You’ve probably heard of the term “couch potato” before. It’s frequently used to describe a person who leads a sedentary lifestyle, especially someone who watches a lot of TV while sitting on a couch. But do you know who created the phrase, and the context of where it came from? Here are a few things about the phrase Couch Potato and the guy who created it, Tom Iacino, that you probably didn’t know.
The Couch Potato Origin Story
Tom Iacino’s friend, Robert Armstrong, watched a lot of television. The cartoonist was an extreme TV viewer and his friends teased him for it.
On July 15, 1976, Iacino called Armstrong’s home and his girlfriend answered. Iacino had an idea why his friend didn’t answer his own phone and asked, “Hey, is the couch potato there?” She then looked at Armstrong sitting on the couch and started laughing. Everyone loved the joke, especially Armstrong. He even immortalized it by publishing a cartoon of a giant potato (him) laying on a couch. There you go. That’s the couch potato origin story. It all started as a joke.
A Parade Float Helped Make The Phrase Go Viral
Both Robert Armstrong and Tom Iacino were members of a humor club called the “Boob Tubers”. Their goal was to sit on a couch, watch TV and eat junk food.
In 1979, they decided to share their joke with the rest of California and created a Couch Potato float for the Pasadena’s Doo Dah Parade. Even though the float was just a flat platform with a couple of couches, it impressed the LA Times. They featured the float in an article covering the parade. After the LA Times article was published, everyone started using the phrase.
The Phrase Was Trademarked In 1979
After only a few years, the phrase “couch potato” went from an inside joke between Robert Armstrong and Tom Iacino to part of our mainstream vocabulary. In an effort to monetize the phrase, Armstrong created a line of merchandise and even licensed the concept to other companies like Coleco for their Couch Potato dolls.
But even though Armstrong had the phrase trademarked in 1979, it was too popular to control. Everyone from media outlets to the average person started using it to describe someone who just sits around and watches TV all day. Merchandise pirates eventually wore Armstrong down. The legal fees and battles weren’t worth it and he gave up the trademark.
TV Watching vs Streaming
When Iacino originally coined the phrase “couch potato”, our society was much more active during ‘couch time’ than we are today. In the 1970s, most TVs still didn’t have remote controls. TV watchers actually had to get up from the couch to adjust the screen or change the channel. We could also get up and quickly do things during commercial breaks, like run to the bathroom.
But now in the golden age of streaming, commercial breaks are shorter or non-existent. And instead of just watching a show or two, couch potato streaming sessions now might include a binge of an entire season of a TV show.
Second Screen Potatoes
Another major difference between the modern-day couch potato, is we are usually on our smartphones while we’re watching TV. Popular second screen activities include social media, reading email and playing mobile games like Call Of Duty, Angry Birds, or Oregon Trail.
Searches For “Screen Time” Overtook “Coach Potato” After The iPhone’s Debut in 2007
In 2007, Apple debuted the first iPhone. Ever since then, the phrase “screen time” has surpassed “couch potato” in Google searches. Screen time addiction has become the modern version of watching TV all day. Instead of sitting on a couch watching a screen, we now have a mobile screen that we take with us everywhere from restaurants to the bathroom.
What Is Tom Iacino Doing Now?
When not inventing popular pop culture phrases, Iacino spends his time running his Photobubble business and making guitars. You can learn more about Tom Iacino on his Facebook page.
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