Vernacular writing

On Language Log recently, a Dinosaur Comics cartoon by Ryan North, with commentary by the cartoonist, entitled


It looks like the more common version of the idiom is “What’s the haps?” ‘What’s happenin’?, What’s goin’ on?”, which some think was popularized when Gary Busey asked the question in the Mixed Martial Arts movie Beyond the Ring (2008), though of course it had been around for some hard-to-determine time before that (associated in many people’s minds with the speech of the young and African Americans, especially men in both cases). In any case, it’s vernacular talk.

North has altered the idiom to treat haps as syntactically (as well as morphologically) plural: “What are the haps?”

Two further, typographical, features of the heading above: no comma setting off the address term my friends, and no question mark at the end. Both are matters of typographical convention that reinforce other cues to structure and meaning: my friends is easily parsed as an address term (and so can be pronounced with the appropriate prosody), and the form of the sentence is clearly that of a WH question.

So North is, in effect, Omitting Needless Punctuation — though those who recommend omitting needless stuff do so only up to conventions appropriate to the context, while North is abandoning some of those conventions in favor of brevity and simplicity.

There are lots of other vernacular features in the writing on North’s website, including a section with recommendations, entitled


with nounings of up and shout out, the latter used by North with an internal plural rather than the external plural you’d get from treating the verb + particle combination shout out as a unit; usage varies on such examples (some discussion here).


3 Responses to “Vernacular writing”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    E-mail from Ryan North to me in July 2009:

    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!”. The other headings (“ADS WOO” and “GUYS YOU CAN TOTALLY BUY THIS SHIRT I MADE”) are equally self-aware and also a little bit clunky.

    Note the absence of a comma in GUYS YOU CAN TOTALLY BUY THIS SHIRT I MADE.

  2. But is it art? « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] conversational tone in every part of his writing [some discussion of his vernacular writing here]. His skill shows in his deployment of punctuation, typefaces, caps lock, and odd phrase structures […]

  3. More annals of nouning « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] some recent examples, see my discussion of Ryan North’s (of Dinosaur Comics) writing style, here, and of the nouning of horny in Scenes From at Multiverse, […]

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