Three more diverse

Three recent cartoons on divergent subjects: a Bizarro with language play turning on ambiguity; a Scenes From a Multiverse with metacommentary by the characters; and another classic Watergate Doonesbury, from 1974, with the denominal verb to stonewall.

1. pick one’s nose. The Bizarro, of May 23rd:


Two senses of to pick … nose: (a) one with to pick ‘to choose’ plus a direct object NP1 that can be of many forms (including NP2‘s nose, in which case NP2 merely stands in the possessor relationship to nose; you can choose anyone’s nose, including your own); and (b) one with the possessive idiom to pick one’s nose ‘to insert a finger or some other object into a nostril to remove an obstruction, especially dried mucus’, which is understood reflexively (you can pick your own nose, but not someone else’s).

2. Self-aware cartoon characters. The Multiverse, of the 22nd:


[Editorial note 5/25/14: As Robert Coren pointed out in a comment (preserved below), my original version of this posting had the two characters reversed; this probably is significant for their names. I have now edited my discussion to fit the correct assignment of names to characters. Meanwhile, bear in mind that comments from before 5/25 have to do with the first version.]

Blister (sort of a bunny; Multiverse is big on bunnies) and Arvin (some other kind of creature) are engaged in a discussion of their natures and how facts about them (Arvin asks What up?, using a Black English form; Arvin identifies both of them as boys; and Blister owns a pet cat) suggest what they are. As I’ve pointed out several times in this blog, metacartooning is very common, but this variant is especially vexing, at least to Arvin and Blister.

Blister is probably meant to suggest bunny. Arvin is more complex; as John Baker notes in a c0mment, this Multiverse strip is probably a parody of of the Arthur book series and PBS children’s series, whose title character is an aardvark. The character Arvin is awfully short-nosed for an aardvark, but the association of names (ArvinArthur) looks good.

3. Back to Watergate. Today’s Doonesbury:


Nixon instructs his staff to stonewall any investigations.

According to OED2, the N + N compound noun stone wall or stonewall goes back to Old English, but wasn’t verbed until the 19th century, when it appeared as cricket or political slang for specific kinds of obstruction and then extend to more general senses of obstruction. The definition and some early uses:

stonewall v.  (a) intr., Cricket slang, to block balls persistently, to play solely on the defensive; also transf.;  (b) Polit. slang (orig. Austral., now chiefly N. Amer.), to obstruct business by lengthy speeches or otherwise, to practise obstruction; also trans. to obstruct (business). also, to block (an enquiry, request, etc.); to obstruct (a person or organization).

1889   Played On 34   A brother professional..began to stone~wall in a distracting manner. ‘Take care of your wicket and let the runs take care of themselves,’ was his motto.

1914   Daily News 15 Apr. 9   Complaint that the Church has been too long stone-walling was made at the annual conference of the Wesley Guild.

1916   Contemp. Rev. Nov. 576   Obstruction did not merely consist in stonewalling Government business.

1964   M. Gowing Brit. & Atomic Energy 1939–45 xiii. 344   The Combined Policy Committee discussed the matter but the Americans stonewalled.

1972   Accountant 23 Mar. 373/2   Often in the past, the Budget speech has been preceded by the unreality of questions to the Chancellor which his junior Ministers have had to stonewall with the traditional: ‘I cannot anticipate my right hon. Friend’s Budget statement.’

1976   D. Hiro Inside India Today 260   The Congress [Party] administration stonewalled again, when Mishra died..and the opposition demanded a ‘high power’ inquiry.

Then came Watergate, and Richard Nixon picked up the verb, to great notice (as in Trudeau’s cartoon above, which takes stonewall literally in its depiction of the President’s strategy):

1974   Newsweek 11 May 23/2   The President himself.. served notice that he would stonewall any further demands for tapes in the Watergate scandal.

1982   Daily Tel. 25 Jan. 12/7   The Nixon administration..also gave the world ‘stonewall’ as a verb and then got out in the attempted practice thereof.

(The noun stonewall in the name Stonewall Inn, of gay fame from 1969 on, seems not to have been verbed.)

6 Responses to “Three more diverse”

  1. John Baker Says:

    The Scenes from a Multiverse comic is a parody of the long-running PBS children’s series Arthur, see, which in turn is based on the Arthur book series by Marc Brown. Arthur (Arvin in the parody) is an aardvark, not a bear or hamster. As is usual in cartoon universes of anthropomorphic animals, difficult questions are not far under the surface. I am reminded of the question from Stand by Me: If Mickey is a mouse, and Pluto is a dog, what’s Goofy?

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Many thanks, John. Arvin’s name in the cartoon above might be an echo of Arthur, but the character is certainly a bunny; bunnies are big on the website.

      I suffer from having been totally out of the Arthur orbit (books or tv), so I’m grateful for the pointer.

      • Robert Coren Says:

        Except you’ve got the names reversed: Blister is the bunny.

      • arnold zwicky Says:

        To Robert Coren: Aaggh! You’re absolutely right; I have Arvin and Blister reversed. I’ll insert a correction note and revise the text. (I’ll leave the comments, but note that they go with an earlier version of my posting.)

      • John Baker Says:

        I should mention that in the original, Arthur’s best friend is Buster, a bunny, on whom Blister appears to be based.

  2. Self-awareness and a milestone | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] come up here every so often — most recently, in a Scenes From a Multiverse strip (#2 here). Today’s Zippy brings us to self-aware […]

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