Words. words, words

From a King Features Comics Kingdom posting on the 3rd, “Ask a Cartoonist: Words to Live By” (by tea), three cartoons on words in comics: a Dustin on adolescent sniggering over potential double entendres and two Zippys about repeating words for sheer pleasure.

Sniggerific words. The Dustin (by Steve Kelley and Jeff Parker):


Parker’s comment:

As a self-proclaimed, immature man-child, I love words that sound naughty or rude (and make me giggle like a 6-year-old). So it kind of fits that we try to drop one into a strip now and then for “Dustin” (and me) to snicker at.

The prime situation for rude sniggering involves young adolescent boys (13 or 14) dealing with a female authority figure (a schoolteacher or, as above, a judge — someone who’s expected to serve as a guardian of propriety). A woman teaching such students will need to avoid inadvertently using trigger words — booty, snatch, tool, butt, BrE knob are well-known risifacient items — or else deploy them with knowing gusto.

Dustin is a bit old for this, but some guys never quite grow up. From Wikipedia:

Dustin Kudlick [is] the titular character of the comic strip. A 23-year-old college graduate who has failed to find regular employment in the current economy after graduating and thus moved back home to live with his parents. He is constantly trapped in a cycle of dead-end temp jobs and grueling manual labor, frequently shown putting in long hours at a car wash or asking his supervisor at the temp agency for more career-enhancing assignments that might help him break out of the cycle of wage slavery

Arrested in adolescence in several ways.

(On this blog about the strip: #4 in a 9/13/15 posting.)

The immediate snigger target in #1 is the word duty, used by the judge to mean roughly ‘responsibility, obligation’, but also available in an off-color slang sense. From GDoS:

do one’s duty [euph.] to urinate, to defecate. [first cite 1934 H. Roth Call It Sleep Step up an’ do your duty, sonny me boy]

— used especially with reference to dogs:


But wait, there’s more!

For a great many American speakers, the /t/ in duty is subject to the so-called Flapping rule, by which it’s realized as a voiced tap, making duty and doody homophonous or nearly so. From GDoS again:

dooty (also doody) [? dooky or SE dirty (AZ: surely excremental duty played a role as well)] [US juv.] excrement [first cite 1969; cites of chicken dooty/doody, dog doody]

dookie (also dooky,dookey, dukey, dukie) [? Scot. dook, the bung of a cask] 1 excrement [first cite 1965 B. Jackson Get Your Ass in the Water He banged on my door and be kicked it rough, / he called me dukie-head and demanded my stuff]

All of this makes Admiral Nelson’s Trafalgar exhortation “England expects that every man will do his duty” a rip-roaring knee-slapper in some quarters.

Battological delight. The two Zippy strips:



From dictionary.com (from Random House):

noun battology: wearisome repetition of words in speaking or writing. 1595-1605; < Greek battología (bátt(os) stammerer + -o- + -logy)

Other Zippy strips on obsessive repetition of words and phrases:

on 9/30/09, “Phrase repetition disorder”: a Zippy on obsessive repetition of a phrase

on 3/3/10, “Mantra of the moment”: more examples; “Zippy and his acquaintances are given to picking up and chanting “found mantras”, expressions that they find satisfying to repeat — in episodes of what Bill Griffith calls onomatomania (or phrase repetition disorder [above])”

on 3/31/13, in “Sticky expressions”, on found mantras in Zippy

Two phenomena come together in these cases: word (and phrase) attraction, discussed many times on Language Log and this blog, usually in connection with word aversion; and the psychological satisfactions of repetition, in this case verbal repetition (though repeating other sorts of behavior, bits of music, etc. have their satisfactions as well).

For Zippy (and many others) verbal repetition, especially of attractive expressions, is satisfying. It might strike others as excessive or obtrusive, but it’s generally harmless. However, it appears that things can get out of hand. From Wikipedia:

Palilalia (from the Greek πάλιν (pálin) meaning “again” and λαλιά (laliá) meaning “speech” or “to talk”), a complex tic, is a language disorder characterized by the involuntary repetition of syllables, words, or phrases. It has features resembling other complex tics such as echolalia or coprolalia, but, unlike other aphasias, palilalia is based upon contextually correct speech.

It was originally described by Alexandre-Achille Souques in a patient with stroke that resulted in left-side hemiplegia, although a condition described as auto-echolalia in 1899 by Édouard Brissaud may have been the same condition.

The downside of ordinary verbal repetition is that it can rob the repeated material of its meaning, in the phenomenon of semantic satiation. From Wikipedia:

Semantic satiation (also semantic saturation) is a psychological phenomenon in which repetition causes a word or phrase to temporarily lose meaning for the listener, who then perceives the speech as repeated meaningless sounds.

Leon Jakobovits James coined the phrase “semantic satiation” in his 1962 doctoral dissertation at McGill University, Montreal, Canada. Prior to that, the expression “verbal satiation” had been used along with terms that express the idea of mental fatigue. The dissertation listed many of the names others had used for the phenomenon:

Many other names have been used for what appears to be essentially the same process: inhibition (Herbert, 1824, in Boring, 1950), refractory phase and mental fatigue (Dodge, 1917; 1926a), lapse of meaning (Bassett and Warne, 1919), work decrement (Robinson and Bills, 1926), cortical inhibition (Pavlov, 192?), adaptation (Gibson, 1937), extinction (Hilgard and Marquis, 1940), satiation (Kohler and Wallach, 1940), reactive inhibition (Hull, 1913 [sic]), stimulus satiation (Glanzer, 1953), reminiscence (Eysenck, 1956), verbal satiation (Smith and Raygor, 1956), and verbal transformation (Warren, 1961b).

The term refractory period (or refractory phase) refers to a period beginning with a physiological or psychological stimulus that elicits some response and lasting until the stimulus is capable of exciting that response again. It’s most familiar in reference to the period after a  male orgasm during which another orgasm is impossible. The term is applicable to semantic satiation because, like sexual refractoriness, such satiation is temporary: after a period, the affected expression becomes meaningful again.

Bonus note, on what we might call word entertainment (the subjective intrinsic risibility, funniness, of certain words), uniting the two themes above, sniggerific words and word attraction. Some earlier postings on this blog:

from 4/19/15, “Word entertainment”: on intrinsically funny words, with examples

from 2/17/16, “A passion for pickles”: “my main theme is that pickles and the word pickle tend to be intrinsically funny, inherently risible.”

from 8/19/16, “Meatballs”: “I can’t help thinking that meatballs are intrinsically funny. Maybe it’s the balls thing, or maybe the assortment of deprecatory uses of meatball(s), or maybe just the appearance of four sizable stolid globes of ground meat on a plate.”

Note that in a great many of these cases, sniggers, laughter, and smiles of enjoyment arise both from the things and the linguistic expressions that refer to them.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: