Did Charles Schulz coin the term ‘security blanket’?
Anyone familiar with Charles M. Schulz’s seminal comic strip Peanuts is probably also familiar with Linus Van Pelt and his blue blanket. But even those who have never encountered Linus, Snoopy, and the rest of the Peanuts gang are probably acquainted with the concept of the ‘security blanket’: a ‘small blanket or other soft fabric item held or carried by a child to afford reassurance by its familiarity’. In extended use, security blanket can also refer to anything offering reassurance, comfort, or a sense of security.
But did Schulz coin the term security blanket? And, if he didn’t, then who did?
Those questions came up in the early 1980s, when editors were working on the entry for security blanket in the Second Supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Senior Editor John Simpson (who later became Chief Editor of the OED) wrote to Schulz asking him if he had any insight into the origin of the term. Schulz responded to Simpson’s query with the letter that appears below:
Dear Mr. Simpson:
Although I am sure I was the first to bring attention to the fact that children used blankets for security, I doubt that I used the term ‘security blanket’.
In the Peanuts strip, Linus held a blanket and he and the others discussed the security of holding the blanket, but I think that it was the readers who eventually coined the phrase ‘security blanket’. It is, therefore, impossible for me to date the origin of the term.
I am much flattered, of course, that the expression has become a part of our language and that you are including it in your dictionary.
Charles M. Schulz
As Schulz explains, although he can be credited for popularizing the concept of the security blanket, he is not sure that he had anything to do with the coining of the actual term. He does observe, ‘I am much flattered, of course, that the expression has become part of our language and that you are including it in your dictionary.’
Although the term likely existed in spoken use beforehand, the current earliest citation in print for this sense of security blanket dates back a 1954 article in the Daily Review, of Hayward, California, which was published just a few months after Linus’s first Peanuts appearance. The author of the article describes, ‘Security blanket. My younger child is one year old. When…she finds a fuzzy blanket…or a fleecy coat she presses her cheek against it and sucks her thumb.’ Although Schulz is not credited with the earliest citation for the term, the OED entry does include a citation of a very similar phrase from the 1956 collection of Peanuts strips Good Grief, More Peanuts, in which a caption refers to Linus’s blanket as a ‘“security and happiness” blanket’.
The most surprising part of the entry, though, is probably the other sense of security blanket. Before the term developed its connotations of childhood, it turns out that security blanket had geopolitical underpinnings and didn’t refer to a piece of fabric. As early as 1944, the term was being used to refer to ‘a set of all-enveloping or all-encompassing security measures and sanctions, especially one imposed on military information in order to maintain secrecy’. This sense of the term is still in use today.
So even though Schulz is not responsible for coining security blanket, we have him and Peanuts to thank for popularizing that term. Other phrases associated with Peanuts are the exclamations Good grief! and You blockhead!, both uttered innumerable times during the strip’s 50-year run.