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  #1  
Old 06-30-2004, 05:37 PM
Tuckerfan Tuckerfan is offline
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Origin of "Help! I'm Being Held Prisoner in a Chinese Blank!"

[rul="http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=264039"]This thread[/url] remind me of gags I've seen in movies dating from the late 1940s/early1950s, where some reference is made to someone finding a slip of paper which reads, "Help, I'm being held prisoner in a Chinese laundry/fortune cookie factory." There's even a Daffy Duck cartoon which ends with him being trapped in a Chinese laundry. Given the number of references made to it, it must have been something fairly well known at the time, but I've certainly missed what the inspiration for it must have been. So, what was it?
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  #2  
Old 06-30-2004, 05:40 PM
Tuckerfan Tuckerfan is offline
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That would be this thread.
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  #3  
Old 06-30-2004, 06:17 PM
FatBaldGuy FatBaldGuy is offline
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The original joke is that someone opens a fortune cookie to find the paper inside that says "Help, I'm being held prisoner in a Chinese fortune cookie factory." Don't know where it originated, but I heard it when I was a kid back in the 50's.
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  #4  
Old 06-30-2004, 06:34 PM
Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor is offline
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In the late 19th-Early 20th Century, there was a sense of paranoia about China.

Many Europeans & Americans feared the potential for military power in their huge population.
There was more than a little racism in this, and (spurious) tales were told of young Caucasian women abducted into slavery by Chinese.
Everybodys' gardeners, servants, & laundrymen were stared at with suspicion. All of them were suspected of plotting against the West.

This was called the "Yellow Peril" Conspiracy, & it was pure tinfoil hat stuff. The Illuminati/Trilateral Commission fear of that period. The Fu Manchu novels tapped into these fears.

I suspect that the "Help, I'm being held prisoner in a Chinese Laundry" line began as a satire of this paranoia. Given the sassy ridicule of tradition/establishment beliefs among the Smart Set of the Roaring 20's, I suspect it started then.
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  #5  
Old 06-30-2004, 07:01 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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With all of the digitized and searchable databases we have today, it has only been found as far back as 1955 in print. I personally think it was invented by a comedian sometime in the years prior to that.

The finder of that 1955 cite was noneother than Barry Popik, who is the subject of today's classic column(s) by Cecil. Barry also found about a gazillion other words and phrases. He's kinda compulsive. But nobody respects him. He's the Rodney Dangerfield of the etymology world. I'm not making this up.
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  #6  
Old 06-30-2004, 07:14 PM
paperbackwriter paperbackwriter is offline
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Why "no respect" if he nails down so many popular phrases? Is there something else? I mean, I can see the obsessive traits in his frequent updates to Cecil on the Big Apple, but I would think that such tenacity would be celebrated in that community.
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Old 06-30-2004, 07:47 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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The etymology community respects Barry. But institutions are slow to incorporate what he's found. Official websites for cities, for instance, continue to carry mis-information for years after they've been shown the proof. Perhaps Barry's personality and compulsiveness puts them off. But many times it's just bureaucrats not caring.
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  #8  
Old 07-01-2004, 12:35 PM
paperbackwriter paperbackwriter is offline
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Ah, I see. Thanks.
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  #9  
Old 07-01-2004, 12:44 PM
aruvqan aruvqan is offline
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There was a book entitled "Help I Am Being Held in a Chinese Fortune Cookie Factory" that was on my parents bookshelves back in the early 70s that I can remember...never read it, not sure if it survived the house fire...
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  #10  
Old 08-15-2011, 12:55 PM
rosettalee rosettalee is offline
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heard it on nick

i heard "help im being held hostage in a chinese cookie factory" when a guy opened a fortune cookie on this show i watch, victorious (on nickelodeon). my brother and i thought it was funny
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  #11  
Old 08-15-2011, 01:02 PM
Siam Sam Siam Sam is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aruvqan View Post
There was a book entitled "Help I Am Being Held in a Chinese Fortune Cookie Factory" that was on my parents bookshelves back in the early 70s that I can remember...never read it, not sure if it survived the house fire...
The late comedian Alan King came out with a book called Help! I'm A Prisoner In A Chinese Bakery in 1964, so the joke must be older than that. But I'll bet that's the one.

