“Brain Fag” (11/22/1940)
in “Out Our Way”
by James (JR) Williams (1888-1957)
13 x 13 in., ink on board
Out Our Way first appeared in newspapers on March 20, 1922. The single-panel series introduced a variety of characters, typically labor and blue collar slice of life scenes. Anecdotal stories indicate that more Williams’ cartoons were clipped and saved than were other newspaper comics.
The term “brain fag” has fallen out of use. It dates to the mid-1800s as a way to express mental exhaustion, to be completed tired out from excessive mental labor. The verb form “fag” existed since the 1500s to represent “droop, decline in strength, to become weary” and probably derives from the word “flag.”
These three boys appear to be a nice “living” representation of the understanding of this term’s meaning in 1940.
The term was rediscovered in the 1960s as a culturally contextualized psychological condition associated with Nigerian schoolboys who complained of various physical symptoms associated with too much mental effort being required during schooling (“Brain Fag Syndrome”). Enough time had passed since its common use that some sources cite the 1960s syndrome as the etymological origin of the term. Clearly that is not correct.