Where Did the Phrase, 'What a Revolting Development' Come From?

This is Foggy Ruins of Time, a feature that provides the cultural context behind certain comic book characters/behaviors. You know, the sort of then-topical references that have faded into the “foggy ruins of time.” To wit, twenty years from now, a college senior watching episodes of "Seinfeld" will likely miss a lot of the then-topical pop culture humor (like the very specific references in “The Understudy” to the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding scandal).

I had this planned as soon as I did my piece where I detailed where the Thing first said, "What a revolting development," but reader Byron W. specifically mentioned that I should talk about Life of Riley in a Facebook comment on that piece, so I'll give him a shout out here!

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The evolution of "What a Revolting Development" is a fascinating statement on the popularity of early radio and, moreover, the interplay between radio and the popular cartoons of the day which, of course, remain popular to this very day due to syndication.

Life of Riley was a radio sitcom (perhaps the FIRST sitcom, at least as far as we know the concept today) that debuted in 1941. I did a TV Legends Revealed years ago on the interesting development of the show. The show starred veteran film character actor, William Bendix as Chester Riley, the lower middle class star of the show (the name of the show, The Life of Riley, is, itself a bit of a Foggy Ruins of Time, as it is a reference to a once-popular phrase, "Living the Life of Reilly," meaning to really live it up - its usage here was meant to be ironic, since he was a working class guy).

The radio show was so popular that Bendix even starred in a film based on the show!

In any event, as you might expect, one of Bendix's top catch phrases on the show was to note, "What a revoltin' development this is."

Now, we go back to what I was saying about cartoons. Back then, Looney Tunes cartoons CONSTANTLY made references to then-popular radio shows. It's just logical. Radio shows were spoken words and cartoons were all about the voice actors and so cartoons would frequently repeat jokes that, at the time, you got because they were topical references. Now, though, they just seem like character bits.

So Daffy Duck, in particular, would use "What a revolting development" (here is a link to him saying it). Here is just a Daffy Duck cartoon because, hey, why not?

The phrase would eventually become ubiquitous and ultimately, the Thing began using it in the Fantastic Four.

At the time, it was meant as a clear reference that people would get, but over the years, it's now become more of a Thing, well, thing than anything else...

But now we can credit Bendix once again!

If anyone else has a suggestion for a future edition of Foggy Ruins of Time, drop me a line at brianc@cbr.com!

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