What are the haps

Thanks to our shout-outs/shouts-out exchange, Ryan North (of Dinosaur Comics fame) and I have been going back and forth about his use of language on the site. The first thing to say is that it’s self-aware; he understands that he’s playing with language, and revels in it.

Our exchange started with my noticing one of the headings on the site:


From the context, I gathered that haps (which was, I think, new to me) was, roughly, ‘happenings’, so that the question conveyed was ‘What’s happenin(g)? What’s goin(g) on? What’s up?’

(I’ll save the punctuational issues — no apostrophe for the vocative “my friends”, no final question mark — for later postings.)

Ryan agreed with my reading. I thought he’d invented haps himself, but what he said was:

The backstory is that I really don’t like the word “blog”, so I wasn’t going to call this little blurb beneath my comic “RYAN’S BLOG O’ THE DAY”.  The synonyms for “blog” all sound equally unappealing to me (“internet diary”, etc), and I wanted something that said “Here’s some news that you might find interesting” in a way that was friendly and different – most other comics just say “Newspost” or “Rant”.  “What are the haps” (short for “what are the happenings”, “what is going on”, etc) was a phrase I’d heard used semi-ironically (or at least, a phrase I’d never seen used fully sincerely) a few years back, and adding “my friends” to the end gave the phrase a bumpy cadence that I liked.

So I’m hoping it conveys a sort of “Hey!  What’s going on, guys?” casual tone to what follows below, as if the title is asking “What’s going on?” and the post below is saying “Hey, here’s what’s new with me!”.

So, lost in the mists of time. But Ryan’s use has been the impetus for the spread of haps all over the net; search on {“what are the haps”} and you’ll get a lot of stuff. Ryan himself was surprised.

There are precedents for hapsprops ‘propers, proper respect or recognition’ , in particular.

[Yes, these things are slang and consequently are mostly restricted to certain users, contexts, purposes, and audiences, but so what? I’m not recommending such usages as formal written standard English. I’m not here as an arbiter of taste, but as a reporter on the passing scene.

And, in any case, formal written standard English is a variety with a very small — in comparison to the full collection of varieties of English out there in the world — niche. Granted, a niche with extraordinary social and political significance, but it’s not the world, only a tiny part of it.

(I say this because I get a certain amount of flak when I write about demotic variants.)

(And I am, of course, writing in, mostly, formal written standard English, because that’s what the context calls for.)]

In this particular case, I celebrate the playful and creative deployment of language in Ryan’s cartoons.

The cartoons come with auxiliary material under four headings:





Heading (1) is what I started with. Heading (2) is over, well, ads; Ryan can’t just do this stuff for free (as the Language Loggers and other linguabloggers do), but needs some source of income. Woo is fascinating on its own.

Heading (3) is more commerce, enlivened by the extension of degree totally into interesting new territory.

And heading (4) has both shouts out and another -s innovation (not Ryan’s, but still recent), ups. Several sites gloss big ups as ‘massive props’, which pleases me a lot.

3 Responses to “What are the haps”

  1. Gus Says:

    The common form is “what’s the haps” – presumably he’s ironically applying verb-object agreement for comedic effect.

  2. arnoldzwicky Says:

    To Gus: it seems “what’s the haps” beats out “what are the haps” on the web quite handily.

    But “what are the haps” doesn’t have verb-object agreement; there’s no object in this sentence at all. Indeed, “haps” is the (inverted) subject, parallel to “consequences” in “what are the consequences?” The issue is whether “haps” is treated as a singular that is plural in form (like “checkers”, the game) or straightforwardly as a plural.

  3. Ben Zimmer Says:

    For more on “big-ups” see my OUPblog post.

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