Two cartoons for today, both involving relationships between phonologically similar words: a Dilbert and a One Big Happy:
Archive for the ‘Pragmatics’ Category
Two of today’s cartoons — a Bizarro and a Zippy — bring us back to recurring questions on this blog: what do need to know to make sense out of what’s going on in a cartoon, and then what do you need to know to see why it might be funny? It’s all about background knowledge.
#1 brings back the clowns from an earlier posting on background knowledge. #2 is more intricate.
Today’s Dilbert, with Dilbert and the pointy-headed boss:
Well, responding to a yes-no question with a question could just be a request for information — that would be taking the boss’s question “at face value” — but quite often the second question (conversationally) implicates that the answer to the first question is “yes” (why, the reasoning begins, would the second question have been asked in the first place?)
From the NYT on Monday (9/30), “Some Judicial Opinions Require Only 140 Characters: Justice Don Willett of the Texas Supreme Court Lights Up Twitter” by Jesse Wegman:
One of Justice Willett’s tweets in 2013 showed a Bundt cake covered in chocolate sauce. The caption — “I like big bundts & I cannot lie” — was a pun on a line in “Baby Got Back,” a hugely popular and sexually explicit 1990s rap song. (When asked about that tweet, he said in an email, “Believe me, I’d never tweet the actual lyrics, or anything close to them.”) He said he has heard no complaints about that tweet, or any other.
Of course, the justice would never utter those words (and openly accept the sexist import of the rap song), but he’ll do his best to allude to them so clearly that anyone in the know will get the message. He’s saying, as clearly as he can, but disavowing the substance of what he’s saying. I’m not sure what the right term is for this speech act, but it certainly deserves one.
Every so often, I post about how much background information can be required to make sense of what’s going on in a cartoon (and then to see why it’s funny); see, for example, “Bizarro followup” of 8/29. Now, through several Facebook friends, this wonderful New Yorker cartoon by Nick Downes:
First, you need to recognize the two figures at the door as clowns — sociocultural knowledge, but very widespread, so that’s not particularly challenging.
The man at the desk is telling someone on the phone that “they” (that is, we calculate, the clowns) have arrived, presupposing some previous discussion about the clowns. But why does he say “Don’t bother”?
To work that out, you need to supply a very particular bit of sociocultural knowledge. You need to know a specific song, or at least its title.
Today’s (re-run) Calvin and Hobbes:
Hobbes poses a hypothetical question to Calvin: suppose you knew …, then what would you do? Stated as a question, but functioning (indirectly) as a threatening instruction to do a specific thing (not named in the question, but inferrable from the context): do this, and today will not be the last day of your life — that is, DO THIS!
(Warning: some material about gay sex in plain language.)
On AZBlogX, a posting about a “cast album” for the gay porn flick Crave. Here, some reflections about this (conventionalized) visual format, an analogue to to conventionalized formats for linguistic material, variously referred to as “styles”, “registers”, “routines”, or “genres” (the terminological issues are vexed indeed) — choices of linguistic features that come together in packages, for use in specific contexts for specific purposes.
A comment (of 8/23) by Andy Sleeper on my haloumi posting:
At a hotel in Chicago recently, at the breakfast buffet, they were serving some dish with egg, meat, and cheese, with a little sign saying “Scrambled with chorizo sausage and chihuahua.” [Note that chorizo would have done fine here; chorizo is the name of a type of pork sausage, so that chorizo sausage is an expansion of chorizo -- similar to Brie cheese versus Brie.]
Adjectives with assumed nouns are asking for trouble, it seems to me. From scrambled, I understand eggs, though it could have been brains.
After I inquired, I learned that “chihuahua” refers to a type of cheese I had never heard of. I think “cheese” would have been an important word to include.
First, a note on Chihuahua cheese, then on the “conversion by truncation” in scrambled for scrambled eggs and chihuahua for Chihuahua cheese.