Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Nancy, champeen

[Nancy, May 8, 1950.]

In today’s yesterday’s Nancy, Nancy seeks employment advertising a “store.” The final panel (what Ernie Bushmiller called “the snapper”) reveals a pawnshop. Three bubbles, three balls. Memorable.

But what got me here is a word. Yesterday, grand. Today, champeen. The ghosts of my grandparents are speaking through Nancy.

I can find little background on champeen. Nothing in the OED, nothing in Webster’s Third, nothing in Green’s Dictionary of Slang. Eric Partridge’s Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English identifies champeen an Australian variant of champion, in use before 1915. The Champeen is the title of a 1923 Our Gang short. Did the word come back to the States with soldiers from the Great War? No. Looking in the New York Times via ProQuest, I found this bit in a column titled “Nuggets” (June 29, 1899):

The Pug — I know I ain’t been able to git a battle on fer eight months, but you bet I’ll be champeen yet.

The Backer — Yes, if this keeps up, you will be the champion long-wait fighter of the world.
An earlier article about a teachers’ strike refers to a children’s song, “The School’s Champeen” (December 22, 1892). And that’s as early as I can find in the Times

Google’s Ngram Viewer shows champeen first turning up in American English in 1886. All but one of the pre-1892 appearances of champeen in Google Books have it as a variant of champagne or as a surname. The exception: an 1889 appearance in a grotesque parody of African-American speech: “de champeen livin’ skellington in de kentry.”

Long story short: champeen was in use in the States well before 1915. You’d have to be a champeen searcher to come up with more than that.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

comments: 2

Pete said...

Google’s ngram has it first published appearance in 1901, by the estimable Finley Peter Dunne. And Dunne wrote mostly in Chicago-Irish dialect, so the term might be even older than that.

Michael Leddy said...

I wondered about an Irish connection with the -een.

Strange that the link from the Ngram Viewer doesn’t show anything earlier. The word does have earlier appearances in Google Books (as in the grotesque book I quoted from). Also something from 1895 that sounds like a white rustic: “my repetation as th’ champeen checkerd player.”

I never noticed that the Ngram Viewer has links to Google Books — thanks for that.