Kilroy and Mr. Chad.

Dave Wilton has a thorough and fascinating discussion of the familiar WWII-era “Kilroy was here” and the completely unknown (to this Yank) Mr. Chad, whose face peering over a wall has long been associated with Kilroy. An excerpt on the former:

The phrase probably originated c. 1943 by some anonymous serviceman, but the earliest use in print that I have found is from the Seattle Times of 29 July 1945:

The most notorious character at Fort Lawton these days is a soldier—(or something)—named Kilroy—who isn’t there.

The one-time existence of Kilroy, who has been described as everything from an infantry private, first-class, to a white rat, is resumed from numberless chalked signs, scattered about the fort, which read:
“Kilroy slept here.”
“Kilroy drove this truck.”
“Kilroy got clipped here.” At the barber shop) [sic]
“Kilroy got the needle here.” (At the medical processing center.)

And on Chad:

The drawing was created by British cartoonist and erstwhile drawing instructor Jack Greenall in the mid 1920s, early in his career when he was employed at a technical drawing school, as an exercise for his students in drawing simple forms. The figure first saw print when Greenall included the image in a Useless Eustace cartoon published in London’s Daily Mirror on 11 December 1937. The oft-included caption of “Wot! No ____?” would be added later, as commentary on wartime shortages.

Like Kilroy, the name Mr. Chad would not be documented in print until the very end of the war […]


  1. This Brit has known about Chad all his life. But I’ve never seen him referred to as Mr Chad before.

  2. David Eddyshaw says

    Mr Chad would be his father.

  3. Master Chad, then?

  4. David Eddyshaw says

    In these more enlightened days we should be open to the possibility of a Ms Chad, or indeed of a Chad who simply refuses to be drawn on the matter at all. That is their prerogative, and it is not for us to cavil.

  5. Wot? No gender?

  6. David Eddyshaw says

    Possibly Schrödinger gender. This is often the case with the more academic Chads (Dr Chad, Professor Chad.)

  7. The drawing resembles a bandpass filter–an inductor in parallel with a polarized capacitor, with series resistors on either side. Something that was pointed out by Thomas Pynchon, I believe in “Gravity’s Rainbow”.

  8. Michael Eochaidh says

    Kilroy and Mr. Chad seem to be making a comeback–at least in Toronto. I think I’ve mostly seen Mr. Chad but I have seen Kilroy graffiti as well.

    Although I also had never heard the Mr. Chad name before.

  9. @Michael Eochaidh: I must be missing something. How do you tell them apart?

  10. Michael Eochaidh says

    As I understand it from the article, the cartoon figure is Mr. Chad. As opposed to Kilroy himself, which is what I had previously assumed whenever I saw it.

    I suspect in modern usage (in North America, anyway) the cartoon figure is going to be called Kilroy.

  11. Yes, I certainly always thought of the cartoon figure as Kilroy. I had never heard of Chad.

  12. Wot? No knowledge o’ Chad?

  13. Andrew Dunbar says

    As an Aussie in his 50s I remember my grandfather who had been in WWII in the Pacific drawing this pretty often when I was a little kid, probably in the ’70s.

    I saw it again probably in the early ’80s drawn by somebody else with “Foo was here”. I didn’t come across the word “foo” in another context until I started learning C programming the early ’90s.

    Only in the last couple of years did I read of the Chad and Kilroy variants though actually Kilroy seems somehow familiar so I bet I heard of that one at some point and then forgot again.

  14. I knew the figure as a school doodle with a brick wall and no inscription. “[Foo] was here” with the inscriber’s name was an unrelated graffito. The name “Mr Chad” I have met once or twice in adulthood but could not have produced from memory. For me, “Wot no [Foo]” and “[Foo] woz ere” are Briticisms, “Kilroy was here” an Americanism.

  15. Mr Chad would be his father.

    Grandfather, even.

  16. A story by Rogel Angell (likely (?) the later-famous baseball writer, who was in the Army Air Forces), Brief […Pacific Ocean Areas] vol. 2, no. 30 (title page missing, but by sequence) page 18/1 [my elipses] [also in later issues of this title, including a letter to editor speculation, July 17 p. 2/3]:

    Who is Kilroy?
    Kilroy is the guy who just stepped out of the orderly room as you came in. Kilroy was in the latrine….latest AAF gag. …. [Kilroy 4x]… “Kilroy ditched here.” Kilroy will be here any day, but you won’t see him.