I recognize this cover from a 1968 reprint. Read that when I was young and about wet myself laughing. I wonder if it would still be that funny today.

Last edited by Siam Sam; 08-15-2011 at 01:03 PM..
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  #12  
Old 08-15-2011, 02:21 PM
Dan Norder Dan Norder is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rosettalee View Post
i heard "help im being held hostage in a chinese cookie factory" when a guy opened a fortune cookie on this show i watch, victorious (on nickelodeon). my brother and i thought it was funny
You reopened this thread from 2004 just to say that? Really? It's clearly not the origin, as that show wasn't even created until 5 or so years after this thread was started.
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  #13  
Old 08-15-2011, 02:31 PM
RealityChuck RealityChuck is offline
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The concept was clearly fully created when Cyril M. Kornbluth wrote "Ms. Found in a Chinese Fortune Cookie" in 1957.
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  #14  
Old 08-15-2011, 09:51 PM
Cliffy Cliffy is offline
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Don't be a wet blanket, Dan Norder. Somebody who just discovered the Dope sees this thread, doesn't realize how old it is and wants to participate, and you shout her down. Lame.

She obviously didn't mean to suggest that Victorious was the origin of the saying, anymore than Siam Sam or aruvqan did. Obviously, the true origin was the episode of iCarly where Sam re-purposes a Super Soaker to shoot meatballs at Freddie. (Just kidding, of course -- Sam would never waste the meatballs.)

--Cliffy
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  #15  
Old 08-15-2011, 10:17 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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Originally Posted by Cliffy View Post
Don't be a wet blanket, Dan Norder. Somebody who just discovered the Dope sees this thread, doesn't realize how old it is and wants to participate, and you shout her down. Lame.

--Cliffy
Alternatively, she didn't bother to read the responses to the thread which indicated that it was in print by 1955.

Generally, if a zombie activates a thread, we need new information. Just saying "me too" doesn't cut it.

Closed. Will reopen if someone can provide earlier information.

samclem, Moderator
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  #16  
Old 08-15-2011, 11:58 PM
The Hamster King The Hamster King is offline
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The book is Help! I'm a Prisoner in a Chinese Bakery ... which is a better joke because you have to think about it for a second to get it.
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  #17  
Old 08-16-2011, 12:16 AM
Siam Sam Siam Sam is offline
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Originally Posted by The Hamster King View Post
The book is Help! I'm a Prisoner in a Chinese Bakery ... which is a better joke because you have to think about it for a second to get it.
Ahem. See post #11.
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  #18  
Old 08-16-2011, 12:41 AM
Dan Norder Dan Norder is offline
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Originally Posted by Cliffy View Post
Don't be a wet blanket, Dan Norder. Somebody who just discovered the Dope sees this thread, doesn't realize how old it is and wants to participate, and you shout her down. Lame.
Yes, please continue to fight for the right to add content-free posts to a long dead questions thread. Would hate for the squares to get in the way of talking about kids shows in general questions threads.

Welcome to the Straight Dope, rosettalee. If you don't like snarky responses then you are in the wrong place.
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  #19  
Old 08-16-2011, 06:17 AM
Peter Morris Peter Morris is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by samclem View Post
With all of the digitized and searchable databases we have today, it has only been found as far back as 1955 in print.
The joke, maybe. The meme itself is older.

Scientific American December 23 1848

Singular Affair
Some two weeks since a merchant in Bangor, Me , in emptying a tea chest, found is the bottom a snuff box containing a five dollar bill an the Dover, N. H. Bank, and attached to it, the following epistle written on a piece of paper of the quality generally used by the Chinese in putting upteain pound packages.

