On the dog food watch

The 5/27 Wayno-Piraro Bizarro strip, set in the Land of Dogs:

(#1) (If you wonder about the secret symbol in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there’s just one in this strip — see this Page.)

A dog food with Quibbles in its name is of course not going to agree with you, in one sense of agree with. So you can understand the cartoon, and see that the pun on agree with in it makes it amusing — and still miss the extra joke that Wayno and Piraro threw in for you.

The cartoon would have been funny if the dog food had been named just Quibbles. But Quibbles and Fits is a lot funnier, because it’s another pun, on the name of the (actual) dog food Kibbles and Bits. But of course you have to know about this particular commercial product to get that joke.

The quibbles of disagreement. First, the noun quibble, which is all about disagreement:

noun quibble: a slight objection or criticism: the only quibble about this book is the price. (NOAD)

Then agree with from NOAD, with five distinct senses of agree with, two of which (boldfaced in the examples) are the ones making the primary pun in #1:

verb agree: [no object] 1 [a] have the same opinion about something; concur: I completely agree with your recent editorial … [b] (agree with) approve of (something) with regard to its moral correctness: do you agree with capital punishment? … 3 (agree with) [a] be consistent with: your body language does not agree with what you are saying. [b] Grammar have the same number, gender, case, or person as: the writer made the verb agree with the subject. [c] [usually with negative] be healthy or appropriate for someone: she’s eaten something that did not agree with her.

A quibble doesn’t agree with someone in sense 1a — it’s a different opinion — but the Quibbles dog food isn’t an entity that is capable of having an opinion. On the other hand, it is a substance that could cause physical distress for someone who ingests it (sense 3c); but no rational food company would advertise its product as something with such an effect.

So the cartoon is absurd whichever sense you choose, and that’s funny.

The actual dog food. From Wikipedia:


Kibbles ‘n Bits is a brand name of dog food manufactured and marketed by Big Heart Pet Brands [headquarters in San Francisco]. It was originally created in 1981 as the first dual textured dog food, having soft chewy pieces as well as hard crunchy ones. In 1985, more bits ingredients were added to the dog food and the brand was renamed “Kibbles ‘n Bits ‘n Bits ‘n Bits.” [In case you were wondering which are the kibbles and which are the bits, the company’s site refers to “our signature combo of crunchy kibble & tender, meaty bits”. On kibble vs. kibbles, see below.]

(#3) The balls are the (crunchy) kibbles, the rods are the (meaty) bits

In 1995, the brand was acquired by the H. J. Heinz Company, which in turn sold their pet food division to Del Monte later on. [Wikipedia is very much given to the twists and turns of business ownership.] It is currently the fifth largest dry dog food brand in the United States. The Lawrence, Kansas plant produces around 1.7 million pounds a day, 9.9 million pounds a week and around 497 million pounds of Kibbles ‘n Bits dog food a year.

The two nouns kibble. From NOAD:

verb kibble-1: [with object (usually as adjective kibbled) grind or chop (beans, grain, etc.) coarsely. ORIGIN late 18th century: of unknown origin.

noun kibble-1: North American ground meal shaped into pellets, especially for pet food.

The referent of this noun is something that can be counted; you can ask someone to count the kibble that’s in a bowl. Contrast this referent with the referent of the noun slurry. From NOAD again:

noun slurry: a semiliquid mixture, typically of fine particles of manure, cement, or coal suspended in water. ORIGIN late Middle English: related to dialect slur ‘thin mud’, of unknown origin.

Asking someone to count the slurry is bizarre; the fine particles are beyond our abiities to individuate by eye and hand. But the pellets of kibble are easily to individuate and so can be counted.

The noun slurry is a M(ass) noun in its morphosyntax, a fact that follows from the default principle for semantics-morphosyntax interfacing in the C/M domain: taCsiM, things are C, stuff is M.

But many referents can easily be seen as either things or stuff, depending on the way we deal with them in our daily lives. Your standard dry dog food comes in pellets, lumps, or balls, which are separable perceptually but whose individual identities are of no everyday concern to us; culturally, it’s stuff rather than things. Hence, the established noun kibble is M.

Of course, in contexts where you have reason to refer to the individual components of kibble, you can use longer expressions incorporating the M noun kibble: partitive nominals like piece of kibble or pellet of kibble (with a C noun as head) or compound nouns like kibble piece or kibble pellet (again with a C noun as head). If you want a single word for this purpose — after all, people are forever saying that they need “a word for” some referent that they could perfectly well have used a phrase for — then the way is open for you to invent one. In this case, given M kibble, you might invent the entertaining C noun kibblet.

On the other hand, simple conversion — in this case, countification — is always available: given M kibble, just posit a new noun, C kibble (so that its plural, kibbles, can now be used to refer to pieces of kibble, to kibble pellets).

In the dog food case, it’s nice to have a plural first conjunct, to pair with the plural bits as second conjunct; kibbles ‘n bits is poetically better than kibble ‘n bits.

[A little digression on the name for this product. The selling point is that the stuff is not just dry dog food — which is meal, though with meat flavors added — but also has meaty parts, which the company decided to call bits, suggesting ‘bits of meat’. That’s a poetically good choice, since the two conjuncts are assonant (both with accented /ɪ/, and it’s a legally cagey choice, since though those bits might be meaty (in taste or texture), the noun bits makes no commitment to there being any meat whatsoever in the stuff.

They could have called it Meal ‘n Meat — two parallel M conjuncts, assonant in /i/ — but that would have given it away that there’s probably no meat in the first component and that the second component is surely not mostly meat. Kibbles ‘n Bits cleverly sidesteps both issues.]

The Kibbles ‘n Bits commercial. When the product came onto the market in 1981, this was the first tv commercial, with a particularly sticky couplet of dactylic tetrameter:

(#4) Kibbles & Bits, Kibbles & Bits / I’m gonna get me some Kibbles & Bits

Tetrameter lines are composed of four feet. Dactylic feet are composed of three beats, ideally one spoken syllable for each beat, with the first beat accented (or S(trong)) and the others unaccented (either W(eak); or silent, realized as a rest or a prolongation of the preceding syllable — indicated by + below). So the Kibbles ‘n Bits jingle would be:

SWW  S++ SWW  S++

Compare the jingle to this couplet from the Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” (also dactylic tetrameter):

Picture yourself in a boat on a river with
Tangerine trees and marmalade sky

SWW  S+W   SWW   S

Same in poetic meter, but not at all interchangeable in singing, because they differ in the number of spoken syllables; the phrases in the first have the syllable count, in the second (confusingly, the same term, meter, is used in discussions of both poetic meters and syllable counts).

(English art poetry is heavily iambic, with WS feet, while English popular poetry — in folk music, nursery rhymes, rock music, crowd chants, ad jingles, etc. — is heavily front-accented, either trochaic (SW) or dactylic (SWW). English comic verse is often anapestic (WWS). But these are just gross generalizations. Meanwhile, tetrameter lines are everywhere.)

Dactylic verse is, speaking non-technically, bouncy. Well suited for a hungry galumphing sheepdog.

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