Bizarro: use and mention

Yesterday’s Bizarro:

The student’s query, as represented by the punctuation in the strip, mentions the words “I” and “you”; the query is about words. The teacher has access only to what the student says (not her intentions as indicated by the punctuation), so the teacher takes the question to be about people, expressed in non-standard subject-verb agreement (“What is you?”) — and the teacher then uses non-standard agreement as well (“I is the teacher”).

Now, the set-up is preposterous.  People don’t generally have a lot of trouble negotiating the shoals of use and mention, because context and common-sense reasoning sort things out. The teacher should see, after all, that the student is clearly talking about the part of speech to be assigned to words. But instead she pursues an alternative understanding that takes the student to be saying something nonsensical, and not grammatical in standard English to boot.

So in the end the strip is funny because it’s so preposterous.

(If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Don Piraro says there are 6 in this strip — see this Page.)

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