A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

Who were the Goops?

January 21, 2000

Dear Straight Dope:

Only you can help me, Cecil (and company)!

When I was young I remember a book about manners, or more specifically about kids with bad manners called the Goops. The Goops had no manners to speak of, ate with no utensils, spilled and did not clean up. Clearly, they did not attend White Gloves and Party Manners etiquette classes. But no one else in creation seems to have ever heard of this book, and I feel like an utter nutball at this point. Please help me!

Amy, when it comes to Goops, I'd rather see than be one.

Gelett Burgess, famous for his "Purple Cow" poem, is also the creator of those vulgar and unmannered Goops. The most likely reason your friends never heard of Burgess is that The Goops was published in 1900. An excerpt:

The Goops they lick their fingers,
And the Goops they lick their knives;
They spill their broth on the tablecloth --
Oh, they lead disgusting lives!

The Goops they talk while eating,
And loud and fast they chew;
And that is why I'm glad that I
Am not a Goop -- Are you?

The Goops are gluttonous and rude,
They gug and gumble with their food;
They throw their crumbs upon the floor,
And at dessert they tease for more.

They will not eat their soup and bread
but like to gobble sweets, instead,
And this is why I oft decline,
When I am asked to stay and dine!"

Born in Boston, Frank Gelett Burgess (1866-1951) was a drafting professor at the University of California at Berkeley and an editor for The Lark, a tiny San Francisco literary magazine. It was during his time at The Lark (1895-1897) that he wrote and published "The Purple Cow."

Burgess and his fellow writers, who called themselves Les Jeunes (loosely translated as The Young Rowdies), once pulled a nasty prank on a local bigwig named Cogswell. A noted teetotaller, Cogswell had given the City of San Francisco several statues of himself holding a glass of water. A concealed pipe kept the glass filled. Burgess and his confederates altered the pipes on one of these monuments in a way which no biographer has found fit to describe. But enough of such piddling matters . . .

Burgess went on to write several books of humor including Goops and How to Be Them, Are You A Bromide? and An Alphabet of Famous Goops, "Which you'll Regard with Yells and Whoops. Futile Acumen! For you Yourselves are Doubtless Dupes Of Failings Such as Mar these Groups -- We all are Human!"  He's also credited with contributing several words to the English language, including "blurb."

But it was "The Purple Cow" which was Burgess' legacy and what he considered his biggest mistake. He despised the inevitable recitation which would follow when people found out he was the author.

In frustration, he finally composed a sequel.

Confession: and a Portrait, Too,
Upon a Background that I Rue!
Ah, Yes! I Wrote the "Purple Cow"--
I'm Sorry, now, I Wrote it!
But I can Tell you Anyhow,
I'll Kill you if you Quote it!"

I'd never quote a purple cow.
She's out to pasture, anyhow.

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