Friday February 25, 2005

Wild Kingdom

I was skipping past commercials the other night (thanks, TiVo!) and happened to land on a promo for Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, which is apparently back on the air.  In addition to bringing back fond memories of Jim chasing down and tranquilizing whole herds of antelope from his plexiglass bubble helicopter while Marlin Perkins (excellent zoology name there) egged him on from the safety of the studio, this reminded me of a garden path-like effect triggered by Mutual of Omaha's old jingle.

In the jingle, the timing of the tune seems to imply that a particular phrase ends, but the rest of the words can't be parsed if it does, leading to a reanalysis.  If you're of a certain age, you probably remember the jingle, but I can't find a sample of it online for you youngsters to listen to, so I'll try to simulate the effect with punctuation:

Mutual of Omaha [is?] people... can count on when the going's rough

Because of the way the jingle was constructed, every time I heard it I thought the word people was the end of a noun phrase, but then the next line came along and added a relative clause modifying it.  In other words, I expected:

Mutual of Omaha people:  You can count on when the going's rough.

...which doesn't clearly go wrong until you hit when, and then I'd realize it was actually supposed to be:

Mutual of Omaha: people you can count on when the going's rough.

I can't decide if this is bad jingle writing because it confused me, or really successful jingle writing because it stuck in my memory and here I am writing a blog post about it thirty years later.  Maybe the jingle writers were super extra devious.  You decide.

[BTW, the word is is in brackets above because I don't remember it being in the song, but if you poke around the 'net the song is most often cited with is.  The effect, however, happens either way.  Come to think of it, wasn't "Mutual of Omaha is people" a line from some Charleton Heston movie?]

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» Omaha-Ponca from Mithridates
This post at Tenser, said the Tensor about Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom (which I used to enjoy watching as a kid) put me in mind of the Omaha, or Ponka, language. It is a Siouan language of the Dhegiha branch and is closely related to Osage and Ka... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 4, 2005 12:40:53 PM


Ah...there's nothing like a good subtle Soylent Green reference. I saw the film back in the day on a double feature with Jesus Christ Superstar(!). Add the fact that I had smushed my pinkie fingernail in the car door as my dad dropped me off, and you have one memorable movie going experience there.

Posted by: Scott at Feb 25, 2005 3:53:06 PM

who has the song

Posted by: todd at Apr 10, 2008 12:29:38 AM

Yeah, that thing is stuck in my head too, after all this time, and I remember it as "Mutual of Omaha is people..." and so on. Grammatically suspect? Perhaps! Unforgettable? Yes!

I've seen the Marlin Perkins Wild Kingdom DVDs on sale at a gift shop. Who knows if the ad is on there?

Posted by: Chris at Oct 4, 2008 7:37:03 PM

I always heard it as:

Mutual of Omaha--it's people you can count on when the going's rough.

Now, I don't know for sure whether it was "it's" or "is," but there was definitely something in there between "Omaha" and "people." Funny thing is, I got online to search to be certain whether it said "going's rough" or "going's tough." Brilliant writer! He stuck that line in my head over thirty years later!

That was a great show, too.

Posted by: Mike at Mar 30, 2009 10:35:48 PM

yes, the song stuck for years - but I also memorized the phone number advertised with it .... by the way they stupidly changed that number -I know it still today 1-800-228-9800, what do I do with it ? I can't seem to forget it matter how much I try! Thanks Mutual of Omaha-

Posted by: paula at May 17, 2009 8:27:04 PM