Posts Tagged With: Smokey Bear

Smokey’s Middle Name

It's an old joke, popular with second-grade comedians. "What is Smokey the Bear's middle name?"

The answer, of course, (provided here for those of you who haven't had your coffee yet or who don't remember second grade) is "The."

Except, really, it isn't.

When I mentioned Smokey in a recent column, I lumped him in with other famous characters who were "the" something-or-other. Jack the Ripper. Attila the Hun. Alexander the Great. Technically, he doesn't belong in such company.

Because, technically, "the" is not part of his name. There is a serious difference of opinion on this issue. People who were children in the 50's and early 60's think of him as "Smokey the Bear." People who were children in the 70's know him as "Smokey Bear." People who were children in the 90's think of him as "Smokey who?"

The confusion over his middle name is all due to the song. You know what song—the one that just started up in your brain.

"Smokey the Bear, Smokey the Bear.
Prowlin' and a growlin' and a sniffin' the air.
He can find a fire before it starts to flame.
That's why they call him Smokey,
That was how he got his name."

And that's only the chorus. There are four long verses. If you care to read or hear them all, you can find the whole thing here.

You may not remember the words, but I bet you recognize the tune. And it was the tune that caused the whole "the" problem. When Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins wrote the song in 1952, they had to put "the" in there to make the rhythm come out right. You'll notice they also needed to stick in a few extra syllables like "a growlin'" and "a sniffin.'" Apparently they came up with the melody first and needed to perform some linguistic gymnastics to make the lyrics fit.

As a result, every kid familiar with the song came to know America's most famous fire-fighter as Smokey the Bear. Dell Comics called him that during the 1950's and 1960's. Some of the official posters from that era even did the same.

His real name, however, has always been simply Smokey Bear. This is according to the official Smokey website at If you'd like to see some truly scary fire-prevention posters from the 1940's, go to the site and check out the "Smokey's Journey" section.

But whether we call him "Smokey Bear" or "Smokey the Bear," we can agree on one thing: Only we can prevent forest fires.

Categories: Just For Fun, Remembering When, Words for Nerds | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Jessikimbrittifer Who?

It has come to my attention that I just might be a bit out of touch with popular culture. Or, as I prefer to think of it, that popular culture is out of touch with me.

The first clue was being with a group of young adults who didn't recognize the William Tell Overture by name. That part wasn't really so surprising—but what made me realize there just might be a culture gap was the fact that they didn't recognize it as the theme for The Lone Ranger.

My cultural frame of reference is narrow, out of the mainstream, and out of date—perhaps because so much of it is out of books. I grew up without television. Once, at a gathering where for some reason a group of people started singing the theme from "The Howdy Doody Show," I was the only one in the room who didn't know the words. As an adult, I've spent most of my life in a voluntary state of TV deprivation. I have never seen an episode of "Seinfeld," "The Simpsons," or "The Biggest Loser." Or "Dallas," for that matter.

Maybe that's why I don't recognize all the celebrities who feature, by first names only, in the headlines of tabloids and People magazines at the supermarket checkout stand. Who are all these people? Okay, even I have heard of Angelina and Brad and a few of the others. But the various interchangeable Jessicas, Jennifers, Brittanys, and Kims seem to have escaped my cable TV-less notice. The magazines who refer to them so casually seem to assume I ought to know. Even worse, they seem to assume I ought to care.

Once upon a time, in order to be known by only one name someone had to be really famous. Not to mention, quite often, dead. Like Plato, or Socrates, or Aristotle. Frequently they had a title or at least a clarifying description attached. Like Alexander, Peter, Catherine and all those other "the Greats." Or Attila the Hun. Jack the Ripper. Smokey the Bear.

Even Elvis, by the time he needed only one name, was "the King." Lassie, on the other hand, needed no descriptor.

Then came Cher, who dropped her last name about the same time she dropped Sonny. And Madonna. Oprah, of course. Elton John uses two names, but that doesn't count because they both sound like first names anyway.

But now it seems to take less and less fame to become a one-name celebrity. One quick scandal, a tell-all book, or a season or two on a cable channel, and there people are in the tabloids, first names only, as if we run into them every week at the grocery store. Which, come to think of it, I guess we do.

Maybe it's because fame comes and goes so quickly that we don't have time to learn their last names. Or maybe it just saves room in the tabloid headlines and takes fewer characters on Twitter.

Categories: Just For Fun | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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