A Sunday quartet

Four cartoons from yesterday’s crop: a Zippy in a nameless diner; a Doonesbury on rumors; a One Big Happy on the spread of expressions and speech styles from the media; and another Bizarro collection of puns. The strips:





Zippy at the diner. (No significant linguistic content.) Zippy frequents diners; for the most part, Bill Griffith provides clues to the identity of these diners (examples here) — but not in this case, where Zippy’s taking his pleasure at a generic Diner X. There’s probably a specific model for the diner in the strip (possibly one that’s undergone some renovation, like the stonework), but we can’t tell what it is.

Zippyesque oddness, especially the tip at the end.

The Fox News rumor mill. The main point of the Doonesbury is to poke at Fox News, but along the way we see a development in the semantics of the noun rumor.

OED3 (March 2011) gives two very old senses of the noun:

General talk or hearsay, not based on definite knowledge. [from the 14th century on]

An unverified or unconfirmed statement or report circulating in a community. [from the 15th century on]

Here, a rumor is merely unverified. But by the time we get to NOAD2, uses of the noun cast doubt on the veracity of a rumor:

a currently circulating story or report of uncertain or doubtful truth: they were investigating rumors of a massacrerumor has it that he will take a year off.

And that’s the way it’s used in the Doonesbury.

Learning from the media. In the One Big Happy, Ruthie has picked up some ways of speaking from Oprah on television. In the strip, the speech style is merely imitated, or quoted; there’s no suggestion that Ruthie has folded it into her repertoire.

Clearly, media speech is often imitated or quoted, by people of all ages. Occasionally, linguistic features (especially lexical items) do spread to become parts of some speakers’ linguistic systems.

Pun time. Don Piraro produces Sunday Punnies every so often, using suggestions provided by readers (named in the panels).

In #4, the first panel has a relatively simple pun, on having / halving. Aside from the knowledge needed about magicians’ tricks, the cartoon also plays off a formulaic social exchange.

The second panel requires knowledge about Alcoholics Anonymous (and the abbreviation AA for the organization) and its practices (in particular, the appeal to “a high power”) and knowledge about batteries (including the fact that AA is a battery size). So the pun is on AA, but it’s quite complex.

The first panel has a pun that is perfect (involving homophones) for some speakers, and the second has a pun that’s perfect for everyone, but the third is imperfect for most English speakers, pairing meanwhile with mean whale, which are generally not homophones, and embedding them in the formula / quotation meanwhile, back at the ranch (used in story-telling).

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