Sales talk

Yesterday’s Bizarro, another exercise in what you have to know to understand what’s going in a cartoon:


(If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 6 in this strip — see this Page.)

Setting. From the characters’ dress, the architecture, and the saguaro cactuses in the background, we conclude that we are in the mythic Old West, cowboy country. (Actual saguaros are limited to certain desert areas of Arizona, Sonora, and California, but as Wikipedia says: “The image of the saguaro is indelibly linked with that of the American Southwest, especially in western films.”)

We could spend considerable time in “reading” the costumes of the salesman (coat, tie, boots, hat) and the cowboy (chaps, spurs, boots, hat, etc.) and their beards, and in analyzing the design of the buildings — all of this is part of the mythos of the Old West — but here I’ll just say a bit more about the saguaro, from Wikipedia:


Carnegia gigantea in Saguaro National Park, near Tucson AZ

The saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) is an arborescent (tree-like) cactus species in the monotypic genus Carnegiea, which can grow to be over 70 feet tall. It is native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, the Mexican State of Sonora, and the Whipple Mountains and Imperial County areas of California. The saguaro blossom is the state wildflower of Arizona. Its scientific name is given in honor of Andrew Carnegie. In 1994, Saguaro National Park, near Tucson, Arizona, was designated to help protect this species and its habitat.

(It also has an edible fruit.)

Interaction. What’s going on? I’ve already identified the character on the left as a salesman: how do I know this?

Primarily from his sales patter, involving (among other things), these lexical items of English (from NOAD2):

noun line: a range of commercial goods: the company intends to hire more people and expand its product line.

adj. top of the line: chiefly US of the best quality or among the most expensive of its kind available: top-of-the-line smartphones can replace a laptop | my equipment isn’t top of the line.

His pitch stresses the features of comfort, speed, and maneuverability, which we are supposed to recognize as standard selling points for cars. The automotive theme is reinforced by the string of triangular pennants flying over the scene: standard symbols used by car dealerships and used car lots to identify the location (from passing roads) as a place where cars are sold. You can buy the pennants on-line:


(The company that markets these lets you pick pennant colors from a wide range of possibilities and to order them as you wish — so that you could, if you were so moved, do the Pride flag in car lot pennants.)

But the salesman here isn’t touting cars, he’s touting animal means of transportation: from smallest to largest: armadillo (an inspired Southwestern choice), pig, cow, and horse. So a car sales scene has been metaphorically transported into an Old West counterpart.

All the cartoon is missing is the dealer suggesting a test ride on the horse and offering the cowboy an attractive financing scheme for it.


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