Two memic moments

In today’s cartoon feed, a penguin Zits and a maze-rat Rhymes With Orange:

(#1) There’s cold, and then there’s penguin cold

(#2) Rats in a Japanese bento maze

How cold is it? In #1, Hector and Jeremy’s van (in Ohio) is so cold that penguins (from the Antarctic) have taken up residence in it. Penguins are mult-purpose cartoon-memic creatures, serving as symbols of coldness, Antarctica, sameness, formal dress, funny walks, and more.

As a bonus, there’s a joke about the penguins having eaten all of Jeremy’s Goldfish crackers — a play on penguins’ fish-eating proclivities, extended here to snacks that are mere simulacra of fish (also not even fish-flavored). From Wikipedia:


Goldfish are fish-shaped cheese crackers manufactured by Pepperidge Farm, a division of the Campbell Soup Company. The crackers have been available in several varieties and, since 1997, 40% of the crackers contain a small imprint of an eye and a smile. The brand’s current marketing and product packaging incorporate this feature of the product: “The Snack That Smiles Back! Goldfish!”, the slogan being reinforced by Finn, the mascot with sunglasses. The product is marketed as a “baked snack cracker” on the label with various flavors and varieties.

Then there’s the adjectival penguin cold in my caption for #1: an Adj modified by a N, conveying (roughly) ‘Adj associated with N’; penguin cold is being cold the way penguins experience being cold. There are plenty of parallels; one, Army strong ‘strong in the way the Army is strong’, was the subject of Language Log postings back in 2006.

From a Geoff Pullum posting of 12/12/06 on the slogan There’s strong, and then there’s Army strong:

The phrase is actually an adjective phrase, with strong as the head, and Army functions as a modifier. This is an unusual construction, but not unprecedented. One could compare it with stone cold, meaning “cold in the way that stone is cold.” There’s being strong, and then there’s being strong in the way that the Army is strong.

… It has … been pointed out to me that use of this construction in advertising is not exactly original, and certainly not $200m original [the fee to an ad agency for the Army slogan]; for example, the slogan “There’s clean. And then there’s Chem-Dry clean” has been around for a while (not sure how long).

At the intersection of Bento and Maze. The Rhymes cartoon (#2) is an instance of the maze-rat cartoon meme — another example to come below — but crossed with an image, on the right, of a Japanese bento box (its compartments also serving as the sections of the maze), its identity reinforced by one rat’s reference to their being in Tokyo.  So you need to know not only about rats running mazes in psychology experiments (this is pretty much common currency in popular culture), but also about bento boxes (which have inserted themselves into American, European, Australian, etc. culture only fairy recently, with the spread of Japanese restaurants in cities outside Japan).

On this blog, a posting of 8/24/11 with brief discussion of bento boxes. Then from OED3 (Sept. 2004):

(#4) Illustration on the Serious Eats site in Jan. 2014, for “8 Great Bento Boxes in Chicago” by Nick Kindelsperger

A Japanese or Japanese-style packed lunch traditionally consisting of rice, vegetables, and Japanese specialities such as sashimi and teriyaki, and served in a lacquered or decorated wooden box. Frequently attrib., esp. in bento box; also, the box itself.

The OED‘s first cite in English is from 1616. All its cites are Japanese exotica until:

1988 Courier-Mail (Brisbane) 14 Sept. 20/7   Mr Parker said the average Aussie Bento was not the average bento (lunch) found in Japan.

(My personal experience with bento boxes goes back to the 1980s, in northern California.)

Bonus: another maze-rat cartoon. This time a Bizarro (from 7/21/14) that likens psych mazes to office cubicle farms:


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

2 Responses to “Two memic moments”

  1. thnidu Says:

    But the rats can’t get to the food, because the bento compartments are completely walled in.

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