Calling shogun

Today’s Bizarro comes with a fairly distant pun (which is better in print than in pronunciation):


(If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 3 in this strip — see this Page.)

It all turns on shogunshotgun, and that’s entertaining, but once again I’m interested in what you have to know to understand the cartoon and see why it’s funny.

One thing: you have to recognize the three men in the cartoons as medieval Japanese military figures. And to know what a shogun was. From NOAD2:

a hereditary commander-in-chief in feudal Japan. Because of the military power concentrated in his hands and the consequent weakness of the nominal head of state (the mikado or emperor), the shogun was generally the real ruler of the country until feudalism was abolished in 1867.

Next thing: you have to recognize the idiom call shotgun that’s being played on here and to recognize that it’s important that they are approaching a parked car.

You don’t actually have to know the history of the idiom, or why the word shotgun is in it; it’s enough that you know how call shotgun is used now, though the whole thing is more amusing if you know something about how stagecoaches figure in it.

From Wikipedia on riding shotgun:

Riding shotgun refers to the practice of sitting alongside the driver in a moving vehicle. The phrase has been used to mean giving actual or figurative support or aid to someone in a situation or project.

The expression “riding shotgun” is derived from “shotgun messenger”, a colloquial term for “express messenger”, in the days of stagecoach travel the person in the position next to the driver. However, apparently the phrase “riding shotgun” was not coined until 1919. It was later used in print and especially film depiction of stagecoaches and wagons in the Old West in danger of being robbed or attacked by bandits. A special armed employee of the express service using the stage for transportation of bullion or cash would sit beside the driver, carrying a short shotgun (or alternatively a rifle),[citation needed] to provide an armed response in case of threat to the cargo, which was usually a strongbox. Absence of an armed person in that position often signaled that the stage was not carrying a strongbox, but only passengers.


Riding shotgun. The driver is holding the whip with the shotgun messenger on his left.

More recently, the term has been applied to a game, usually played by groups of friends to determine who rides beside the driver in a car. Typically, this involves claiming the right to ride shotgun by being the first person to call out “shotgun”. While there are many other rules for the game, such as a requirement that the vehicle be in sight, nearly all players agree that the game may only begin on the way to the car. In addition, a number of humorous rules for calling shotgun has been developed by organizations and individuals (for example, the “survival of the fittest rule”)

What makes the cartoon funny is then (as is so often the case) the bizarre juxtaposition of two worlds that have nothing to do with one (the medieval Japanese military and a modern car game), and which interect only through the similarity of two Engish words

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