13 September 2020

"I never saw a purple cow..." (updated)

First, about the squirrel in the photo.

It was trapped, photographed, and released in Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania.   The photo shows it inside what looks like a Hav-A-Heart trap.
The Emerts currently do not know why the squirrel is purple. "We have no idea whatsoever. It's really purple. People think we dyed it, but honestly, we just found it and it was purple."
Some initial suggestions were that the squirrel had gotten into purple ink or paint.  Here is a more ominous suggestion:
That color looks very much like Tyrian purple. It is a natural organobromide compound seen in molluscs and rarely found in land animals. The squirrel has too much bromide in its system possibly from all the bromide laced frack water its been drinking. I would raise the alarm. This could mean bladder cancer for humans down the road.
Some of the photos at the link suggest that the squirrel had some non-purple hairs, which I think would argue against a metabolic cause.

Further details and photos at Accuweather (where someone has suggested the squirrel robbed a bank and triggered the dye pack).

Now, about the title of the post.  The squirrel story reminded me of a poem my father recited to me about 60 years ago (almost certainly the only poem he ever learned):
I never saw a purple cow.
I never hope to see one.
But I can tell you anyhow
I'd rather see than be one.
This nonsense rhyme was written in 1895 by Gelett Burgess, who invented the word "blurb."
The word blurb originated in 1907. American humorist Gelett Burgess's short 1906 book Are You a Bromide? was presented in a limited edition to an annual trade association dinner. The custom at such events was to have a dust jacket promoting the work and with, as Burgess' publisher B. W. Huebsch described it,
"the picture of a damsel — languishing, heroic, or coquettish — anyhow, a damsel on the jacket of every novel"
In this case the jacket proclaimed "YES, this is a 'BLURB'!" and the picture was of a (fictitious) young woman "Miss Belinda Blurb" shown calling out, described as "in the act of blurbing." The name and term stuck for any publisher's contents on a book's back cover, even after the picture was dropped and only the complimentary text remained.
The poem was very popular in its day, and became something of a meme, parodied by other writers of the day -
I've never seen a purple cow.
My eyes with tears are full.
I've never seen a purple cow,
And I'm a purple bull.
And later by Ogden Nash -
I've never seen an abominable snowman,
I'm hoping not to see one,
I'm also hoping, if I do,
That it will be a wee one.
- and other writers -
I never was a vitamin;
I never hope to be one;
but I can tell you anyhow;
I'd rather C than B1!
Burgess became so exasperated that the nonsense rhyme overshadowed his other work that he eventually wrote this sequel:
Ah, yes, I wrote the "Purple Cow"—
I'm Sorry, now, I wrote it;
But I can tell you Anyhow
I'll Kill you if you Quote it!
That's enough.  And as I'm proofreading this post, I have to note that it is totally a coincidence that the title of the book and the postulated toxin in the squirrel both involve "bromide."

Reposted from 2012 to add this stunning photo of a purple toad [Atelopus barbotini], endemic to the uplands of French Guiana:


  1. that is an incredible coincidence.

    I thought the two thoughts were connected.

    Let us know if you read any updates about the squirrel. I'm curious to find out whether it was bromide or a bank robbery.

  2. How entertaining. You have risen on my list as the person I would most like to drink a beer with.

  3. My mother taught me that rhyme, and her mother taught it to her. Thanks for reviving the memories.

  4. How very strange, like when I saw pictures of a blue lobster

  5. It is really strange. The title made me think of my childhood. My father used to make a "Purple Cow" float for us on Sundays. It is very simple and consists of Vanilla Ice Cream and Grape Soda. Yummy! I haven't had one in years, but I might have to have one this summer. :)

    1. Recipe for you -


    2. Thank you! I will definetly have to try this.

  6. I used to have a sailors hat with that poem on it. With view holes in the brim that you could pull down over your eyes. The holes were filled with yellow tinted glazing so that you couldn't see any purple when looking through them.

  7. I never saw a purple cow,
    I never hope to see one.
    But from the milk we're getting now,
    there certainly must be one.

    1. Skipweasel, I would have posted that one myself if you hadn't! I think Ogden Nash wrote that one, too. At least, I'm pretty sure I read it in a book of his poems.

      Re: the squirrel. I think people are overlooking the obvious. The squirrel activated a dye pack when stealing a truck full of bromide.

    2. A couple more versions here -


    3. Ah - Nash..."Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker."

  8. Just yesterday, I began filling out paperwork to register my new business. Name of business? Purple Squirrel.

    And I was thinking of your rhyme. Mine came out something like this:
    I never saw a purple squirrel
    If I did, I just might hurl.
    But, given some other things in this world,
    It might not be bad to be a purple squirrel

  9. Saw the purple squirrel on Boing Boing, figured I'd see if anyone here might agree with my guess as to what happened. Chemical toilet (aka port-a-potty) with the blue dye. I'd put money that either the squirrel accidentally fell in one, was tossed into one, or the contents of one was dumped on the squirrel.

  10. Being a professor of Computer Science like that commenter doesn't make you an expert on chemistry or biology. You cannot make a computer by just putting a hard drive in a box. Tyrian purple is dibromoindigo, which means indigo with two bromides attached. Bromide doesn't magically form dibromoindigo anymore than that hard drive will magically make a computer. Indigo make blue jeans blue. To make a long story short, squirrels are not blue and do not make indigo. Without indigo, they cannot make dibromoindigo. Even if they did contain indigo it still probably wouldn't happen.

  11. Anyone still here? Am I reading too much into the “blowing hot air into Little Marjorie”? What was he talking about? Making out? What is 4 QM? Another way of saying AM or PM? Help!

    1. I'm always here, Pamela. I don't have a definitive answer for your questions. The blurb was written after the invention of the typewriter, and on the now-standard keyboard Q and A are adjacent, and "AM" would be appropriate in context, so I would read that as a typo.

      The dipping of hot air into Little Marjorie does sound like an unsafe sex practice, but I did find a couple references to this book -


      - which was current at the time. Presumably the hot air exchange was conventional billing and cooing.

    2. The typo is fascinating. I doubt someone typed lots of individual copies of a that blurb, especially with the picture.

      I'd guess linotype, perhaps, though from the pictures I've seen, they didn't have a qwerty keyboard. Of course, the typo could have been initially in a typed copy and reproduced by the typesetter. (Or it could have been done on a older, letterpress machine, with the typo being reproduced from a typed copy.

      Or maybe someone's capital A looked quite rounded and the tail made it look like a Q?

  12. Gelett Burgess "Are You a Bromide?" http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/10870



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