We have dealt, in this space, with certain animals and their roles in postcard cartoons. We have considered dogs and their job chasing suspicious characters, as well as for their enthusiastic urination habits, each heavily covered by our cartoonists. Cats, we have seen, spend a lot of time yowling on back fences. One day, we will consider camels (long before Hump Day, they were best known for not drinking), mice (their apparent goal in life was to scare women with long skirts), and elephants (always, always forgetting things, at least on postcards.) We have also considered the donkey, one of whose leading purposes on postcards was to make it possible for the cartoonist to make ass jokes.
We are venturing into donkey territory again, but with another denizen of the barnyard. The neighborhood bull was, in postcard humor of the early century, used mainly as a stand-in for the bulldog. It chased people, frequently people who had done nothing to deserve it. But as the century moved on, the bull, without abandoning that pursuit, was now used to symbolize a word only half of which was “bull”.
I have not checked the Interwebs to find out when “bull” became a substitute for the full word. But it was certainly well known enough by midcentury to provide the gag for such genial postcards as the one at the top of this column as well as the one that follows, which provide cows as explanations of the joke.
It became a common enough gag in short order, so that cartoonists had to start tossing in a second joke to satisfy their own self-respect.
In this one, the second joke comes first, and is derived from the way cows go…oh, you got that one all by yourself.
Other cartoonists avoided the “No Bull” joke, and actually put the bull on the postcard, which, of course, is the reason for this blog in the first place. (We could have done a whole blog on the principle that a cow is not a bull, but this seems a little thin, even for me. There are those who will insist that a bull is not a cow, either, but this seems not to be true. Cattle producers I have encountered seem to use the word “cattle” mainly in a business sense, and when dealing with the actual animals, tend to say “cows”, even when speaking of the male version. One could pursue this phenomenon through our lingo, and bring in the term “cowboys”—there don’t seem to be “bullboys” though there are “bully boys” in certain parts of the world. And then the word “cowgirls” becomes…where were we?)
Sometimes the use of the word was a simple family matter, with Mom, Dad, and Junior acting out the gag,, and no humans involved.
It was rather nice of some of these postcard artists to warn the recipient of the card what to expect.
Here we have a cowboy using the word as a general philosophy of life. (This is the oldest card I have to use the joke, and dates to 1913, if you’re studying the use of “bull” as shorthand.)
This, on the other hand, is the card which eases up closest to the actual phraseology, and comes from roughly forty years later. (Listen to the bunny.)
And here I believe we should halt, as we have spent enough time on this particular joke.