Is that all there is? Just platypi and clichés?

Today’s Zippy has our Pinhead hero trading diner thoughts with a Pinhead named Nesbitt:

For two panels, Zippy spouts the idea that nothing represents, or stands for, something else; things are what they are, and that’s all there is. Meanwhile, Nesbitt runs through two idioms that he thinks of as clichés (rock s.o.’s world, takeaway), and the pair ping-pong plural platypi.

X represents Y. From NOAD:

verb represent: be a symbol or embodiment of (a particular quality or thing): the three heads of Cerberus represent the past, present, and future.

The definition illustrates the usage with a culturally conventionalized association between X (in this case, the three heads of Cerberus, the monstrous dog guarding the gate to Hades) and Y (three spans of time). But such associations can be more idiosyncratic and personal: to Sandy, a pork chop represents the cruelties of factory farming; for some people, a platypus stands for (and so evokes) the marvels of God’s plan for the world; and so on.

Until the third panel, Zippy denies the reality of such associations: the pork chop, the platypus, they’re all that there is. In the third panel, however, he sees a sugar dispenser as a symbol of his desire to live with uncertainty.

Break for a song. The theme song for this part of the story: “Is That All There Is?”.

Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

Zippy’s answer in panels 1 and 2 is yes, in panel 3 no.

From Wikipedia:

“Is That All There Is?”, a song written by American songwriting team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller during the 1960s, became a hit for American singer Peggy Lee and an award winner from her album of the same title in November 1969. The song was originally performed by Georgia Brown in May 1967 for a television special. It was first recorded by disc jockey Dan Daniel in March 1968, but this was an unauthorized recording that, while played on Daniels’ own radio show, went unissued at the songwriters’ request. The first authorized recording was by Leslie Uggams in August 1968. Then came the hit Peggy Lee version in August 1969, followed by Guy Lombardo in 1969 and Tony Bennett on 22 December 1969.

You can watch Peggy Lee’s performance here.

Nesbitt’s idioms. Both are expressions — one youthfully slangy, one business-jargonish — that some would judge to be overused in their contexts, hence to be clichés:

verb phrase rock s.o.’s world: please / satisfy / positively affect s.o. profoundly: This new game will rock your world. (assembled from various sources)

noun takeaway: a key fact, point, or idea to be remembered, typically one emerging from a discussion or meeting: the main takeaway for me is that we need to continue to communicate all the things we’re doing for our customers | [as modifier]: the takeaway message. (NOAD)

Nesbitt uses both idioms, and, in metalinguistic asides, comments on his usages.

The plural of platypus. In panel 2, Zippy introduces platypi /plǽtɪpàj/ as the plural of platypus, and Nesbitt echoes that form. Two problems here: (1) the assumption that a noun borrowed from another language should have the plural form from the source language; and (2) the assumption that English platypus is borrowed from Latin and has the plural platypi there.

Assumption (1) is poor as a general rule: most nouns English has borrowed from Latin have taken regular English plurals (circuses, not circi; anuses, not ani; etc.), and the few that have been borrowed with their Latin plurals intact (like alumnus / alumni, locus / loci, genus / genera) have come from domains (scientific, religious, legal, etc.) where until the 20th century Latin was routinely used. So unless there is sme secial reason for using a borrowed plural, we’d expect platypuses (similarly: octopuses).

Assumption (2) is seriously flawed, because the source of platypus is Greek (platupous ‘flatfooted’), not Latin, though the spelling English adopted was a partially Latinized one. The  Greek plural adopted into English would be platypodes.

The platypus situation is exactly parallel to the octopus situation. NOAD‘s usage note on octopus:

The standard plural in English of octopus is octopuses. However, the word octopus comes from Greek [oktōpous ‘eight-footed’], and the Greek plural form octopodes is still occasionally used. The plural form octopi is mistakenly formed according to rules for Latin plurals, and is therefore incorrect.

Octopi has actually been used by well-intentioned (but ill-informed) people; as far as I can tell, platypi occurs only as a joke, almost as outrageous as stewardi as the plural of stewardess. (Zippy and Nesbitt are not model users.)


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