Chez Le Fourmilier

Yesterday’s Bizarro/Wayno collaboration:

(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 5 in this strip — see this Page.)

A strenuous exercise in cartoon understanding: you need to be familiar with a certain kind of (seafood) restaurant, and to recognize both anteaters and a children’s educational toy known as an ant farm. And then to understand that the cartoon embodies a metaphorical translation from a seafood restaurant world to an anteater world.

Oh, the title of this posting. French masc. noun fourmilier ‘anteater’ < fourmi ‘ant’. French restaurant names of the form Chez N ‘at N’s’: Chez Henri; the Haitian restaurant Chez Le Bebe in Miami FL; etc.. Why not Chez Le Fourmilier ‘At the Anteater’s’?

The seafood-restaurant world. In particular, seafood restaurants with tanks of living creatures — lobsters, eels, clams, whatever — from which diners can make their own choice of a particular creature to be served as main course of their meal. In the U.S., the most common creatures afforded this treatment are lobsters, on display in a lobster tank (to which the anteater-world counterpart is the ant farm).

Lobster tanks are natural targets for cartoon humor (in which the lobsters are anthropomorphized). In this Shoe strip, for instance:

(#2) Lobster humor, plus a pun on pen ‘enclosure for animals’ vs. pen ‘penitentiary’

(Note the lobster claws held closed by sturdy rubber bands.)

And in the strips of Maine cartoonist Jeff Pert. For example:



(Lobster tanks in a market rather than in a restaurant.)

On the artist, from the Bangor Daily News (Bangor ME), “Popular Maine cartoonist Jeff Pert dies at 55” by Kathleen Pierce on 4/7/14:

Jeff Pert, a Brunswick [ME] cartoonist known for humanizing lobsters and moose with edgy humor, died unexpectedly Friday. He was 55.

Born in Bath and raised in Winslow [both in Maine], Pert was a successful cartoonist whose work appeared in books and magazines and was sold in gift shops from Maine to the Caribbean.

His cartoon “How’s the water, Bob?” depicting a frantic lobster headed for the stockpot, was among his most popular sketches.

“His cartoons are really part of the Maine brand. I see them in diners and gift shops all along 95,” said Mike Lynch, a fellow cartoonist and friend who lives in New Hampshire. “That’s thanks to the high demand and appeal of those cartoons.”

He did not eat seafood, his brother Jonathan Pert said, but illustrated endless crustaceans in compromising positions.

The anteater world. From Wikipedia:

A formicarium or ant farm is a vivarium which is designed primarily for the study of ant colonies and how ants behave. Those who study ant behavior are known as myrmecologists.

The formicarium was invented by Charles Janet, a French entomologist and polymath, who had the idea of reducing the three dimensions of an ant nest to the virtual two dimensions between two panes of glass. His design was exhibited in the Exposition Universelle (1900) in Paris.

… The first commercially sold formicarium was introduced around 1929 by Frank Eugene Austin (1873-1964), an inventor and professor at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College. Austin received a patent for his formicarium on June 16, 1931, as well as further patents for its continued development. Austin included whimsical painted or wooden scenes of palaces, farms and other settings above the ground level.

In 1956, Milton Levine, founder of Uncle Milton Industries, created his own version of a formicarium, reportedly independently from Frank Austin. Levine got the idea when attending a Fourth of July picnic. Levine registered the term ant farmfor his product and registered it as a trademark. [And marketed the formicarium as an educational toy for children.]

The Uncle Milton toys are still sold. A picture of one of them, from


You can see the toy repoduced in some detail in the cartoon in #1.

The translation from one world to the other. From my 5/22/18 posting “(I just) can’t stop (it)”, about a Harry Bliss New Yorker cartoon:

A translation of a scene (of snack-food addiction, in the universe of tv commercials) to a parallel metaphorical world (of rampaging Godzillas, in the universe of monster movies).

… The cartoon translates the first [world] into the second by identifying elements of the two worlds — setting, participants, activities, and so on. The speaker on the right is just someone chomping on snacks with a friend, but is also Godzilla #2, in the midst of a shared frenzy of people-eating.

… On a small scale, such translations are commonplace in cartoons, where part of the humor comes from the absurdity of the identifications. Fearsome monsters in comfy chairs are reflexively crunching up people because their bodies are irresistibly tasty.

So in #1 we have a diner choosing a lobster from the lobster tank and his server congratulating him on his choice (note the bit of conventionalized service encounter, complete with the formula Excellent choice and the address term sir), and these participants are simultaneously cartoon anteaters contemplating an Uncle Milton ant farm.

Says the anteater: Can’t wait to get my sticky tongue on that little beauty!

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