American slang defines the word “boner” as a trombonist or his instrument, the driver of the ice-resurfacing machine “Zamboni”, an erection, or a stupendous blunder or blooper. Sorry all you jazz, sports and porno fans, his article surrounds the use of the latter.
In 1931, The Viking Press and Alexander Abingdon, with the help of cartoonist Theodor Geisel — best known as “Dr. Seuss,” published a small little book called Boners, by Those Who Pulled Them. A compilation of humorous gaffs made by youngsters while writing school papers and taking tests. What I find most interesting about the collection is how most of the chosen phrases basically fall flat. Originally printed as a 103-paged first edition in February 1931, it was in its fourth printing one month later in March, and by year’s end, it was the fourth most popular non-fiction book of 1931! Now, our sense of humor and certainly our sense of edgy naughtiness is on such a different level that you barely crack a wry smile when reading the majority of the lines. Dr. Seuss’ cartoons are the only elements that give it whimsy and make it at all enjoyable.
Separate from his prolific run as a children’s book illustrator (which began with 1937’s And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street and ended with 1990’s Oh, The Places You’ll Go!), folks may not realize that Seuss had become well known by the 1930s and 1940s for illustrating advertising campaigns for companies like Flit (an insecticide) and Standard Oil. World War II saw him as an active participant on a variety of levels. He drew scads of political cartoons for the magazine PM and was commander of the Army’s Animation Department of the First Motion Picture Unit, where he worked on posters for the War Production Board and Treasury Department. Geisel also was an Academy Award winner for the documentary “Design For Death” (1947) and “Gerald McBoing-Boing” (1950).
Consider Boners as an early and interesting supplement to his marvelous inventory of work. . .
I’ve assembled a collection of ads that Geisel designed below to give you some feel for his advertising presence during the 1930s to 40s.
Here is my personal first edition copy of Green Eggs And Ham (1960), including its original dust jacket.
For more on Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, check out Dr. Seuss Goes To War by Richard H. Minear (1999; The New Press) and The Seuss, The Whole Seuss, And Nothing But The Seuss by Charles D. Cohen (2002; Random House).