A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

What's the origin of "notary sojac"?

April 3, 2001

Dear Straight Dope:

You've told us about "lorem ipsum" and "Kilroy was here." So what's the straight dope on another ubiquitous jabberwock, "notary sojac"?

"Notary sojac," like the Bible Code and most Republican dogma, has no meaning. The words were just a nonsense couplet thought up by artist Bill Holman and used at random times in his cartoon "Smokey Stover." But, again like the Bible Code, etc., it's survived longer than a lot of other things that made more sense.

"Smokey Stover" was probably the most screwball comic strip ever published. It was begun in 1935 and distributed by the Chicago Tribune/New York Daily News Syndicate. The cartoon was famous for putting little sight gags and puns in almost every frame, including the words "foo", "1506 Nix Nix" and the aforementioned "notary sojac," all of which Holman refused to explain.

Actually, Holman is better remembered for "foo." Stover drove a truck called the "Foomobile" and the word was later picked up and used by Bob Clampett in some of his cartoon work for Warner Brothers. There is some evidence that the phrase "foo-fighters," in reference to pilots investigating alleged UFOs during World War II, can be traced back to Stover. It may have also influenced the formation of the military acronymn "fubar" (fucked up beyond all recognition). Back in DOS shareware days, old fogeys may remember, "foo" and "bar" were often the default variables used by developers to illustrate how you'd insert an argument into command line input. 

Holman finally retired in 1973 and, going against the grain of letting another artist take over his work, retired the strip as well. He died in 1987. No one could have done it better anyway.

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