Cartoonists at language play

Two recent examples of cartoonists playing with language: a Zippy with a cascade of rhyming invented names, and some outrageous puns by cartoonist Nina Paley. The Zippy:


This will lead us to some entertaining half-rhymes.

Then a t-shirt by cartoonist Nina Paley with an outrageous pun:


This will lead to another of Paley’s Jewish puns.

Rhymes and half-rhymes. In #1, silly rhyming names in /’ɛstǝr/: Esther Nestor in Drama, Lester Quester in Melodrama, Hester McJester in No Drama.

Now a story from my life: in 1965, when I took up my first teaching position, at UIUC (the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Ann Daingerfield Zwicky and I ventured out into the (utterly flat) countryside around Urbana, which turned out to be large rectangular patches of corn (it was fall, so the stalks towered over the car). All rather creepy for people who’d grown up in areas of rolling green hills (Ann in central Kentucky, me in southeastern Pennsylvania). Every so often we’d come across a field with signage labeling a variety of corn:


Ann and I were taken by the half-rhyme Lester Pfister — /’lɛstǝr ‘fɪstǝr/ — and started playing with a story about Lester Pfister and his sister Hester (/’sɪstǝr ‘hɛstǝr/). It was a relief from the looming corn.

On Pfister Seeds, from their website:

To his neighbors in the small town of El Paso, IL., he was “Crazy Lester.” But so many great visionary’s stories start like that — they see something the rest of us just can’t get our heads around. And now, like so many innovators before him, Lester Pfister’s legacy is one that’s changed farming forever. The Pfister story is the story of hybrid corn.

Starting around 1925, Lester Pfister began toiling in the cornfields of central Illinois, working to make his vision a reality — he was convinced there was a way to breed better corn. What ensued was a near decade-long experiment that had Lester tying paper bags over corn tassels and ear shoots to collect the pollen and prevent haphazard pollination.

And eventually hit it with a 14-inch hybrid variety. (Size matters in the corn world.)

The Passover satyr. A link from Arne Adolfsen to a page in HEEB magazine for 10/27/14: “Passover Satyrs For The Jewish Pagan In Your Life”, with the t-shirt in #2:

The tee, from from cartoonist Nina Paley …, is being sold to help finance her upcoming Passover-themed animated feature film Seder-Masochism

Ouch. First, satyr for seder (this originated in a (mis)interpretation from a gentile who didn’t know the term seder), then seder for sado-.

(Background on Passover seders, from Wikipedia:

The Passover Seder … is a Jewish ritual feast that marks the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Passover. It is conducted on the evening of the 15th day of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar throughout the world. This corresponds to late March or April in the Gregorian calendar.)

For a great many American speakers, seder and satyr are homophones, with a contrast between intervocalic d and t neutralized in favor of a voiced tap (a process often called “flapping”); the contrast is maintained in many dialects of English, where the two words are still phonetically very similar though not homophonous (so there’s still a joke).

On Paley, from Wikipedia:

Nina Paley (born May 3, 1968) is an American cartoonist, animator and free culture activist.

She directed the animated feature film Sita Sings the Blues. She was the artist and often the writer of comic strips Nina’s Adventures and Fluff, but most of her recent work has been in animation.

4 Responses to “Cartoonists at language play”

  1. john Baker Says:

    Interesting to see the asserted progression from drama to melodrama to no drama. Considering that melodrama involves extremes, wouldn’t a more probable progression be from melodrama to drama to no drama?

  2. Robert Coren Says:

    I can imagine someone being puzzled by the “Passover Satyr” if their idiolect had a short “a” in “satyr”; I vaguely remember a piece about puns of this sort in a (now- long deceased) magazine that included a self-referential “Satyr Dairy View”.

  3. markonsea Says:

    Every day’s a schoolday! Throughout my threescore years and ten (I’ve been waiting to be able to say that!) I’ve always been perfectly happy with “satyr” a perfect homophone of “satire”.

    Even now I’ve been alerted to the error of my ways, I doubt I’ll know what someone’s talking about if they mention a “satter”.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: