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The origin of ‘couch potato’

In our everyday vocabulary, we all have a set of slang words or phrases that we use with no real idea of what they mean or where they originated. Often, I will wonder about the etymology of a phrase I have used for years without giving any previous thought to it. Most recently, I thought, what exactly is a “couch potato”? So, I pulled out my laptop and Googled “couch potato”.

It turns out that the etymology of couch potato is one of the very few terms that can be traced back to exactly when it was first created. Apparently, on July 15, 1976, a man by the name of Tom Lacino called up a friend, Robert Armstrong, but his girlfriend answered. Tom is quoted as saying, “Hey, is the couch potato there?” She looked over, and there he was on the couch, and she started cracking up.”

The friends were apart of a group that called themselves “The Boob Tubers.” Fitness and health were becoming a significant movement in California in the seventies, the Boob Tubers’ goal was to do the opposite. The Tubers’ got together to spend as much time as they could sitting on the couch, watching television, and vegging out on munchies.

Lacino doesn’t take any further credit for the term and doesn’t give any real reason for putting the words couch and potato together. He tells Bon Appetit, “it was just an off-the-top sort of thing.” He says that Armstrong, a cartoonist by trade, asked for his permission to use it. Armstrong trademarked the phrase in 1979 and then created a cartoon around it.

On December 28, 1979, couch potato showed up for the first time in print in an article in the LA Times. The story titled, “Doo Dah: Pasadena’s Pleasure Parade” was a rundown of the floats appearing in the parade.

“…and the Couch Potatoes who will be lying on couches watching television as they are towed toward the parade route.”

Banking on the momentum from the parade, Armstrong created a publication he called “The Tuber’s Voice: The Couch Potato’s Newsletter. ”

The phrase took off, and even though he had trademarked Couch Potato, Armstrong could not keep it from being used in the mainstream.

And so, in case you were wondering, now you know where Couch Potato came from. There are, of course, speculations about why potato was used to describe the person sitting on the couch. Still, if you ask Lacino, there was no reason at all.

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