From Wiktionary, the free dictionary
Jump to navigation Jump to search

This is the etymology of cowabunga.


Unknown but generally credited (as "Kowa-Bunga") to Edward Kean, writer of The Howdy Doody Show, a children's TV show that ran in the USA from 1947 until 1956.[1] Chief Thunderthud, a character on the show, started every sentence with the nonsense word "kawabonga" or with the syllable "kawa"[2] followed by ordinary English words. Other Indian characters of a different tribe, such as Chief Featherman or Princess Summerfall Winterspring, used "kawagoopa" similarly, as a greeting or to voice frustration or surprise.[3] The comic character Chief Thunderchicken exclaimed "Kawa Chicken!". Chief Thunderthud was also occasionally heard to exclaim "Kowaraschi" to express extreme frustration, perhaps in reference to major league baseball player Vic Raschi, whose daughter occasionally appeared in the Peanut Gallery (studio audience).

During the 1950s and 1960s surfers adopted "kawabonga!" as a declaration of enthusiasm, changing the pronunciation slightly to "cowabunga!".[3] "Kupaianaha" is the Hawaiian word for surprising or wonderful[4] and it may have influenced surfers who had grown up with Howdy Doody. "Cowabunga" appeared in a 1965 Peanuts cartoon in which Snoopy uses the word whilst surfing,[3] and in surfer movies of the time. Its use continued throughout the 1970s and 1980s, particularly as the catchphrase of Cookie Monster in the US children's television program Sesame Street.[5]

The word was repopularized by the surferesque character Michaelangelo in the 1987 US animated television program Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles[3] and subsequently by Bart Simpson,[3] usually while skateboarding. (Although the The Simpsons' creators subsequently believed "Cowabunga" was only used in the show after it was used as a slogan on the T-shirts,[6] Bart actually used the term in the Tracy Ullman Shorts[7] and in the first season episode "The Telltale Head".) It was later used as a tagline for the 2002 film Lilo & Stitch.[3]


  1. ^ Hevesi, Dennis (24 August 2010) Edward Kean, Chief Writer of ‘Howdy Doody,’ Dies at 85[1], The New York Times
  2. ^ the Mavens of (2002) The mavens' word of the day collecton[2], Random House Reference, →ISBN, page 58
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Warshaw, Matt (2005) The Encyclopedia of Surfing[3], Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, →ISBN, page 140
  4. ^ Wight, Kahikāhealani (2005) Illustrated Hawaiian dictionary[4], Bess Press, →ISBN, page 107
  5. ^ Children's Television Workshop (1983) The Sesame Street Treasury, volume 4, Random House, →ISBN, page 7
  6. ^ Brooks, James L.; Groening, Matt; Jean, Al; Reiss, Mike; Silverman, David. (2002). Commentary for "Bart Gets an F", in The Simpsons: The Complete Second Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
  7. ^ Raymond Chen (1992-03-17), “MG21 Skateboarding, Quotes and Scene Summary”, in (please provide the title of the work)[5], retrieved 2011-05-02