You’ve heard Stan Lee shout “Excelsior!” at a convention. You’ve seen him sign the phrase. You’ve read it in comicbooks. But do you know the story behind The Man’s trademark catchphrase? Read on, and we’ll tell you!

What Does Excelsior Mean?

First of all, you may be asking yourself what the phrase even means. We asked the same thing when we first heard it, so you’re not alone! Stan defined it as meaning “upward and onward to greater glory.” The word itself is a Latin adjective meaning “higher” or “more elevated,” per Excelsior, in a noun form, is also a term for fine wood shavings, commonly used as packing material, among many other uses.

How Did Stan Come Across Excelsior?

Stan was born and raised in New York City. Since 1778, “Excelsior” has been New York’s state motto, found on the state seal and its flag. It’s very likely he first spotted the word growing up, or at least connected it in some way to the state he lived in for the first 50+ years of his life.

But he may have spotted it in literature, too. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned an 1841 poem titled “Excelsior.” Some say that Stan read the poem and picked up the idea to use it from there.

We can’t pinpoint the exact origin, but at some point, we know he came across the word!

When Did Stan Start Using Excelsior?

According to Marvel, Stan first used the term to sign off a January 1968 column of Stan’s Soapbox. And from there, he continued using it so much that it became a trademark of his!

Why Did Stan Use Excelsior?

Because Stan was Stan, there had to be a humorous anecdote behind his adoption of Excelsior! Lo and behold, there was. In a 2007 interview with Gizmodo, Stan explained his decision: “I used to have a lot of expressions that I would end my comic book columns with: Hang Loose, Face Front, ‘Nuff Said, and I found that the competition was always imitating them and using them. So, I said I’m going to get one expression that they’re not going to know what it means, and they won’t know how to spell it. And that’s where Excelsior came from, and they never did take up on it, thank goodness.” That is a story we’ve heard repeated a few times—that he wanted to use something hard to spell!—so we are taking it as the truth!

Which catchphrase of Stan’s is your favorite? Be sure to tell us on social media!