Pleased as a Psychopathic Child’s Puppet

Hello Bologna readers. I hope you all had a great weekend. Here’s something to start your week off.

Pleased as Punch: when you hear it, it sounds like an expression that’s a little old fashioned, like “cool beans,” “that’s the ticket,” or some other phrase from the 1930s & 1940s. In reality, the saying, which is another way of describing how pleased you are, dates much further back than that.

In the 1500s, there was no TV, no radio & there were no movies. On top of the this, many people were illiterate, so entertainment had to be found in other things. Children, in particular, found much of their fun in puppet shows. The phrase “Pleased as Punch” has a history that goes back to one of these shows, which began in Italy as a marionette show. The original star was a character named Pulcinella. Always shown wearing a black mask, he was mean & conniving, often pretending to be stupid & inept to weasel his way into things. This proved to be extremely popular with children & it soon spread across Europe & into England, where the character’s name became Punchinello. In time, the character, Joan, was added as Punchinello’s wife & the comedy took off.


The Italian Pulcinella, complete with black face mask. (Image in public domain)

Eventually, this transformed into an even more popular puppet show called Punch & Judy, & it quickly became a part of the youth culture in seaside towns. You can still catch performances in these villages today.

The show features an ugly, red-nosed puppet named Mr. Punch. He is joined by his wife, Judy, who usually doesn’t stick around for long. The scenes are quick & they change from show to show, constantly keeping children supplied with new stories.

There usually isn’t much of a story arc, which is an intentional tactic to allow people walking down the street to join & leave mid-show. Most of the stories focus on Punch, with his wife, Judy, playing a secondary role. A typical show usually starts with Judy asking Punch to look after their baby, a job at which Punch is terrible. Judy arrives later & in finding out the Punch has screwed up, gets very angry. Upon hearing the commotion, a police officer arrives, the plot becomes extremely open ended, & then everything just goes nuts.

Various caracters from Punch & Judy, including Punch, the baby, the Policeman & the clown (Image released into public domain by Immanuel Giel)

Various caracters from Punch & Judy, including Punch, the baby, the Policeman & the clown
(Image released into public domain by Immanuel Giel)

The reason Judy doesn’t stay in the show for long is because Punch is a hilariously sociopathic killer, who takes great pleasure unleashing his endless supply of serial-killing on people with a giant wooden stick called, you guessed it, a slapstick. Judy & the baby are, more often than not, the first to go. After each kill, Punch becomes delighted & very happy with himself, exclaiming in his high-pitched voice, “That’s the way to do it!”

You can watch a performance of Punch & Judy here.

So as it turns out, every time you say you’re pleased as Punch, you’re not referring to that fizzy, sometimes-alcoholic fruit drink you find at a party; you’re actually saying that you’re as happy as a sociopathic, baseball bat-wielding murder-puppet would be, after a fresh kill.

Now you know; you’re welcome.


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Filed under Etymology

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