2 monkeys when you told ME that …..wayyyyyyy back when!

    I love it!

  • Geoff Smith

    I take it nobody asked Friz when he was still alive?

  • http://pediatristsplayground.blogspot.com Kevin W. Martinez (Leviathan)

    If there’s one Bosko that needs to be restored immaculately and put on a Golden Collection, then this is it.

    Picture Show was on Youtube in its entirety for a while, and my dad got such a tremendous kick out of this scene. His hair literally stood up.

  • Bob

    That dirty pock? The drawing on that frame is just a closed mouth shape, and I know it depends from scene to scene and cartoon to cartoon, but there is usually an exaggerated lip bite drawing for “F.”

  • http://shadzane.livejournal.com ShadZ

    I saw the special, and it sounds like ‘fok’ to me, but that’s not a word…

  • Andrew

    Well, he’s OBVIOUSLY saying, “that dirty FTHOXCKTHG!” :D

  • http://classicparamountcartoons.blogspot.com Luke

    YouTubers are doing the same with “Popeye meets Sindbad”….

  • http://classicparamountcartoons.blogspot.com Luke

    “Wreck that Ship” or the other????

  • http://dtoons-pro.com Alex Dudley

    Sounds like the “f-word” to me.

  • Gobo

    I don’t think it’s “mutt”. I definitely hear a ‘k’ or ‘x’ sound at the end.

  • Dock Miles

    It’s very hard to hear it as anything but the f-word. You could argue that the mouth animation was made ambiguous or bland as a disguise tactic. “Dirty muck” (or maybe “dirty pup”) is the only alternative that makes a lick of sense to me. And it just doesn’t sound that way.

  • http://www.sandwichbag.blogspot.com Elliot Cowan

    Indeed.
    Folks may have seen this before, but Garfield seems to make a similar utterance during his Halloween special.
    Right at the end at about 7:10…
    http://youtube.com/watch?v=I-WggLrCASs

  • Nancy

    Seems like a deliberately fudged starting consonant with an unmistakable hard ‘k’ at the end. This may be the initial filmic example of plausible deniability. A big plus in that day was cartoons weren’t put under a frame by frame microscope, let alone the otoscope they enjoy today.

  • Bruce

    I thought Bosko said “That dirty PUCK!”

    Who knew?

    From an inspiring cartoonist/ artist.

  • http://www.redjacketpress.com Brian Pearce

    Most of the films in both “Forbidden Hollywood” collections are also well worth a look — particularly the ones from Warner Bros.

  • Mr. Semaj

    This was mentioned on the Censored Looney Tunes page for quite some time.

    Sounds like the one that got away.

  • http://pegbarproductions.com Simon

    Maybe fok was a racial slur back then.

  • Charlie

    I does sound like “thug” or “fuck” but “thug” seems more in place for Bosko.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    Heh, I was STUNNED to hear about that for the Garfield special, I had to go and see that clip to see what the fuss was about (and me having seen this off and on since it first aired). I only hear it as “AAAAAH! WAAA WATCH IT!!! AAHHH!!!”

    Really, I see no reason people think he’s doing the F-bomb here, or is there something I’m not hearing out of the clip itself.

    As for the other, I can tell someone’ll turn that into a YouTube Poop if need be, you know how those things can go out of hand now! We’ll never hear the end of it!

    Being off-topic for a bit, love noticing the YouTube vid you posted Jerry has some Warner Bros. cartoons on the side links that seem to have been aired on Macedonian television, from 16mm prints with someone interpreting the dialog into their language! It’s kinda weird watching a cartoon like this one in that fashion!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CoTpQGP8U3U

  • Johnny

    Jer –
    Ol’ Bosk’ might POSSIBLY be using the word “pug” which, I believe, was used in the 30′s, but it sounds more to me like he’s saying “that dirty punk,” with the “k” sound at the end.
    Johnny

  • Lurch Poiuyt

    I’m the one who put the full version of Bosko’s Picture Show up on youtube awhile back. (that I edited together using two different
    copies… the edited Nick version with better video, and the full version
    with not so good video) Not surprisingly, youtube removed it.

  • http://www.itsthecat.com Mark Kausler

    Bosko says: “The dirty MUG!” It’s always been perfectly clear from the sound track of the original 16mm print I have. This controversy probably stems from a bad dupe with a buzzy sound track.

  • Pedro Nakama

    I’m pretty sure Popeye did some cussing while mumbling in his older shorts.

  • Kris

    Yeah, I’m hearing it the same way as you, Jerry.

    Honestly if I am going to pick a clean word, “mug” is the closest thing that makes sense and sort of works with the sounds.

  • J. J. Hunsecker

    Mr. Kausler,

    Could you load up your version of the cartoon on youtube? I’ve never heard a clear version of the cartoon. It always sounded to me like Bosko said, “The dirty fawk!”