    Stephen Goranson

    PS On “in-print”:
    Robert Capa, Slightly Out of Focus (NY, 1947) page 210 reports seeing, near Christmastime 1944:

    On the black, charred walls of an abandoned farm [near Bastogne] scrawled in white chalk, was the legend of McAuliffe’s GI’s: KILROY WAS STUCK HERE.

  17. You’ve omitted the most important thing in the Angell citation — the year!

  18. Ah, Google Books shows it as June 26, 1945, so a slight antedate. Thanks!

  19. Oops. June 26, 1945. [I had the date in an email subject line elsewhere; hence the PS; antedate only in print?]
    Sgt. Roger Angell

  20. jack morava says

    @ maidhc:

    Props for the Pynchon citation; I don’t have a copy of Gravity’ Rainbow at hand to provide a precise reference. I remember it as a variation of the elementary RLC circuit that I think used to be in the Boy Scout Handbook, a standard example in the theory of 2nd order constant coefficient differential equations (ie behind the Herz spark gap oscillator).

    Pynchon is fulll of references (insightful IMO) to pretty subtle math/tech matters, eg IIRC analogies between LSD trips and Fourier analysis in the Crying of Lot 49.

  21. There’s no mention of “bandpass” or “inductor” in Gravity’s Rainbow; “capacitor” occurs several times on p. 301 and Kilroy on p. 27 (“eyes peeking Kilroy-style over their horizon”), but there is no connection between the two. Maybe it’s in another of his novels?

  22. J.W. Brewer says

    Pynchon started off in college as an engineering major before wandering off into more literary circles, so he had a more rigorous grasp of math/physics etc than the typical American novelist of his generation and when he used math/physics concepts as a basis for weird trippy metaphors he was thus reasonably likely to have gotten the underlying math/physics right.

  23. V “band-pass” image — with a “Kilroy” image on the previous page

  24. Great find! I really have to reread V.

  25. J.W. Brewer says

    I am struck at the top of that page by Pynchon’s use of the phrase “economic jihad.” Maybe other corpora would yield other results, but as far as the google books corpus suggests he may have coined it more than a decade before there was any other use in English. It was the OPEC embargo aimed against Western nations that had supported Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War that seems to have been the initial exemplar that subsequent English use in a journalistic or political context had in mind. OTOH, Pynchon (during his hiatus from college) did have fairly direct exposure to the Suez crisis because he was serving in the US Navy on a ship deployed in the Mediterranean at the time, where he as it were did the fieldwork research he drew upon in V We think of Nasser in hindsight as a rather secular strongman but contemporaneous sources say he was willing to use the rhetoric of “jihad” when expedient, so it may have been a phrase Pynchon heard contemporaneously or at least a non-particularly-inventive paraphrase.

  26. jack morava says

    @ mollymooly,

    THANKS, my mistake! I think there’s a long differential equation (maybe from aeronautics?) in Gravity’s Rainbow somewhere, that I had this confused with?

    BTW the very title of GR is an analogy of the parabolic arc of a rocket orbit with the curve of a rainbow. This looks similar but is distinct from the catenary curve of a hanging rope (cf eg Gaudi’s models

    for the gothic arches in the Sagrada Familia cathedral).

    With apologies, I think it’s worth noting that male humans see examples of the parabolic trajectory of a falling body several times a day, but it took more than 1500 years (eg from Aristotle to Galileo) for this to be understood.

  27. David Marjanović says

    I’m familiar with the Chad drawing, but no names and no captions.

    Where does the name Chad come from? Like, at all? I’ve long wondered why are people named that. It can’t be the African country, it can’t be a lesser character in the Bible (like this one), so what is it? If it’s a last name, where does that come from?

  28. David Eddyshaw says

    Apparently of Brythonic origin: *katu- “battle” strikes again.

  29. So why don’t kids get named Cedd, Cynibil, or Caelin?

  30. David Eddyshaw says

    Why not, indeed?

  31. PlasticPaddy says

    Caelin (with another spelling) is possible in Ireland.

