Allan Holtz posts a comic strip by the great Herriman and says:

July 12 1909 — The Elks are in town for a convention, and the LA newspapers always blow out all the stops in welcome. Herriman contributes a page-long cartoon to commemorate their shenanigans.

Herriman has several times now used the term “appajava”, this time in relation to fiery Mexican food. I assume this is a corruption of a Spanish term, but can’t think of what it would be. Ideas?

Another example is in this cartoon from the previous day: a baseball player thinks “I just feel that I’m about to make a play that’ll make Dillon and Chase look like a couple of raw appajavas.” (No appajavas involved, but I can’t resist mentioning the “No-Hat Club” cited in this post. What a terrible idea!) I think there are no grounds to assume a corruption of a Spanish term just because in one strip it’s applied to Mexican food; it doesn’t sound Spanish, and the baseball strip has no relation to anything south of the border. (A commenter suggests it “might be a humorous corruption of the word ’empanada,'” which seems very unlikely.) It may well just be a word Herriman made up and thought sounded funny enough to use, but I’m putting it out there in case anybody knows anything or has any ideas about it. Thanks, Yoram!


  1. In 1908 Herriman used appajara in a strip, which at least looks more Spanish. Italian appajava is a spelling variant of appaiava, the 3sg imperfect of appaiare ‘match, pair’ (v.)

  2. In 1908 Herriman used appajara in a strip.

    Do you have the date or a link? And how on earth did you remember that?

  3. Say Hat, do you follow ?
    It’s quite the wild ride. I suggest scrolling back a little.

  4. And how on earth did you remember that?

    I second that interrogation.

    Say Hat, do you follow ?

    I can’t say I follow it, but I posted about it.

  5. My first thought on that is “the NYT makes a lot of typos”.

  6. Herriman’s biographer is here on Twitter asking what “Appajara” might mean after Herriman appears to describe a favourite Los Angeles Mexican restaurant, presumably the same one appearing in the comic strip, as an “Appajara emporium” in 1908. The replies don’t solve the mystery but do identify the restaurant.

  7. Nice find! And it certainly suggests that the word, whether with -r- or -v-, is connected with things Mexican. Still doesn’t sound Spanish to me, though.

  8. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    In 1908 Herriman used appajara in a strip, which at least looks more Spanish.

    Not with -pp- in it it doesn’t.

  9. Charles Perry says

    On the Spanish v. Mexican issue, you have to remember that what we would call Mexican food was known as Spanish food in Los Angeles down to the 1940s. It was cooked by descendants of old California families who called themselves “Californios” when speaking Spanish, but to avoid confusion they called (and by the way still tend to call) themselves “Spanish” when speaking English.

  10. I did a Google Images search for “appajava”, which led to this tweet by Michel Tisserand. But I was slightly wrong: it was a letter, not a script.

  11. Related to “pajara”, perhaps?

  12. Lars (the original one) says

    From the way Appajara is capitalized in that newspaper quote, it could be a place name. There is an Ismael Ramirez on North Broadway, but is he the real Tony? If not, where was his restaurant at?

    But if it’s a place, then Herriman wouldn’t use it for a kind of food. I guess.

  13. There’s a race horse named Apajava, foaled by Apalachee Honey of Java Gold, but that has nothing to do with it.

  14. Charles Perry says

    Later, the Spanish Kitchen (owned by the family of one of the best-known barbacoa chefs in LA in the early 20th century) was famous as a landmark that remained closed for decades.

  15. The letter is quoted on p. 111 in “Krazy” by Michael Tisserand (possibly unauthorized copy), and further text uses the word again, indicating that it is a food item:

    A few weeks ago Tony Ramirez fell for “Art.” One Michael Angelo Gonzalez blew along two days shy of a meal and traded his “Art” for a bowl of beans, and thus was life sustained and “art” prolonged.
    The frijoles continued to come regular, and now the Mexican Rembrandt has festooned Tony’s Appajara emporium with artistic gems depicting the life Mexicana in all its colorful reality.
    But the soul of Tony lusted for other muses to conquer, and he wasn’t slow in the act, either, for last evening the word was given out that Tony had burst into the rapturous depths of melody and now the strains of La Paloma mixed in with a decided odor of chili con carne waffling its way down upper Broadway in such a gay and festive manner as to thoroughly mesmerize your olfactory sense and get a half nelson on your appetite and lead you in delirious joy to mingle with Tony’s Bohemian clientele. . . .
    What may be expected next from maestro Tony Ysmile Ramirez is not difficult to conceive, but let us hope he will not lose his “art” of dishing out an appajara or a Yaqui sandwich in the pursuit of his muses.

  16. Could the very un-Spanish-looking double P be a concession to English spelling/pronunciation habits? Let us assume a Spanish original with initial /apa/: could the spelling APPA be meant to indicate initial /a/ (or schwa), as opposed to initial /ɛj/?

  17. Could the very un-Spanish-looking double P be a concession to English spelling/pronunciation habits?

    Sure, but with single or double p, it still doesn’t sound very Spanish. I’m leaning toward the idea that Herriman, who adored playing with language, just liked the sound of it — it has something of the pizzazz of “hellzapoppin” or “lollapalooza” — and started using it.

  18. Etienne, if someone was confused by the “apa”, how would they pronounce the “j”? Wouldn’t that need to be respelled too?

  19. fwiw google translate detects appajara as hindi for apple.

    On another note I wonder if the Yaqui sandwich was another standard dish of this restaurant and appajara is a Yaqui food word.

  20. Lars (the original one) says

    @Keith, thanks. The version of that letter in various Twitter threads cuts off after the second graf.

    WiPe has a Swadesh list for Yaqui, but impressionistically appajara doesn’t look like it belongs.

  21. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    Herriman’s biographer posts in his (unresolved) thread on this question a cartoon of Tony’s “Spanish” restaurant with the cash register labeled “kosh rejta.” He seems to use less extreme phonetic spellings with some regularity. So I suspect that appajava may fall into that category. However, if it’s anything as reduced as “rejta” for “register” I doubt I have any chance of figuring it out myself as a non-native speaker.

  22. I think you must be right, and his deformations are so deformed I’m not sure any of us have any chance of figuring it out without additional clues.

  23. Lars (the original one) says

    And it turns out that Herriman wrote that newspaper article himself, I was confused seeing a supposed ‘deformed’ spelling there…

    Tisserand’s biography is online.

  24. Vaguely related:
    Q: what do you call a Mexican tortilla dish that may or may not arrive on your plate?
    A: an inshallahda.

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