    I also with Bob, in that usually for the “F” consonant sound the animators would exaggerate the top teeth overlapping the lower lip — which is not seen in the Bosko lip sync here.

  • http://www.animationarchive.org Stephen Worth

    I like your interpretation, Jerry. But I think he’s saying, “The dirty buck.” (check the lip flap- that’s a B mouth, not an F mouth), Buck is military slang for the lowest rank in a particular category (ie: “buck” private or “buck” sergeant. If you use it outside of the military, a “dirty buck” would be a “dirty low down” or a “dirty nobody”.

    Buck had other meanings in the WWI era… It could be a big black man, or a verb meaning “to vie for” (bucking for a promotion). Another WWI military meaning for the word was the jerk a soldier made when he was struck by a bullet (referring to the buck that throws a cowboy from the saddle on a bucking bronco).

    But I’m pretty sure the meaning here is the “lowest ranking person”. Hope this helps!

  • Matthew

    Like Johnny, I thought it was “punk”.

  • Matthew

    By the way, this reminded me of the Flintstones episode in which Wilma appears to utter the word “b*ll*cks”. Just found the clip on Youtube along with a whole debate in the comments about whether what was actually said was a similarly spelled but identically pronounced word that wouldn’t have been offensive to the original American audience.

    To my ear it’s the much loved Anglo Saxon profanity which, contrary to a statement in the Youtube comments, is still very much in everyday use in Britain at least (it’s a handy expression for example if you hit your thumb with a hammer or drop a piano on your foot).

    In a screening on Cartoon Network in the UK last year and I noticed the expletive was scrubbed out with a whacky HB sound effect!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fuCbrPzPLAc

  • http://cartoonresearch.com/gerstein David Gerstein

    I suspect “b*ll*cks” and the North American “bollix” have the same root—it’s just never been an offensive word over here. Working with Disney comics, I’ve seen “bollix” in a number of stories over the years; and while Disney’s censors can be strict, they’ve never given us any trouble on it.

    Conversely, the 1990s British Disney comics used to use the word “hell” all the time, which we “Yanks” are still asked to avoid. We published an English version of Disney’s famous “Dante’s Inferno” spoof, but had to tapdance around the word for 37 pages.

  • http://www.myspace.com/brandontoons Brandon Pierce

    Another candidate has been, “The dirty folk”.

  • J Lee

    fop n. A man who is preoccupied with and often vain about his clothes and manners; a dandy.

    Not sure if that’s what they were going for, but it’s a pretty close sound-alike to the other F-word … and the villain is nattily dressed. ;)

  • Ryan

    Just watched that Garfield clip, and I was too shocked by the sudden change in the style of animation on the old guy to notice any expletives…

  • Fred Sparrman

    Found this on Amazon from the book “Forbidden Animation” by Karl F. Cohen:

    Disney animator Mark Kausler is positive that “mug” is what the lip movements say…Kausler, believing the flaw was only in poor quality 16mm dupes, recorded the soundtrack off of a mint 35mm nitrate print. When I played the tape he sent me to almost a dozen people, all said they heard “f*ck.” (expletive not deleted in the actual book)

    So even if Mr. Kausler is kind enough to upload his version to YouTube, it sounds like not many people will be convinced as to the “mug” theory. Personally, I hear “fok”, with the “ah” vowel (not an “uh” vowel) just about equally as clear and distinct as the “f” and the “k”. Not that it makes any sense…

  • http://www.itsthecat.com Mark Kausler

    All I can say to the perpetuation of this endlessly stupid and pointless discussion is: “Mug” you!

  • Kevin Wollenweber

    I’m sorry, Mark, but I, too, hear the expletive! Although, I’ll stand along with those who hear “fop” as the alternative because it at least sounds the same as Bosko’s pronunciation here. But please, oh please, bring this out as part of the GOLDEN COLLECTION sets!! Hey, we’ve got “PORKY’S BREAKDOWN”, so why not this?

    But what is this talk about a word supposedly uttered by Wilma in a “FLINTSTONES” episode? Tell me what episode as I’m anxious to find the clip if it exists intact on the DVD set! Or, if it is part of dialogue on the first season set on laserdisk (the first half of the first season), let me know because those prints are more intact and original.

  • Kevin W. Martinez (Leviathan)

    It’s open to interpretation, considering the Pre-Code release and the events surrounding it (the break-up of Schlesigner/Harman-Ising). Even then, I don’t think we’ll ever find the real answer.

  • Matthew Sharp

    I like Stephen Worth’s theory. The justification for it being “buck” seems a little forced, but on the other hand, it’s not the only time the “buck” sound has been mistaken for “&%#@”.