  32. J.W. Brewer says

    I’m not sure if there’s a good explanation for the 20th century revival (more in the U.S. and Canada than back in Northumbria) of “Chad” as a given name. It’s not like Frideswide had a comeback for girls at the same time as part of some broader Anglo-Saxon revival. But as compared to Cedd it probably didn’t hurt that the saint had never fallen into complete obscurity in England (e.g. there were always over the intervening centuries churches and chapels and whatnot bearing his name but not so for his brother) which also meant that the orthography got updated to stay in sync with the pronunciation.

    Wikipedia tells me that the name of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania (close to where I grew up) comes from a 17th-century immigrant from Wiltshire named Francis Chadsey, but sometimes (maybe more in the next generation of the family) that got clipped and sometimes the d got doubled, orthography in those days still being a bit unstable.

  33. David Marjanović says

    Apparently of Brythonic origin: *katu- “battle” strikes again.

    Interesting. Who palatalized him?

  34. David Eddyshaw says

    Those wicked Saxons. They have no pity.

    Maybe Chad just wanted to alliterate with his brother Cedd. You know how it is in families.

    There’s also the place name “Chester”, from Old English ceaster and Latin castrum.

    The WP page on Cumbric claims that the place names “Cheadle”, “Cheetwood” and “Cheetham” have first elements cognate with Welsh coed “wood”, but I can’t find anything else to support this.

  35. David Eddyshaw says

    “Chaff” seems to show a similar palatalisation:

  36. David Eddyshaw says

    There’s also Old English geat “gate”, showing a parallel palatisation of g-:

    The form is preserved in the place name

  37. David Marjanović says

    “Chaff” seems to show a similar palatalisation:

    But that one’s shared with Frisian (West Frisian tsjêf, Sater-Frisian Sääf). Chad can’t have been brought from the continent if he’s Brythonic in origin.

  38. mollymooly:

    Great catch. Thanks. I misremembered which book it was in.

    It’s been years since I read those. I should read them again.

  39. John Cowan says
  40. PlasticPaddy says

    Re St. Chad, he is supposed to be of Northumbrian stock, but palatalisation of c+ea was not, e.g., a Yorkshire thing (compare placenames Acaster, Tadcaster). So was he ever St. Cad, at least in York? Or was he (or his name) perhaps Mercian, where they had the palatalisation (compare placename Chester)?

  41. David Eddyshaw says

    Well, he is St Chad “of Mercia.”

  42. David Eddyshaw says

    The “Chad” who comes to mind most readily for me (on account of my being less Hip and Happening in these latter days) is Chad Varah, whose surname is also odd and interesting:

    Incidentally, the WP article does not begin to do him justice:

  43. Reposted from Fred Shapiro (ed., Yale Book of Quotations, new edition later this year, Aug. 31) at americandialectsociety-l (which I missed because the ads archive is not fully searchable):

    1945 Sheppard Field Texacts (newspaper of Sheppard Field Army base, Texas) 21 Apr. 9/4 (NewspaperArchive) Who is Kilroy? What a one man campaign! He seems destined to go down in history along with Foo and Novschmozkapop as a family by word.

    1945 Sheppard Field Texacts (newspaper of Sheppard Field Army base, Texas) 14 July 3/1 (NewspaperArchive) If we knew the true identity of KILROY we would come right out and say so. You have seen his name written in a variety of places — mostly on walls. He always states, with evident pride, that KILROY did this or that, or that “KILROY was here.”

    (SG: I wonder whether Robert Capa, a photographer, took a photo of his 1947-claimed 1944 sighting. If so, it’s not in his 1947 book.)

  44. Great find, and the 21 Apr. citation also includes “Nov shmoz ka pop,” whose LH thread prompted the extremely informative discussion of Hičajqri (the source of the phrase).

  45. There’s also Old English geat “gate”, showing a parallel palatisation of g-:

    Also preserved in the place name /tʃɒp jæt/ CHOP YAT Chop Gate

  46. David Marjanović says

    Mercian, where they had the palatalisation

    Oh. Riddle solved.

  47. Kate Bunting says

    There is also the 1940 novel (and film, apparently) ‘Chad Hanna‘. I only know about it because I found a copy among my parents’ books when clearing their house, read it and found it quite entertaining. It’s about circus life in New York State in the 1830s.

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