Understanding the comics

Once again, I return to the question of what you have to know to understand a comic strip or a cartoon, with two recent cartoons in my comics feed, a Rhymes With Orange and a Bizarro; in both, understanding requires that you supply a word that isn’t in the text of the cartoon:



(If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in #2 — Dan Piraro says there are 4 in this strip — see this Page.)

The legally inclined dog. The Rhymes in #1 is completely incomprehensible if you don’t get the allusion to the idiomatic synthetic compound ambulance chaser. Otherwise, the dog is chasing an ambulance, and what does that have to do with law school?

The key, from NOAD2:

ambulance chaser: a lawyer who specializes in bringing cases seeking damages for personal injury. ORIGIN late 19th cent.: from the reputation gained by certain lawyers for attending accidents and encouraging victims to sue.

Texting 101. #2 is somewhat easier to cope with, since you can see where the key to understanding lies: the text has the unfamiliar noun tapmanship in it. You then have to work out that the word is a coinage based on the noun penmanship, and alludes to the act of tapping keys on a keyboard, in particular the keyboard of a smartphone used for texting.

On penmanship, from NOAD2: ‘the art or skill of writing by hand’. (Note that the word has drifted somewhat from its close association with pens, and now applies to any sort of implement for writing by hand, including pencils and crayons.) The conceit of the cartoon is that schoolchildren now need coaching in the skill of tapping the keys on their smartphones, the way they used to need coaching in the skill of writing by hand. It’s also possible that some younger people might not even know the noun penmanship.

Bonus. Asking Google to search for {tapmanship} first causes the program to offer the following alternatives:

upmanship, teamsmanship, topman shop, penmanship

(The third of these turns out to be a reference to Topman, a chain of British mens’ fashion stores.)

But Google does offer two legitimate occurrences of tapmanship, both playful coinages, one referring to wiretapping, one to typing. (You could imagine the word also being coined to refer to skill in tapping kegs of beer, etc.)

From the Battle Creek [MI] Enquirer on 5/23/73, a reference to an inept wiretap:

President Nixon had the FBI put taps on Mrs. Nixon. Regrettably, it was a sloppy piece of tapmanship, wires became crossed, Mrs. Nixon’s phone began performing oddly.

And from the publication Yojana (Planning Commission of India, New Delhi), Vol. XX, No. 2, on 2/15/76:

Not in the same category as M.F. Husain’s triology, “12 June 1975”, “24 June 1975” and “26 June 1975” now adorning the first sheet of the GOI [Government of India] calendar this year, perhaps, but worthy of a close look, nevertheless, the picture above [which I have omitted here] was done on a typewriter by Shri Y.M. Pitre of Belgaum [a city in the Indian state of Karnataka]. We liked especially the smart little truck, upper left, and the twelve marching soldiers at the bottom. The serious critic may find things to say about their pot bellies, but their stance and posture must not go unremarked. The number of eyepopping hours Shri Pitre lavished on this work of painstaking tapmanship is not mentioned in the forwarding letter sent by the proprietors of Pankaj Prakashan, Belgaum, the publishers of’ ‘Development Through Cooperation’ edited by the typartist.

Bonus bonus: the use of typartist for someone who does typart (aka typearttype art, ASCII art, text art, text pictures, keyboard art, etc.), in the sense ‘creating pictures composed of typed characters’.

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