Two in One Big Happy

Two recent One Big Happy strips: one with an outrageous pun from Ruthie and Joe’s father, one with Ruthie once again attempting to engage the neighbor boy James on his grammar:



If you’re a bit puzzled by James’s “Ain’t nobody going!” in #2, you have a right to be.

#1: The pun involves:

hanger management (with NGER representing /ŋṛ/) 
vs. anger management (with NGER representing /ŋgṛ/)

The spelling-to-pronunciation mapping here has long been known to correlate fairly closely with whether NG comes at the end of a morpheme (hanger = V hang + agent/instrument –er) or in the middle of one (monomorphemic anger). But the full range of facts is complex: longer (with /ŋg/) = Adj long + comparative -er; monomorphemic dinghy, with /ŋ/.

#2: another in a series in which Ruthie officiously tries to correct James’s grammar and usage, but James resolutely takes her to be correcting him on matters of fact (the way kids, and many adults as well, do).

This time (as before) one of the grammatical points is the form ain’t. But the last panel brings something new: Ain’t nobody going!, with subject-auxiliary inversion. What’s remarkable here is that this inversion with ain’t is characteristic of vernacular black English, and generally occurs in white speakers’ speech only as quotation (the meme Ain’t nobody got time for that, the catchphrase Ain’t nobody here but us chickens, etc.).

Now James is depicted in the strip as a rough, working-class kid, but not (so far as I can tell) as a black kid. So either I’ve mistaken the cartoonist’s intentions, or the artist (Rick Detorie, who’s a white guy) didn’t realize that ain’t nobody inversions are characteristically black, and took them to be a feature of more general non-standard working-class speech (like ain’t itself, or 3sg don’t).

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: