As I have said before, sometime in late 1978, during my first year of grad school at UW-Madison, Bruce Ayres (Capital City Comics) pointed me to Cerebus. I soonafter spread the Good Word to some of my lab buds, including my bestest all-time chum, Wreckless Boy.
Wreckless and I pretty much immediately started picking up the Cerebus-lingo. Our advisor, for instance, became "Famous the Chemist." (nyuk)
We also began to leave secret notes for each other to find around the chemistry building, and the tell-tale was a sketch of a snout. One of these places was on the stark-white tabletop where the NMR machine sat (and where the operator had to do a reasonable amount of sitting and waiting while the spectrum was being traced... so what better to do than pass notes).
(Now, you young'uns got to realize that this is 1978-79... no personal computers, no e-mail, no web, no IM, no text messaging... you want to do clandestine chatting, you etched it anonymously into a table in a public place.)
So began the department-wide fascination with snouts. Now, lots of people used this same NMR machine, and fairly soon in the game there was a small buzz over whatever it was we were writing to each other, and the mysterious symbol that accompanied the messages.
(OK, we were sad, juvenile, geeky-nerd chem grad students... ya wanna make somethin' of it?)
Soon, drawings of snouts started to appear in other public places, most notably on the inside of the elevator, as I recall. And the clear meaning of snout-messages was (light-hearted) derision by grad students toward the "piggy" attitude of their advisors.
Wreckless and I just snickered away at people drawing the Cerebus snout around the chemistry building, watching it take on this independent life.
Well, the rest is history. Snouts were a "thing" associated with the chemistry building and its inhabitants. There were urban legends about why this symbolism started - all of them wrong. And when the department was looking for a theme to use for its inaugural picnic, a pig roast and the "Snout Out" happened in 1984.
"What's really gonna fry your noodle later," to adapt a question, "is whether the idea of a picnic would have happened in the first place if snouts had not been around?"
Twenty-two years later, it's an institution. Most of this year's class of entering graduate chemistry students was pretty much born in 1984 (GAK!) and will participate in this event with no sense of that history (naturally; it's the usual thing).
By the late 80s, one of the particularly irreverent faculty members had been known to wear a latex, elastic-band-around-the-head pig-snout under circumstances where he wanted to ridicule certain of his colleagues for their uptight attitudes. I do not know, but I suspect that he won the latex snout at the first "Snout Out" as a part of the swag he collected as a door prize, or something. When the web finally emerged (from a bunch of tubes, I hear), this particular faculty member used an image of himself - wearing the snout - on his first home page. I wish I had a copy of that... I should write him for it, I suppose.
Maybe I should write a note for the Alum Newsletter just to set the record straight?