Pkkin, Dec. 1846. Dear Mother—I am a prisoner in a Tea House, and have been for six years. I wish you would go to Washingten and get our government to interfere and obtain my release. 1 enclose you a five dollor note ; it was presented to me by an American gentleman ; it is of no use to me, but it may be to you.

Edward Lovzxl. Directed to Mrs. Nancy Lovell, Boston, Mass.

Miss Marietta Smith, the young lady who caused so many stories to be circulated about abduction and so on, has at last been found.— She ran away from this city and went to Boston to learn the trade of a milliner. She has displayed but little sense or affection, or she would have in some manner let her parents know that she wis free, and well.
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Old 08-16-2011, 03:41 PM
aruvqan aruvqan is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FatBaldGuy View Post
The original joke is that someone opens a fortune cookie to find the paper inside that says "Help, I'm being held prisoner in a Chinese fortune cookie factory." Don't know where it originated, but I heard it when I was a kid back in the 50's.
My parents had a book of that title.

<google>

My google fu fails me because of all the drivel books written to take advantage of the meme phrase. I have no idea if the book survived the house fire, some stuff survived. I have no idea where it might be.

The book would have been written between 1950 and about 1965 or so. I have the vague memory it is similar to Man in the Grey Flannel Suit, being about someone essentially being stuck in a job situation. It has been about 25 years since i last read it.
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Old 08-16-2011, 04:02 PM
Peter Morris Peter Morris is online now
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Actually, re-reading that, I think the final paragraph was an entirely different story. On my first reading I thought that Ms Smith was the alleged prisoner in the tea house
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  #22  
Old 08-16-2011, 04:09 PM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is offline
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I've got a copy of the Alan King book. I loved reading it as a kid, and I noticed that he continued to use the jokes for years after that in his stand-up routines.

The joke was also used in a Batman story in Detective Comics #383 from January of 1969, The Fortune Cookie Caper. The story was written by Frank Robbins and seems uncharacteristically sorta racist for the time. (It also features Batman and Robin eating at a Chinese restaurant in costume. How likely is that?) They open a fortune cookie, which has the aforementioned message in it. It's noteworthy as the only case I'm aware of where somebody actually was held as a prisoner in a Chinese restaurant.
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  #23  
Old 08-16-2011, 04:19 PM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is offline
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Here's the cover. Despite what Robin is saying, in the actual story the message is "Help! I;'m a prisoner in a Chinese Restaurant!"

http://www.comicvine.com/detective-c...its/37-112633/



The incredibly yellow-skinned Chinese guys lurking with axes are supposed to be Tong society members.

Last edited by CalMeacham; 08-16-2011 at 04:20 PM..
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  #24  
Old 08-16-2011, 04:38 PM
Spoons Spoons is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CalMeacham View Post
The joke was also used in a Batman story in Detective Comics #383 from January of 1969, The Fortune Cookie Caper.
DC must have liked the idea back in the 1960s. The "Help, I'm being held prisoner in a Chinese fortune cookie factory" plot was also used in DC's Swing with Scooter no. 9, October-November 1967. (Link to the issue contents here.) From the synopsis of the story "A Frog Named Boris" at the link:

Quote:
Scooter and his pals rescue Sensuella, a prisoner in a Chinese fortune cookie factory....
I actually had that issue years ago, and I remember the story got going when one of the characters opened a fortune cookie and read the note.
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  #25  
Old 08-16-2011, 07:10 PM
Darryl Lict Darryl Lict is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aruvqan View Post
My parents had a book of that title.

<google>

My google fu fails me because of all the drivel books written to take advantage of the meme phrase. I have no idea if the book survived the house fire, some stuff survived. I have no idea where it might be.

The book would have been written between 1950 and about 1965 or so. I have the vague memory it is similar to Man in the Grey Flannel Suit, being about someone essentially being stuck in a job situation. It has been about 25 years since i last read it.
I know. You said that in 2004.
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