Say what? Dr. Seuss illustrated a book of boners? That’s right — Dr. Seuss, early in his career, illustrated a book of boners. (Hey — you have to break into the business somehow.) But wait — before your prurient mind races along too far down one path amidst muffled chuckles, let’s clarify what a boner is in the context of the mid 1900s. To a lexicographer, or an epeolatrist (a fancy word for word lover or word enthusiast), a boner is a stupid or silly mistake that is amusing (today, they are referred to as “bloopers” or simply “dumbass mistakes”). Secondarily, the definition is that other thing you first thought of. Insert blushing emoji here.
Returning to the first definition, boners especially when read out loud are as Southerners say “dang funny!” And that’s what prompted Alexander Abingdon in 1931 to publish a collection of funny boners in a little book, titled appropriately Boners, illustrated by Dr. Seuss for Viking Press. The subtitle of the book read: “Being a collection of schoolboy wisdom, or knowledge as it is sometimes written, compiled from classroom and examination papers.” Alrighty, then.
The book was an instant bestseller, rising quickly to the top of the publishing charts. Clearly, the public was eager for more boners. Abingdon was pumped — he didn’t have to work too long and hard to extend that first collection of boners. He simply went around a school, from teacher to teacher, asking: “If I show you mine, will you show me yours?” Accordingly, Viking Press obliged by disseminating several sequels: More Boners and Still More Boners were published in 1931; Prize Boners for 1932 was published in 1932; Bigger & Better Boners, illustrated by George Maas, was published in 1952. It if weren’t exhausting enough to read all those boner books back to back, Blue Ribbon Books of New York published The Omnibus Boners in 1931, 1940, and 1942. Basta with the boners!
But that wasn’t the end of boners. More than six decades later, Viking Press published a newly redesigned and retitled version of the original Boners. But this time, the editors had a bone to pick with the title. They sensed that the cultural shifts since the 1930 had ushered in more political-correct, priggish, and rigid sensibilities. Thus, the public would not stand for such a salacious title, especially one illustrated by Dr. Seuss that might confuse children and adolescents (“how is it possible that the pen that drew Cindy Lou Who, Horton, or the Cat in the Hat, also drew a boner?” Yikes!). Fortunately, the esteemed editors had the good sense to publish it with the following innocuous — and less ambiguous — title: Herrings Go About the Sea in Shawls. And to be crystal clear, they added the subtitle: “…and other classic howlers from classrooms and examination papers compiled by Alexander Abingdon.”
Here are some samplings from the original Boners. To borrow a phrase from Sean Spicer, former beleaguered White House press secretary, “You can’t make this shit up”:
Shakespeare wrote tragedies, comedies, and errors.
Epics describe the brave deeds of men called epicures.
Homer wrote the Oddity.
In conclusion we may say that Shylock was greedy, malicious, and indeed, entirely viscous.
Cassius was a vile selfish man who was always doing his best to make his own ends meet.
An epitaph is a short sarcastic poem.
In Christianity a man can only have one wife. This is called Monotony.
Solomon had 300 wives and 700 porcupines.
The inhabitants of Moscow are called Mosquitoes.
The chief occupation of the inhabitants of Perth is dying.
Water is composed of two gins. Oxygin and Hydrogin. Oxygin is pure gin, Hydrogin is gin and water.
Read related posts: Bloopers in English: Signs
Bloopers in English: Excuse Notes Written to Teachers
What Rhymes with Orange?
The Most Mispronounced Words
Words with Letters in Alphabetical Order
Difficult Tongue Twisters
Word Oddities: Fun with Vowels
100 Words Almost Everyone Mispronounces
The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations
For further reading: Herrings Go About the Sea in Shawls by Alexander Abingdon
The Revenge of Anguished English: More Accidental Assaults Upon Our Language by Richard Lederer