Mistakes in avian medicine

Brought to my attention on Facebook by Chris Hansen, this grotesque Bizarro from 2013:


A real test in cartoon understanding, this one. Some readers on Facebook never got it, many (including me) took a few moments to figure it out.

Obvious givens. One, the text mentions Botox, so you need to know what that is. From Wikipedia:

Botulinum toxin (BTX) is a neurotoxic protein produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum and related species. It prevents the release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine from axon endings at the neuromuscular junction and thus causes flaccid paralysis. Infection with the bacterium causes the disease botulism. The toxin is also used commercially in medicine, cosmetics and research.

… Botulinum toxin types A and B are used in medicine to treat various muscle spasms and diseases characterized by overactive muscle. The commercial form is marketed under the brand name Botox, among others.

… In cosmetic applications, botulinum toxin is considered safe and effective for reduction of facial wrinkles, especially in the uppermost third of the face. Injection of botulinum toxin into the muscles under facial wrinkles causes relaxation of those muscles, resulting in the smoothing of the overlying skin. Smoothing of wrinkles is usually visible three days after treatment and is maximally visible two weeks following injection. The treated muscles gradually regain function, and generally return to their former appearance three to four months after treatment. Muscles can be treated repeatedly to maintain the smoothed appearance.

Two, the two characters in the cartoon are large black birds — ravens or crows. You need to recognize that. From Wikipedia:

A raven is one of several larger-bodied species of the genus Corvus. These species do not form a single taxonomic group within the genus.

There is no consistent distinction between “crows” and “ravens”, and these appellations have been assigned to different species chiefly on the basis of their size, crows generally being smaller than ravens.

Three, the bird on the right is in a wheelchair (which you must recognize), presumably because it has no feet and so cannot walk.

None of that is especially challenging. The trick is to figure out how the three things — Botox, ravens or crows, and a bird with no feet — fit together.

The crucial link. If you identify the birds as ravens, you’re screwed; crow is crucial. Then your task is to find an association  between a crow with no feet and Botox. What is Botox used for? Eliminating facial wrinkles. So is there an association between a crow with no feet and eliminating facial wrinkles?

If the lightbulb still hasn’t gone on, consider this photo:

(#2) Facial wrinkles

What are these facial wrinkles called in English? Ahhh…

From NOAD:

n. crow’s foot: 1 (usually crow’s feet) a branching wrinkle at the outer corner of a person’s eye. 2 a mark, symbol, or design formed of lines diverging from a point, resembling a bird’s footprint.

An idiomatic compound noun, of the form Nposs + N, with metaphorical semantics, referring to a wrinkle resembling a crow’s foot. It could have been crowfoot or bird’s foot or birdfoot or chickenfoot or cocksfoot etc., but crow’s foot was the version that happened to get conventionalized for the wrinkle reference.

So: people use Botox to eliminate crow’s feet. If a crow uses it, well, no more feet for that crow. The cartoon hinges on a pun: idiomatic crow’s feet referring to facial wrinkles vs. literal crow’s feet. But with the pun evoked indirectly, via the allusion to Botox. Clever, but very convoluted.

Bird’s feet in the plant world. The metaphor in crow’s feet ‘wrinkles at the corner of the eye’ occurs also in plant names, for plants with parts that resemble bird’s feet in some way. At least three: crowfoot, bird’s-foot trefoil, and cock’s-foot.

From NOAD:

n. crowfoot: a herbaceous plant related to the buttercups, typically having lobed or divided leaves and white or yellow flowers. Many kinds are aquatic with flowers held above the water. Genus Ranunculus, family Ranunculaceae: many species, in particular the European water crowfoot (R. aquatilis).

On this blog, on 4/21/13, in “ranunculus”, a section on crowfoots.

From NOAD:

n. bird’s-foot trefoil(also birdsfoot trefoil): a small plant of the pea family with leaves that consist of three leaflets, yellow flowers streaked with red, and triple pods that resemble the feet of a bird. Lotus corniculatus, family Leguminosae.

From Wikipedia on the plant:


Lotus corniculatus is a common flowering plant in the pea family Fabaceae, native to grassland in temperate Eurasia and North Africa. Common names include common bird’s-foot trefoil and just bird’s-foot trefoil, though the common name is often also applied to other members of the genus. It is also known in cultivation in North America as bird’s-foot deervetch.

It is a perennial herbaceous plant, similar in appearance to some clovers. The flowers are mostly visited by bumblebees and develop into small pea-like pods or legumes. The name ‘bird’s foot’ refers to the appearance of the seed pods on their stalk. Five leaflets are present, but with the central three held conspicuously above the others, hence the use of the name ‘trefoil’. It is often used as forage and is widely used as food for livestock due to its nonbloating properties.

And finally, from my 7/5/17 posting “More news not for penises”:

#13 Dactylis glomerata, also known as cock’s-foot, orchard grass, or cat grass (due to its popularity for use with domestic cats) is a common species of grass in the genus Dactylis. It is a cool-season perennial … bunchgrass native throughout most of Europe, temperate Asia, and northern Africa.


One Response to “Mistakes in avian medicine”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    There is also a bird’s-foot violet (Viola pedata).

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