What significance, if any, did the word Potzrebie have in old Mad Magazines?

During my 1960’s boyhood, part of which was spent reading
Mad Magazine and its attendant paperpacks, I remember seeing
in various drawings, stories, and cartoons the word “Potzrebie”, or “Potrzebie”. For no apparent reason the
word would be worked into the background or corner of the

The earliest occurrence I know of was in the Robinson Crusoe
send-up which I saw in the Bedside Mad paperback. This story
was written by Bill Elder (?) sometime in the 1950’s.

I think you must be confused. Trying to find significance in Mad Magazine is like trying to find ice water in the Sahara. It’s just not there.

IIRC, the spelling was even more unpronouncable than you remember: potrzbie. There was a potted plant by that name which appeared occasionally, too.

AFAIK, it was just a running gag by the Usual Gang of Idiots.

Sorry, pluto, you’re wrong again. It was “Dubose Heyward.”

{smiley thing}

I wasn’t really looking for deep meanings here, but I thought perhaps it was some sort of inside joke that
originated for a definite reason.

I recall seeing Potzrebie as well as Potrzebie. In the
Robinson Crusoe satire, RC is seen at one point stirring
something in a huge black pot which is labelled POTS-REBIE.

Good question, I’d always wondered aobut that too. The word appeared with a variety of spellings over the years.

All I can think of is that MAD, especially in the 1950s, used a lot of Yiddish expressions. Probably also made-up pseudo-Yiddish words, (like “fershlugginer”?) and “potzrebie” seems to have come from some kind of deformed Yiddish. Maybe it was mumbled by someone on the MAD staff who was farblondjet drunk, and picked up by Kurtzman or Elder. (The title of “Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida” came about in that fashion.) Think of “putz” and “rabbi”.

From AFU:

That was 1957. But that doesn’t say Knuth coined it. I found a more complete blurb in


Still doesn’t say Knuth coined it. He appears to have just been playing with MAD references.

In fact, http://www.sff.net/people/diccon/PAPA.HTM has the following:

The word does crop up in some pages which appear to be in some slavic language. Any Polish speakers who can verify this?


Villie Elder!!!

So then the pronounciation should be along the lines of (paht-jhee-bee), then? I live in a largely Polish town, so I’m used to deciphering their last names (Rzenkowski=Jhen kus kee, Przybylski=Shuh bill skee, Byczynski= Buh chihn skee, etc). However, I assume some of these are pidgeon pronounciations. Help me out Poles! I need to know!

I used to know a German couple; the wife had apparently lived in pre-World War II Germany, the part that is now in Poland. She spoke Polish. She told me that potrzebie (pronounced “po-TREBB-yeh),” means “It is necessary to me.” (like the Spanish me necesita or me importa, or the French il me faut.

FWIW, I tried running “potrzebie” through the InterTran page, but it wouldn’t translate it. So I tried some English to Polish translations. (“l/” is the Polish character that looks like “l” with a slash through it, and it’s pronounced like English “w”.)

I need two beers.
JA potrzebowac dwa piwa.

I want two beers.
JA potrzeba dwa piwa.

Beer is wanted.
Piwo jest potrzebowal/.

Beer is needed.
Piwo jest potrzebny.

Unwanted sound is noise.
Niepotrzebny zdrowy jest hal/as.

Unneeded sound is noise.
(same as previous!)

It is necessary to me.
To jest konieczny do mnie. (probably a literal translation.)

This sounds as though it might be similar to Edward Lear’s “runcible.”

To a certain extent. Lear used runcible as sort of an all purpose adjective of indeterminate meaning, potrzebie’s meaning was equally indeterminate but the usage was even more general. But it’s obvious that potrzebie derives from Polish, while runcible is one of the rare pure coinages in English.

I found a Usenet post on this subject on Deja in soc.culture.polish. The subject is ‘“Potrzebie”–what does it mean?’, the post is dated 12/31/99, and the author is Piotr Trela. He quotes wieslaw_no_spam@algonet.se (from a post that didn’t show up).

Here’s an exact copy of the explanation given:

Actually, I think the potted plant was named ‘Arthur’.
I have the Broderbund set of CD-ROMs, I’ll see what I can find…

More from InterTran:

I am in need of a bottle of beer.
JA jestem w potrzebie butelka piwa.

And translated back to English -
ME I’m in need of beer bottle.

He is needy.
on jest be,dsVcy w potrzebie.
(“e,” is “e” with a cedilla, “sV” is “s” with an inverted “^” over it.)

Translating this back to English give the exact same phrase.

The Polish word ‘w’ by itself translates as ‘on’.

Even if you now know what “potrzebie” literally means, you STILL have no idea what it meant to the Mad staff!

Hey, I KNOW that an “axolotl” is some kind of salamander, but I still have no clue why the Mad syaff found that word (along with potrzebie) so hilarious.

Guess we had to be there.

[hijack] Since we’re trying to find meaning in MAD, what’s up with the “ind” beside the “M” on the cover? [/hijack]

And yes, the plant was named Arthur, and it really existed in the MAD offices in the '60’s. Arthur was a potted pot plant belonging to one of the UGoI. :smiley:

“Arthur” was an avocado plant.

Right, Zygstardst. :slight_smile: “Arthur” was not a marijuana plant. (Art director John Putnam did have one, until Feldstein or Gaines saw it and ordered it removed lest they get busted. Putnam complied.)
The “IND” refers to Mad’s distributor, INDependent News. (In various Mad histories it’s noted how Gaines went over to Independent after Leader News, which owed him $100,000 at the time (1956), went bankrupt and gave up the ghost.)
The scrawny crow-like bird was named “Corwin.”
The odd-looking blimplike thing seen in the magazine during the 60s was the MAD Zeppelin, or, as one reader wrote,
“That balloon with the boat hanging…I mean the steam engine under the…I mean…well, you know what I mean!” :smiley:

The potted plant ‘Arthur’ is back in Mad. The July 2000 issue of Mad (which I read at Barnes & Nobles - no hotties around the store, so no need to worry about looking uncool) has a parody ‘Behind the scenes at Sports Night’ (or some such - most of the jokes revolve around the low ratings of the show, and the probability it will get cancelled). In the middle scene of the parody, some big-shot named Issac is in his office giving a young lady a pep talk revolving around Jackie Robinson. In the upper left of the office is a tall potted plant, clearly (way too clearly, in fact) labeled ‘Arthur’. If this issue hadn’t been laid-out and printed months before I’d say they were reading this board.