Non sequiturs meet associative thinking

On a larger scale, the war between randomness and organization, in which Zippy fights on both sides. In today’s strip, he’s in his random mode, distributing non sequiturs from a polka-dot van:


One thing doesn’t lead to another. Instead, things just pop up from out of nowhere, without rationale.

But at other times in Zippy’s world, everything leads to something else, in steps. On paths that might go in surprising directions, the way conversations tend to wander.

Either way, linearity bites.

A Zippy strip that proceeds by association of one idea with another:

(#2) The topic of clothing (sneakers and jeans, later suits) leads to conformism, and then to religion, and then to immaturity

Zippy’s world is  both random and associative, a surreal world in which events happen as in a dream, with startling inexplicable juxtapositions of elements that then lead meanderingly in different directions.

As captured in the “Nightmare Song” from Gilbert & Sullivan’s Iolanthe:

… you dream you are crossing the channel, and tossing
About in a steamer from Harwich,
Which is something between a large bathing machine
And a very small second class carriage,

And you’re giving a treat (penny ice and cold meat)
To a party of friends and relations,
They’re a ravenous horde, and they all come aboard
At Sloane Square and South Kensington stations.

And bound on that journey, you find your attorney
(who started this morning from Devon);
He’s a bit undersized and you don’t feel surprised
When he tells you he’s only eleven.

Well, you’re driving like mad with this singular lad
(By the by, the ship’s now a four-wheeler),
And you’re playing round games, and he calls you bad names
When you tell him that ties pay the dealer;

But this you can’t stand, so you throw up your hand,
And you find you’re as cold as an icicle,
In your shirt and your socks (the black silk with gold clocks)
Crossing Salisbury Plain on a bicycle.

And he and the crew are on bicycles too,
Which they’ve somehow or other invested in,
And he’s telling the tars all the particulars
Of a company he’s interested in;

It’s a scheme of devices, to get at low prices
All goods from cough mixtures to cables
(Which tickled the sailors) by treating retailers
As though they were all vegetables:

You get a good spadesman to plant a small tradesman
(first take off his boots with a boot tree),
And his legs will take root, and his fingers will shoot,
And they’ll blossom and bud like a fruit tree;

From the greengrocer tree you get grapes and green peas,
Cauliflower, pineapple and cranberries,
While the pastry-cook plant cherry brandy will grant,
Apple puffs, and three corners, and banburys;

The shares are a penny and ever so many
Are taken by Rothschild and Bering …

(#3) Things that are good for you: on-topic non-sequiturs

In the real world, randomness and association are usually seen as antagonistic principles: either that was just luck, or it was the result of your hard work and good judgment, but not both. In fact, everyday reasoning tends to discount the possibility of randomness, in favor of the belief that “everything happens for a reason”.

(#4) Batman slaps reason into Robin (in a recaptioning)

Big oppositions. Randomness vs. organization, to start with. But then we can go lots of places, including two specific to linguistics.

Faith vs. WF, faithfulness (to some original) vs. well-formedness (adherence to some restriction on form). How to spell /’zwɪkiz/,  the plural of the proper name Zwicky? Faith says: Zwickys (preserving the orthographic form of the name). WF says: Zwickies (conforming to a spelling rule that calls for the final Y to be replaced by I, as in hankies as the plural of hanky). There’s a Page on this blog listing postings on Faith vs. WF.

Conflicts between the two general principles abound; they’re resolved in different ways in different cases.

Brevity vs. clarity. Brevity and its companion ease (serving especially the needs of the speaker or writer) vs. clarity and its companion perceptibility (serving especially the needs of the hearer or reader). Again, the inevitable conflicts between the two general principles will be resolved in different ways in different cases.

In my 5/16/18 posting “There oughta be a word”, there’s a section on brevity vs. clarity in morphosyntax.

In the literature on style and usage, the opposition is between Omit Needless Words (ONW) and Include All Necessary Words (IANW). My 8/28/09 posting “And the winners are …” has a report on my OI! project at Stanford, on ONW and IANW.

And in phonology, the opposition is between ease of articulation and perceptibility, manifesting itself in lenition and reduction phenomena together, serving ease, as opposed to fortition, strengthening, reinforcing, phenomena, serving perceptibility — an opposition central to an account of “rule interactions” in phonology. See the extended discussion in my 1987 paper “Rule interactions: Another gloss on K&& K”.


3 Responses to “Non sequiturs meet associative thinking”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    If you or one of your relatives were to invent something that became so widespread that the name started being treated like a common noun, I could imagine pluralizing it as Zwickies (or zwickies), but as a way of referring to you and yours it strikes me as very strange.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      I agree (Faith should rule), but many people have taken the position that, well, Rules Are Rules and that Zwickys is Just Misspelled.

      • Robert Coren Says:

        I wonder how those people feel about the fact that Toronto’s National Hockey League team is called the Maple Leafs.

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