Definition: A lazy, inactive –and perhaps very likely overweight — person who spends most of the day sitting on the couch, watching TV.
Related phrases: boob-tuber, sofa spud
Origin: The term was coined by Tom Iacino, of Pasadena, California, in 1976. Iacino was a member of a group who called themselves “boob tubers” because they spent so much time watching the boob tube, a slang term introduced in 1963 for a television. The central tenet of the boob tubers was to thumb their collective noses at the health-exercise trends of their day, instead devouring calorie-rich junk food, like potato chips and soda, while watching their beloved TV shows. For Iacino, there was no better symbol for the boob tuber than the lowly potato — resembling an overweight , inactive human body, and evoking the concept of a vegetative state as well as the anthropomorphized Mr. Potato Head, a popular toy (a potato with interchangeable plastic body parts) introduced by Hasbro in 1952. Iacino rechristened his group as The Couch Potatoes.
The term was popularized by the The Couch Potatoes’s appearance in the 1979 Pasadena Doo Dah Parade and later with the publication of The Official Couch Potato Handbook written by trivia expert Jack Mingo and published in 1987.
Sadly, the couch potato (sorry no extra “e”, Dan Quayle) is the symbol of the modern generation and its addiction to entertainment on TV and mobile devices, representing a very unhealthy sedentary lifestyle that has contributed to a pronounced increase in obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 35.7 of American adults are obese and 17% of children are obese. Medical research has confirmed that obesity leads to heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, certain forms of cancer; each year the cost for treating these obesity-related conditions is about $147 billion. If Americans want to live long enough to see what happens in future seasons of Downton Abbey, it is time to eat healthier and get off the couch…
For further reading: Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson, Facts on File (2008)
Timeless Toys: Classic Toys and the Playmakers Who Created Them by Tim Walsh, Andrews McMeel (2005)