It’s crackers to slip a rozzer the dropsy in snide.Posted: August 29, 2011
“For the smarter kids of two generations, Mad was a revelation: it was the first to tell us that the toys we were being sold were garbage, our teachers were phonies, our leaders were fools, our religious counselors were hypocrites, and even our parents were lying to us about damn near everything. An entire generation had (publisher) William Gaines for a godfather: this same generation later went on to give us the sexual revolution, the environmental movement, the peace movement, greater freedom in artistic expression, and a host of other goodies. Coincidence? You be the judge.” – Brian Siano, The Humanist magazine, 1994
I was reading when I was four, before starting kindergarten. I was looking at the page of a newspaper one day when something clicked; all the lines and circles and squiggles suddenly made sense to me as letters and words. So I was reading very early, but not with discernment. Not with objectivity. Some would say that I still don’t.
My uncle Howie lived with my grandparents in a little house in Barnum, MN. Howie, being a teenager in the 50s, read Mad magazine. They were usually left in Grandma’s living room, an attractive nuisance for a precocious four-year-old who suddenly had gained the magical gift of reading. But: no discernment, no objectivity, no filter, no concept of parody or irony.As a result, everything I read in Mad I took at absolute face value and absorbed everything written there. Eventually my mom demanded that her kid brother hide them when we came to visit. Before that happened, however, I discovered this phrase:
“It’s crackers to slip a rozzer the dropsy in snide.”
It was a nonsense phrase that one of the Mad writers discovered in an Australian gumshoe novel. Margery Allingham wrote a series of books featuring detective Albert Campion. His trusty sidekick was Magersfontein Lugg, who originated the phrase in the novel The Fashion in Shrouds. The sentence means, “It’s insane to try and bribe a policeman with fake money.” But no one knew that.
Gaines loved it and saw to it that it was peppered throughout each issue, generally apropos of nothing. When a reader’s letter begged Mad to explain it, the editor helpfully replied: “‘It’s crackers to slip a rozzer the dropsy in snide’ is good advice.”
The phrase “went viral” in the late 50s, like so many other bits of Mad-ness. It was carved on park picnic tables, scrawled on bathroom walls, and written in on the margins of school textbooks. Smartass adolescents would say it when there was nothing else to say:
Teacher: “Billy, why didn’t you finish your homework?”
Billy: “It’s crackers to slip a rozzer the dropsy in snide.”
Father: “I thought I told you to mow the lawn!”
Howie: “It’s crackers to slip a rozzer the dropsy in snide.”
Parent: “Can I count on you to have my daughter home by 11?”
Scotty: “It’s crackers to slip a rozzer the dropsy in snide.”
Bart Simpson would have loved it.
Fifty years after Mad originated it, and some forty-seven years after my uncle was ordered to hide it from me, I introduced my ten year-old nephew to this subversive phrase. He was instantly delighted and put it to immediate use when his mother told him to clean his room. And so the circle of life begins anew. Did I do him an unwitting disservice? Will he use it to sow discontent and foment dissent? Perhaps. But on the other hand, it’s crackers to slip a rozzer the dropsy in snide.