    There’s a 1938 recording of Patricia Norman singing “Ol’ Man Mose”. During the chorus (“I believe he kicked the bucket, yeah the man, the buck-buck-bucket”) she lets fly with a strenuous “Oh, bucket!”. She does this twice; both times it sounds a lot like “Oh, &%#@ it!”. It caused some commotion when it was released, but not enough to be pulled from the catalogue.

    Allegedly, if you listen to a high quality master on decent equipment, you can hear that it’s really “bucket” she’s singing. It always sounds like “&%#@ it” to me.

  • C. Stulz

    Missed the special on TCM. Anyone know if/when it will air again?

  • http://classicparamountcartoons.blogspot.com Luke

    Speaking of all of this, ever wonder how video game/Hanna-Barbera character Pacman got his name?

    Go to Wikipedia and find out.

  • http://wardomatic.blogspot.com Ward

    Funny how we hear things the way we want to hear them. I listened to this over and over and I could hear it as “mug”, “f*ck”, “puck”, “buck” — anything that fits. Honestly, I’ll go with Mark Kausler — I can see how the “g” sound ends sharply, making it sound like a “k”. But if we go by the lip flap, as Stephen Worth suggests, the “b” mouth is the same as the “m”, am I right?

    “Mug” it is!

  • http://pediatristsplayground.blogspot.com Kevin W. Martinez

    You’re definitely right, Ward, about hearing things discriminately. But no matter how I try, I can’t shake the “K”. Besides, it’s not nearly as funny as “mug”, and what’s a LOONEY Tune without humor?

  • http://portapuppets.does.it uncle wayne

    “F” all of ya’ll (ha-ha!) I vote it’s the “f”!!

  • http://www.randombrainwave.com John Surname

    Garield clearly says “fuck it”.

  • http://www.strugglingyoungman.com Shaw

    From over at Wikipedia:

    “In the uncensored version of the cartoon, Bosko delivers his comment on the villain by distinctly saying, “That dirty fuck!”, possibly a parting shot by Harman and Ising at the Warner Bros. animation head, Leon Schlesinger, with whom they disputed over various matters. The phrase was changed to “That dirty cur!” when this cartoon aired on Nickelodeon for the second time, by dubbing the last line of Bosko’s phrase “Stop, you cur!” over the offending line.”

    ?????????

  • http://www.redjacketpress.com Brian Pearce

    I look at it this way — of all of the wonderful, surprising stuff I’ve come across in pre-code Hollywood films, the language has still been quite mild, even tame. I can’t for a moment believe that a short subject would have been allowed into release with this kind of profanity.

  • Doug Drown

    A college kid I know made the wry observation in a paper he wrote that “The Word” noted above is very possibly the only word in the English language that is variously (and ubiquitously) used as a noun, adjective, verb, adverb and gerund, depending on the context. It can mean almost anything. My question is whether that has always been the case. When I was a kid growing up in the ’60s I never heard it used except in the traditional sense, as an expletive curse. That changed as time went on.

    How was the word used in the early ’30s? That may help provide an answer to the Bosko mystery.

  • http://www.davemackey.com Dave Mackey

    I saw “Thou Shalt Not” while flipping channels the other night and I’d love to track it down and see it again. Unfortunately, I missed your segment.

    TCM also showed some of the movies that were prominently featured in the documentary immediately afterward.

    My vote is still for “dirty f–k”. And my notes indicate Nick aired it with the word “cur” overdubbed over “f–k”, when they did air this cartoon.

  • Steven Rowe

    I have to say I hear it as Thug with a strong g sound and no k sound ( therefore Mug would be possible)
    – in fact, I cant see how you hear it as F*ck. but I suspect that this may be where linguists or phonetics may be what we need.
    i dont hear fug as f*ck either. wrong sound to my ear.\
    who was doing Bosko’s voice at this time? and what sort of accent did he have?
    you guys hearing this as f*ck, what sort of accent do you hear usually?

  • Stephen

    If this is the instance I remember, it always sounded like “The dirty cur.”

  • http://www.shebloggedbynight.com Stacia

    C Stulz, if you have digital cable “On Demand”, the documentary is available for viewing whenever you want until the end of the month.

  • http://twitter.com/Raaawb Raaawb

    Oh Jerry, how could you miss this? ANY word starting with an “F” would be illogical if you review how Bosko’s mouth is animated. And in those days, it seems the tendency was to even exaggerate the movement of a character’s mouth to really highlight their pronunciation.

    The animation of a word starting with an “F” would show the bottom lip touching the bottom of the upper teeth. A word starting with a “P” would show both lips touching clean together — as Bosko’s mouth does here. For comparison, look at him saying “That’s all, Folks!” at the end of a cartoon.

    He’s definitely saying “punk.”