Five for Friday

Five items, several of which lead to more complex topics: a Harry Bliss cartoon that I caught, reprinted, in the Funny Times for May; a Zippy on art forgery; a One Big Happy with a kid eggcorn; a Zits with alliteration and rhyme (and the sexual marketplace); and a Rhymes With Orange on consonants and vowels.

1. Bliss, cats, and pigeons. The reprinted cartoon appeared on  3/17/14 in GoComics:


I’d expect everyone who “gets” the cartoon to see the allusion to the idiom let the cat out of the bag ‘reveal a secret’, here reinterpreted literally. But, as commenter J P exclaims:

It’s a double idiom! She’s not only letting the cat out of the bag, but setting it among the pigeons!!

Indeed, but not all readers will see the second possibility, since the idiom put/set the cat among the pigeons ’cause trouble, do or say something that angers or worries people’, since this idiom is mostly British and Australian.

Linguablogging history on Bliss:

LLog: ML, 5/23/12: No, it should be “… to whom to turn” (link)

AZBlog, 12/11/12, with information about New Yorker cartoonist Bliss: Famous models (link)

AZBlog, 6/30/13, Once again, same-sex relationships in the New Yorker, including a cover by Bliss (link)

More recently, there’s this instance of what Bob Mankoff (How About Never — Is Never Good Enough for You?, p. 189) calls  “the evolution cartoon cliché”  (an instance that I so far have been unable to find a link for):


I’ll post separately about this visual trope, of which there are a gigantic number of examples.

2. Zippy on art forgery. The strip:


Quack as in a duck’s quack; quack art ‘fake art’. The title turns on the ambiguity of quack.

Then we have Zippy engaged in the quixotic enterprise of forging Baby Huey paintings (surely these were never much of an item):

Baby Huey [who has nothing to do with Donald Duck’s nephews] is a gigantic and naïve duckling cartoon character. He was created by Martin Taras for Paramount Pictures’ Famous Studios, and became a Paramount cartoon star during the 1950s. Although created by Famous for its animated cartoons, Huey first appeared in Quack a Doodle Doo, a Noveltoon theatrical short in 1949 [where he outwits a hungry fox]. (Wikipedia link)

The character in a portrait:


and in one of his adventures:


3. One Big Happy with a childish eggcorn:


Ruthie regularly reinterprets opaque “fancy” vocabulary as composed of more familiar elements, even when the composite makes no sense in the context. But note that at least sometimes she has some appreciation of the meaning of the unfamiliar vocabulary (here, cats are predators, even though pretty doors is bizarre in the context).

Ruthie’s reshaping isn’t a classic eggcorn, but close. See this posting:

there are … errors in which one or more parts of an expression are re-spelled so as to replace opaque parts by recognizable lexical material, but without any noticeable improvement in the semantics; what gives rise to them is a drive to find familiar elements as much as possible.  I’ll call these DEMI-EGGCORNS.

For instance, beyond the pail for beyond the pale (see here) is a demi-eggcorn, since though the item pail is familiar, (for most people) it contributes nothing to the semantics of the idiom (‘beyond the bounds (of morality, good taste, etc.)’).

Finally, it’s not clear that child eggcorns (which occur in real life as well as in the comics) should be treated together with adult examples: the spring of the child examples is ignorance of the less familiar expression, while in the adult examples the original eggcorner confronts a known expression but reshapes it to improve it. The eggcorn database has no coding for child examples — or of course for conscious inventions, as in the comic strips.

4. Zits: alliteration, rhyme. Jeremy’s parents consider themes for the upcoming prom:


Mom goes for a sentimental alliterative name, Dad for a racier rhyming name, and Jeremy’s all .

Alliteration and rhyme are incredibly common types of language play in English, so common (and unostentatious) that people tend not to notice many instances (puns, on the other hand, are much more noticeable; a pun is a little comic performance, intended to be savored.) Libidos in tuxedos, however, stands out, since the rhyming words are relatively rare; their combination is somewhat surprising; and there is the sexual allusion.

The sexual allusion opens up the social world of proms, which are dances, but more than that. Wikipedia only hints at some of the significance:

In the United States, and increasingly in the United Kingdom and Canada, prom (short for promenade) is a semi-formal (black tie) dance or gathering of high school students. This event is typically held near the end of the senior year (i.e., the last year of high school). Prom figures greatly in popular culture and is a major event among high school students.

A prom is a watershed moment in social and cultural maturity and also a major ritual in the sexual marketplace for young people. On the latter: the customs of the prom (starting with the tuxedos for the young men and the fancy dresses and corsages for the young women and continuing through what is often a sexual connection between the pairs) mirror the conventions of weddings in American culture; they can be seen as rehearsals for weddings.

5. Rhymes With Orange, consonants and vowels. The cartoon:


There are several problems here. One is that none of this has to do with grammar as linguists understand the term; it’s all what I’ve called gammra. More important, Price is passing back and forth between two very different senses of consonant and vowel.

In the second panel, these terms refer to speech sounds, while in the first they refer to a classification of letters in the alphabet used to spell English. As Geoff Pullum explained, pointedly, on Language Log back on 4/19/09, only the speech-sounds sense is coherent (and also useful):

to the point about calling the letters b, c, d, f, etc. “consonants”. I say that is not a coherent use of terms by anyone’s standards. The letter y represents a consonant in yes but not in eye; the letter w represents a consonant in wed but not in dew; the word unit begins with a consonant (and hence we say a unit rather than *an unit) but does not begin with a consonant letter; the word hour begins with a vowel (and hence we say an hour rather than *a hour) but begins with a consonant letter… Trying to classify the letters of the alphabet as consonants or vowels leads to incoherence, and in addition it doesn’t have any application. There’s nothing you can do with it. You might as well call half the letters cobbinators and the other half vallifractors. There’s nothing you can say that makes those terms useful either.

On the other hand, if you are considering printed text and looking at the ease with which readers can recover the original when certain sets of letters are systematically suppressed, the task is (generally) easier when “vowel letters” are suppressed than when “consonant letters” are suppressed. Dentists don’t come into the matter.

(While I was getting comments on Friday’s crop of cartoons together, the days have passed to Sunday, and more cartoons have come in. Sigh.)

3 Responses to “Five for Friday”

  1. Michael Vnuk Says:

    For Zippy, the largest collection in ‘the Western world’: What about the Eastern world, or the northern or southern worlds? Perhaps Bill Griffin was just being suitably cautious about the extent of his knowledge of bogus Baby Huey art.
    Also, the speech bubble for the dentist’s patient includes a consonant letter, H, which diminishes the punchline.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      “In the Western world” seems to have become something of a conventional scoping for extravagant claims.

      As for the letter H, it stands for a consonant that is articulated outside the oral cavity, so you could manage it in a dentist’s chair.

  2. … plus four | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] A blog mostly about language « Five for Friday […]

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