Friday, January 22, 2016


Jack Straw
- Century Dictionary & Encyclopedia, 1911 ed.


Spider Jim King said...

Is 'spillikin' in any way related to "Billiken?"
Of course it's not, but I like the sounds-alike connotation.

I once found a thin brass disc while metal-detecting the old house site on the side of Loop 630 near the Marshall Street exit. Nearly paper-thin, it features an evil-looking baby with a wicked cowlick sitting and grinning devilishly. The only word on the two-inch disc was "BILLIKEN." For years I wondered what it meant, for you see, this was in the Dark Ages before Google.

While on one of my central Texas music-playing women-hunting adventures in the mid oughts, I wandered through a wonderfully strange antique store in a nameless East Texas town, and surprisingly found two small plaster figurines with the same evil expression, baby motif, and horrible cowlick. Both are sitting on porcelain utensils, one with a look of ultimate peace and contentment, the other with a face full of strain and discomfort. The first is entitled "BILLY CAN" and the second, "BILLY CAN"T." Leaving the scatological meaning aside, I immediately bought both of them for an astronomical price.

At Thanksgiving dinner a few days later, I was trading inanities with Howard the Duck's family in Austin, when I drew my finds forth. Howard's father Davis saw the figurines, heard my story and told me all about them as I sat there slack-jawed. It turns out that they, as well as the strange evil-looking baby disc I found at the 630 site, were all based on the "Billiken Baby," sometimes only referred to as "Billiken." This strange looking kewpie doll on the devil's steroids is apparently a mascot and semi-fixture at Washington University in Saint Louis, Missouri.
"Hunh." I said upon hearing the news. "That's where my nephew went to school.
If I'd have known, I would have just call Nick and axed him."
Strange how things happen.

Not that th9s has a jot of bearing on your post.

Jay King said...

It's about the same age as the Kewpie doll and was a charm doll before it was a mascot. (You don't an ivory one, do you?) The billikin wiki (wiki billikin may work better) has some other interesting things to say about your weird kid. I like this line: "The Billiken sprang from the height of the "Mind-Cure" craze in the United States at the start of the twentieth century. It represented the "no worry" ideal, and was a huge hit." Makes it sound like the billikin was the grandparent of Alfred E. Neumann.

The word spillikin apparently has no connection. It meant the same thing as the game jackstraws, which you spilled out to begin. At least, I think that's how the word was derived. I may have dreamed the whole thing. (The billikin came from a dream, too.)

Spider Jim King said...

The billikin came from a dream? How interesting. You'll have to tell me about it in another venue. Thanks for the one-up on its history. I'll try to find the drawing I did of the partially-deteriorated disc I found on 7th Street and send it to you. It's definitely NOT Al Neumann. It looks like it would like to enter through your anus and exit through your brain, chomping and masticating as it travels through you. Not pretty.

Mind cure? No worry?

Hmmmn. Sounds like some potential presidential candidates of which I know. Most, in fact.

But what the hell was the origin of the word?

Jay King said...

Word origin for billikin: Named for Bill King.