Garry and I were watching “Oklahoma,” the 1955 musical Saturday night. I grew up with this album playing and it’s embedded in my psyche. I think my mother wore out the grooves on one LP and bought another to replace it. I know every word to every song in the movie.

When the movie ended, I commented to Garry that it was a song from this movie — “Give me all or give me nothin'” — from which I discovered the meaning of the expression “spittin’ image.” I heard it and I remember asking: “Mom, what’s a spittin’ image?”

Then I remembered another word I learned from a song. It was a verse from the 1920s “Barney Google” song where they talked about a dog who could stand on his hind legs if you held his forelegs up.” I was probably in first grade or maybe kindergarten and that didn’t make any sense. So I asked Mom how a dog could stand at all if you held all four legs up? My mother had to explain that it wasn’t the number four, but the word “fore” — as in forward. If you held his front legs up, he could stand on is hind legs.

I hadn’t yet learned to read, so until I could look it up, I just had to take her word for it. I must have been a real pain asking endless questions. All this made me remember how, a couple of years ago, I did a teeny bit of research to see if by any chance, Google got its name from “Barney Google.” It rang a bell because I remembered back when Google began, its motto showed two googly eyes in the double “O” of its name.

That seemed too coincidental to be a coincidence.

How did Google get its name?

My mother sang the Barney Google song a lot. It has a lot of verses and I think she knew all of them. It may have been the only song she sang for which she used the right words. Ask any member of my family and they will tell you — my mother never ever remembered the words to any song.

Except Barney Google.

She would sing words from other songs to whatever melody was bouncing around in her head, but she knew all the words to this one. It’s such an earworm, once you listen to it, it just sort of sits in your head and spins around and around and around.

To complete your earworm of the day, here’s that song again, but this time, you get to hear it and see the cartoon pictures! Also, you can hear a bunch more verses.

(Barney’s horse was named “Spark Plug.” You can’t quite hear it clearly on these two sound tracks.)

Google’s explanation of how they got their name (obscure, to say the least) versus the probability that that they took the name from what was, for many years, America’s favorite comic strip? What do you think? I’m betting on Barney Google with the goo-goo-googly eyes!

And now, for the cartoon heads in my vast audience, a brief explanation of this type of cartoon and what it meant in America in the 1920s and beyond.

Barney Google & cartoon history

I’ve often talked about my fascination with history because everything and everyone are part of history. We each have a personal history, a family history. Our histories fit into wider and longer histories. Your town, your nation, your religion.

History isn’t a “subject.” History is the story of what happened, sometimes told accurately, but more often is a little truth wound up in a lot of lies. Anything and everything has history. You, me, and even Google. History is what makes time travel fascinating. It’s not the science but that time travel puts you into another time so you can experience “then” as if it were “now.”

This is history. It’s not American, world, or medieval history. It’s just a wee bit of history about a big corporation that started not all that long ago and grew from do-good company to seeing how much money it can extract from everyone in the world.

There’s history here. I think this history begins with a big-footed cartoon character called “Barney Google.”

Categories: Cartoons, Humor, lyrics, Marilyn Armstrong, Music

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

27 replies

  1. I have heard of Barney Google, but it was not part of my childhood at all (Snuffy Smith was, but Barney was not part of it by then and I never heard the song until very recent). “Googolplex” was part of my childhood and I always thought Google got the name from googolplex, which I always called “a google”. And, yes, I used the term all of the time. Some people would say “a gajillion” when they were talking impossibly big, I always said “a google” because it actually is a real number. To me the cartoon is super obscure and the number an every day word.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Actually, just finished listening, and I don’t think I ever sat down and listened, though I think it has been posted on your blog (and others) before.

      Liked by 1 person

      • My mother was a child in the 1920s. Born in 1910, this was the music with which she grew up. She had a really good memory for history. I learned a lot from her that didn’t appear in history books until very recently. Her tales of living through the Depression, WWI and II, and the FDR years got me stuck on history. I don’t know how she knew as much as she did, but she knew a lot of stuff that was essentially secret. She has been gone for more than 30 years. I wish I could ask not only what she knew, but HOW.

        Liked by 3 people

        • I think you’ve mentioned some of that about your mother before. It is pretty amazing. My parents were born in the 30s and children of the 40s and early 50s. I did get some history (no hidden history, except that rural America was a third world country in the 30s and early 40s). As to “google” as a number, that was part of nerd-culture in the late 70s through mid-80s as much as Monty Python, Lord of the Rings and saying “grock” instead of “understand” were.

          Liked by 1 person

          • My dog has googly eyes. We shoulda named him Barney. Drat.

