People's skeletons showing when they get electrocuted is odd, isn't it?

I mean in cartoons/films/pictures illustrating the effect, not in real life obviously

I was reading a book to my daughter where this trope was displayed in the illustrations and she asked me why you could see his skeleton and I was stumped.

How do explain this sort of thing to a 5 year old, particularly when you know it’s completely rubbish (and given the idea of electrocution isn’t exactly something she even knows).

Anyway, found a couple of Reddits asking about the origins but there seems to be no concrete answer as to where this shorthand developed.




Thought this would be a Jordo thread.


Skeletons are a kind of shorthand for a dead person, aren’t they? So I suppose the idea is that we’re seeing the dead version of that person being ‘phased in’.

Alright Neville Southall


People’s eyes don’t actually turn into a little ‘X’ when they die either.

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Another good example of a shorthand that would be hard to really explain.

Cos they’re cartoons.

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Again, Xs or crosses are a common broad shorthand for death. Maybe add in a little dash of ‘windows are the eyes to the soul’. And that’s your symbolism. Not that much of a leap.

tl;dr Not everything is literal.

Dollar signs in the eyes is in the same vein, I guess (just that $ aren’t quite as abstract a symbol as an X).

Explain that to a child that’s not yet 5 though.


maybe some kind of association with x rays?


Hmmm. I suppose symbolism is the basic concept required to make the leap of understanding. i.e. things that are used to represent things in a simplified form. So, maybe, hand/finger shadow puppetry?

That is indeed one of the options suggested but it all ends up a bit ‘citation needed’.

Yeah, this is likely a very strong part of what influenced the way we’ve seen skeletons used in cartoons. Cartoonish depictions of skeletons go way back, right (surely)? Jolly Roger flag, etc. But the timeline of x-rays being discovered and animation being invented would share an overlap.

Yeah, what I’m getting at, though, is we just accept these things. I find it interesting because I’ve never stopped to wonder where these symbolic images originally come from.

(Gawd knows how you begin to explain x-rays to a kid? Although you can shine a light on your fingers and see the outline of your bones…)

It’s a photograph that can see through your skin, but not your skellington, innit. (obviously the x-ray itself isn’t, but it’s a fair high level explanation of how they’re used)

Oh for sure. There’s some good understanding of the world to be had by finding out the answers to this kind of conundrum. Like, understanding how much terminology in everyday phrases comes from shipping gives us an idea of how important/pervasive that ‘industry’ was compared to now.