The Press: I Say It's Spinach

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Couldn't you let that skirt down a little, Mary Louise? It's only an inch below your garters.

For heaven's sake, mother! Do you want me to look like a monk?

Such captions would look long-winded in today's New Yorker, but they were standard for its first jokes in 1925. Then Editor Harold Ross learned to trim the words and let the picture do its share. His one-line caption cartoons have set the style of U.S. humor in the last two decades. This week, in The New Yorker Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Album, the magazine took a lingering backward glance at the fun it has had with the nation's manners & morals, from the speakeasy era to the atomic age. It also sketches the line U.S. humor has taken, from Peter Arno's old-maidish "whoops" girls of the '20s ("I'm gonna show me profile, dearie!" "Profile? Whoops! I ain't even takin' me coat off"), close kin to the charwomen of London's Punch, to the ghoulish gaiety of Charles Addams. Many a New Yorkerism (e.g., Cartoonist Carl Rose's "I say it's spinach, and I say the hell with it") has become a part of the language. The Album proves that, when told right, there is no such thing as a stale joke.