The clown barber of Custard Street

Friday’s Wayno/Piraro collabo Bizarro strip (titled “Shaving Cream Pie”):


(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 3 in this strip — see this Page.)

Ordinary barbers use shaving cream; clown barbers use cream pies. It’s just like spas: ordinary spas use facial creams (for moisturizing); clown spas use cream pies.

Bonus: the cartoon shows a clown barber twice over: a barber who is a clown, and also a barber for clowns.

Background, taking off from earlier postings on this blog.

— in the 3/10/13 posting “More sexual terminology”, about the food cream pie; the creampie as sexual practice; and sexual cream ‘semen, cum’; from NOAD:

noun cream pie: a pie with a sweet, custard-like filling, often topped with whipped cream: a cream pie just tastes better when it’s chilled | a chocolate cream pie.

Compare this to the term from pornography, creampie aka internal ejaculation, referring to the practice of a man’s ejaculating inside a partner’s anus or vagina so that dripping of semen from this cavity is visible.

And compare sexual cream to cosmetic or medical cream; from NOAD:

noun cream: … 2 a thick liquid or semisolid cosmetic or medical preparation applied to the skin: shaving cream | moisturizing creams.

(You might want to argue that shaving cream, moisturizing or cosmetic cream and medical cream are three distinct lexical items, specialized for different contexts of use, though all three (and sexual cream) share a history as metaphorical developments from cream referring to the dairy product.)

— in the 4/10/18 posting “Two cartoons from friends”, in discussion of cartoon #2 there, accounts of the practice of pieing (by clowns and others), of custard pies, and of cream pies.

— in the 6/18/19 posting “The clown facial”, pieing at the spa, where ordinary people get beauty facials (with moisturizing creams for the face) but clowns get clown facials (with cream pies in the face). Cartoons from that posting, a Rhymes With Orange and an Andertoon:

(#2)

(#3)

(The posting contrasts the semantic relationships in the three N + N compounds beauty facial, clown facial, and cum facial.)

As at the beauty spa (in these cartoons), so at the barber shop (in #1).

clown barber. This N + N compound has alternative understandings in the same way as the compound dog therapist that I posted about in my 9/22/18 posting “therapist dog, dog therapist”, where I looked at

cartoons exemplifying the Psychiatrist cartoon meme, with dogs either as patient or therapist (or both): therapist dog ‘dog that is a therapist’ (also ‘dog for therapists (to use, for example as companions)’, a sense I’ll disregard here); dog therapist either ‘therapist that is a dog’ (sense 1) or ‘therapist for dogs (taking dog as patients)’ (sense 2).

The compounds are subsective (the denotation of N1 + N2  is a subset of the denotation of N2): a therapist dog is a dog, a dog therapist is a therapist. The semantic relations between head N2 and modifier N1 are from a small set of canonical relations in the interpretation of N +  N compounds:

PredCop (Predicative / Copulative): the compound denotes a N2 that is a N1: e.g. therapist dog or sense 1 of dog therapist

Use: the compound denotes a N2 that is for N1s (to use): e.g., sense 2 of dog therapist

So with the clown barber in #1, except that he is both a barber who is a clown (clown barber as a Predicative / Copulative compound) and also a barber for clowns (clown barber as a Use compound).

In fact, Predicative / Copulative clown barber out of context can be understood in several more ways, thanks to an ambiguity in the noun clown. From NOAD:

noun clown: 1 [a] a comic entertainer, especially one in a circus, wearing a traditional costume and exaggerated makeup. [b] a comical, silly, playful person: I was always the class clown. [c] a foolish or incompetent person: we need a serious government, not a bunch of clowns. 2 archaic an unsophisticated country person; a rustic.

So far, we’ve been taking clown to have sense 1a, but 1b and 1c are also possible — giving us clown barber referring to someone playing at being a barber, sending up barbers (1b); or to an incompetent barber (1c).

Lexical ambiguity (as for clown) is everywhere, but N + N compounds open up a whole new dimension of ambiguities — because they are merely two Ns in sequence without any indication of the relationship between them. All that extra ambiguity is what you pay for the convenience of brevity. You get brevity, and in fact you get all that delicious ambiguity that you can then use for language play.

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