Wordless cartoons, words-only cartoons

In the latest (January 30th) New Yorker, this cartoon by Sam Gross:

Completely wordless — but how much cultural knowledge it takes to understand it! You need to know about doggie/doggy doors (or dog doors, as they’re usually called in the trade), balloon animals, helium, and clowns.

At the other end of the scale there are words-only cartoons, like this Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal number (opposing social pleasures and stranded prepositions) posted by Mark Liberman a couple years ago:

Cartoons usually have both a picture and a caption (or speech bubbles), but there are limiting cases in both directions: pure sight gags and slogans presented as cartoons, for example.

Close to the words-only end of the scale are, for instance, Ryan North’s Dinosaur Comics, considered here, and Dante Shepherd’s Surviving the World, considered here: captioning as art.

Now a word on doggie door / doggy door / dog door. The OED has no entry for any of these, or any cites in other entries. Neither AHD5 nor NOAD3 has an entry for any of them. Presumably, the lexicographers on duty at these dictionaries felt that dog door is too transparent — it means ‘door for a dog’, right? — to merit an entry of its own. Well, the referent is a specific kind of door for a dog, so that Wikipedia, rightly to my mind, has an entry for dog door (with illustrations). As Ben Zimmer  has said of Adj + N phrases like squeezed middle:

… phrases can be “compositional” while still being invested with special new meanings that lexicographers would rightly want to document. (link)

But now for a twist: from the Wikipedia dog door page, we learn that the corresponding item for cats is called a cat flap (entry here), or cat door, and that the larger category label is pet door — and it turns out that cat-door made it into OED2 (with one cite, from 1959), and that cat flap got added in the draft additions of March 2001 (with cites from 1957 on):

cat-door n. a small door, usually swinging, which can be opened by a cat for its own ingress and egress.

cat flap n. a small hinged flap set into an outer door, wall, etc., which from either side may be pushed open by a cat, allowing it to enter or leave a building; = cat-door

(No entry for pet door, though.)

Why this bias in favor of cats? Wikipedia provides a clue:

Cat flaps are popular in some countries, particularly the United Kingdom where it is believed that about 90% of cats have access to the outdoors.

Equal lexicographic treatment for dogs!

8 Responses to “Wordless cartoons, words-only cartoons”

  1. Martyn Cornell Says:

    I’d suggest in the UK we don’t (generally) have “dog doors”, perhaps because we tend to have quite large dogs., and quite small burglars.

  2. mollymooly Says:

    I wondered if this post was showing pro-dog bias, but checking COCA v BNC this seems like a clear AmE v BrE difference. (“Catflap” is far more common than “cat door” in BrE. I don’t know the correlation with “Filthy Rich & Catflap”.)

    I would have thought the percentage of cat owners with a pet door was far higher than that of dog owners, since (a) cats are more independent and (b) many dogs are so big that an adequate door would attract burglars. But maybe most Americans with a cat either also have a dog, or live in an apartment.

  3. Chris Waigl Says:

    One minor thing that sprang to mind relates to wordless cartoons. In English, it seems though I haven’t done any kind of check, wordless cartoons are simply wordless, except for a by-line or copyright mark and maybe letters within the cartoon (such as on a calendar or book or piece of clothing depicted). In the German-speaking area, wordless cartoons typically come with the caption “Ohne Worte” – a verbal comment on the wordlessness that renders them not-quite-wordless any longer. I’m not sure what, if anything, to think of this.

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