            My suspicion has always been that Google took its name from the cartoon simply because it was around for such a long time and was extremely popular with people who were mature at the time Google was built. Also, Google’s early graphic has two “googly” eyes in the double “O” of its name.

            The stuff from the 70s and 80s has been mostly forgotten. No one reads history. No one remembers. Does anyone remember the 2010s much less the 1990s? To me, they were a few days ago, but now everyone considers them “historic” — as in ancient.

            We keep making our timelines shorter. Eventually, we’ll be like our dogs, knowing what’s happening now with no memory of a past or vision of a future.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Back in the late 90s when all of today’s big Internet companies were still startups, most of the engineers working on them were the same nerds I went to school with, so much of the late 90s Internet/.com bubble seemed to be aimed exactly at me since it was that same culture I knew at school…. Of course, those days are long gone and, as you said, people don’t seem to remember back more than a handful of years, if that, so.
              Yeah, missed opportunity with the googly eyed dog not being Barney. Oh well.


              • If I could write fiction (I can’t) I’d write a story about our short memories, how we intentionally eliminated history and the past, then stopped thinking about the future and eventually lost the ability to remember OR look ahead. Sadly, I am not a fiction writer. I always wanted to be but didn’t get that gift.

                Liked by 1 person

          • My parents were both born in 1922. Dad saw Service in France and Germany as a Royal Engineer while mom was a nurse in London. They spoke of the funny and interesting things but would not speak of the horror. I was born in 1954 into a Britain still semi rationed. We were taught to hate Germans and Catho

            Liked by 1 person

          • I had a reply to for you that just got snatched into the ether.
            Parents born 1922
            Both saw war service
            Would only speak of the funny things never the bad.
            I was born in 54 after they had enough money for a Morgage.
            They were 32 when they married.

            Liked by 1 person

        • This is great, Marilyn. It started with our watching “Oklahoma” last night and me having “Oh, What A Beautiful Morning” winding and rewinding through my head – even as I write this.

          I really like your line – “History is not a SUBJECT, it is the story of what happened”. Darn, if we had approached history that way in school, many of us would’ve appreciated learning the accounts of what happened in our cumulative past. We used to be hammered with dates, places and people but never any stories about the times that connected all these things. That’s what makes history a living, breathing thing instead of bland facts that lull people, young and old, into a deep sleep.

          Barney Google for President in ’24!


  2. “History isn’t a “subject.” History is the story of what happened, sometimes told accurately, but more often is a little truth wound up in a lot of lies.”
    Couldn’t agree more,it varies with the teller,is invented. Denied, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Our history is more accurate now because we have video, but pretty much everything older was written by whoever won the war. It doesn’t mean it’s completely wrong. That’s the problem. Some of it IS true. Figuring out which parts are true and which are not can be a lifetime of work.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Andrew, I just borrowed that from Marilyn and you.

      I tried this tact not long ago as a sub teacher in our local high school. The students loved it but the school hierarchy chastised me for messing with their curriculum. History is still a dead subject for those who supposedly teach it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Now that is an earworm. Thank You for bringing it to my own ears. Funny it is the only song Your mother knew the complete words to. A sweet way to wake up and a lovely memory.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This got published by accident. I wasn’t finished with it, but it was going up anyway. Yes, it was odd that this one stuck. What’s even funnier is that 70 years later, I remember it as clearly as if I just heard it. Oh, wait, I DID just hear it!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Fortuitous accident.
        I studied Modern History in Australia and Ancient history in England.
        I came to Australia in 1966. A child who suddenly realised that not everyone was enamoured of England.
        They call us Pome,pronouced Pommie and meaning PRISONER OF MOTHER ENGLAND. I couldn’t work that one out.
        In the small township where we grew up we were the only Emigrants and I really had a hard time until I joined the Baptist Youth Group. Sorry well this is history too ,from my point of view.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I think the English are still convinced they “carried the White man’s burden” to illuminate the rest of the world. So many of the racist assumption we are stuck with now came from England. They didn’t do NO good at all, but they did a lot of really bad stuff and have yet to admit to it. I doubt they ever will. Many countries have never confronted the evil stuff they did in the past. There ARE records. Buried. In vaults.

          Liked by 2 people

          • I do agree,sometimes I am ashamed to be British or English because we do seem to leave carnage everywhere we go_ went. An unfortunate aspect is the beliefs held at the time that it was right.

            Of course then there are the Spanish and Portuguese, Dutch and, yes, even Americans.

            Liked by 1 person

    • Tazzie, Oh, what a beautiful morning – oh, what a beautiful day!

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