Be like Schwa

From Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky, who got it from the All Things Linguistic site (maintained by Gretchen McCulloch, who’s appeared several times on ths blog), this punning instance of the new Be Like Bill meme:


The pun turns on an ambiguity in the transitive verb stress. From NOAD2:

[with obj.] give emphasis to (a syllable or word) when pronouncing it.

[with obj.] cause mental or emotional strain or tension in: I avoid many of the things that used to stress me before | (as adj. stressed): she should see a doctor if she is feeling particularly stressed out.

The ambiguity has been played on before. On 10/26/11, Mark Liberman (on Language Log) posted a texty creation from the Linguist Llama site, with a llama saying:

I wanna be a schwa. It’s never stressed

The texty creation in #1 might have been intended to play on the ambiguity of cool as well as stressed. From NOAD2:

free from excitement or anxiety: he prided himself on keeping a cool head | she seems cool, calm, and collected.

informal    fashionably attractive or impressive: I always wore sunglasses to look cool.

The meme. From the Know Your Meme site last week:

Be Like Bill is an exploitable stick figure illustration of a man named “Bill” using a desktop computer, accompanied by a parable praising Bill’s choice to simply carry on after being provoked by a trigger while browsing the Internet. Since its emergence through English-language humor websites in late 2015, the single-pane comic has gone globally viral and spawned a large volume of derivative illustrations with similar messages highlighting other socially intelligent behaviors on the web and in real life.

Origin: The origin of the drawing is unknown, but it began showing up on forums like Funnyjunk and Reddit in October of 2015. The earliest instance of the image was in English, and was meant as an ironic jab at social justice warriors.


The image rapidly developed: the stick figure moved away from the computer and put on a knit cap:


And that gets us to #1, where Schwa is wearing the memic cap.

One Response to “Be like Schwa”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Mike Pope on Facebook:

    Oddly, I first ran across this meme in a German version. (The exhortation in which “Max” is klug because he doesn’t post about it snowing, since his friends have windows.) That made me wonder whether the meme actually originated in English; it’s quite possible, tho one rarely has cause to wonder about this, that a meme sweeping our FB pages might have originated somewhere other than the English-speaking world.

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