Bizarro puns

Continuing the Summer Solstice orgy of visual puns (last installment here), I now offer two recent Bizarro cartoons.

The first is a play on peeps:

The ambiguity here is about a clear a case as you could want of accidental convergence of lexical items.

There’s the slang item peeps, which the OED (draft entry of June 2009) notes is a variant of people in various senses, specifically

(with possessive pronoun) one’s close friends or associates. Also as a form of address

and is plural in form and plural in its agreement. The OED‘s first cites (1847 and 1868) are from non-native, in particular French, speakers, but the word arose anew in the 20th century. The OED’s first cite (1951) for this new usage is from a source describing it as teenage slang “across the country”, but it’s also prominently associated with AAVE speakers, in a gangsta-style stereotype (involving both dress and speech) portrayed in detail in the cartoon. (A rough synonym for peeps ‘people’ is the collective count noun posse in its slang sense.)

In any case, this peeps is a clipping of people, with the addition of the productive plural suffix.

Then there’s the plural of the metonym peep ‘baby chicken, chick’, derived from the characteristic sound made by chicks (compare bow-wow ‘dog’), and turned into the trade name Peep ‘piece of marshmallow candy’ by Just Born, Inc., the company that has made the things since the 1950s — originally only in the shape of chicks, and only in three colors, two of them illustrated in the cartoon, which lacks only white Peeps; the company has since branched into other creatures and other colors. (The company is named after Sam Born, who founded it in 1917.)

The company is inclined to call them “marshmallow Peeps” (presumably to distinguish their product from chocolate chicks; the company originally made chocolate candies) or “PEEPS” (there’s nothing like ALL-CAPS to stand out; but, no, PEEPS isn’t an alphabetic abbreviation of any sort).


The second Bizarro strip is a play on snake eyes:

Well, there’s the literal ‘eyes of a snake’ sense, and then there are metaphoric uses of snake eyes, taking off on the visual similarity of other concrete objects to eyes, in particular eyes of a snake (I don’t know why snakes got chosen, but they did). OED2 (1989) has two such senses: U.S. slang for tapioca (with cites from 1918 and 1935; I know fish eggs for this sense as well) and North American slang for

a throw of two ones with a pair of dice; also [since this is a “bad throw” in some dice games] fig., bad luck

(with a first cite in 1929, then others from 1964 on). This is the sense at play in the cartoon, with its prosthetically dice-eyed snake.

[I’m tickled to be working in a profession where I can write things like “prosthetically dice-eyed snake”.]

7 Responses to “Bizarro puns”

  1. mae Says:

    I hesitate to mention it as you surely are already aware. But I can’t help it. There is a vast corpus of Peep puns in the names entries in the annual Easter Peep Diorama contests, especially at the Washington Post.

  2. arnoldzwicky Says:

    To mae: yes, I was aware of the great body of Peep(s) puns out there, not to mention the even greater body of on-line material on mistreating Peeps, in particular by burning them or exploding them in microwaves.

    But the Peep Diorama contests are a hoot: a whole vein of Peep Art! (For those of you who aren’t familiar with this material, just google on {“peep art”}.)

    (Ever since the Just Born company moved to Bethlehem PA and went into the marshmallow-animal industry, we’ve been able to say that Peeps are Born in the Little Town of Bethlehem. Just a thought for Christmas.)

  3. Cartoons for the weekend « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] another Bizarro disquisition on (potential) ambiguity, presented here not in an actual pun, but in the juxtaposition of two different senses of an expression (work for, ‘work to obtain […]

  4. Chris Ambidge Says:

    I could not, of course, let this one go unchallenged, P*eps being the downfall of western civilisation and the harbinger of the coming apocalypse.

    It is to be noted that even *proximity* to the dreadful marshmallow birdettes causes the gentleman to become unable to construct an English sentence, and even lose control of conventional spelling.

    P*eps lead to doom, I tell you!

  5. Magritte « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] This one too has been massively parodied, to the extent that Television Tropes & Idioms has an entry for “This is Not X”. Here’s one with a bilingual pun (depicting a marshmallow Peep): […]

  6. Pun time in the monastery « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Yesterday’s meeting with the intern on the Traugott-Zwicky linguistics in the comics project was about puns in the comics, focusing on Bizarro and Rhymes With Orange (two strips that regularly offer puns): phonetic similarity, the One Form, One Meaning principle (vs. the prevalence of ambiguity in language), portmanteaus and compounds, the importance of context and background knowledge, and much more. Since we’re looking at cartoons and comic strips, the marriage of visual and verbal content was a recurrent theme. There are puns that absolutely require visual presentation, like this one (which I posted about here): […]

  7. Peeps | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] have come up on this blog twice: in connection with a Bizarro cartoon (here) and with a Ceci n’est pas une peep parody of Magritte […]

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