The hurtful dog

Back on the 13th, David Horne passed on this cartoon on Facebook:


(#1) Explosm-style dog hurts man with words

This is in fact a Cyanide and Happiness meme, a 4-panel cartoon template with all the artwork taken, as is, from a particular Cyanide (Explosm.net) cartoon, and all the words too — except for the dog’s dagger to the heart in the 3rd panel. Meme sites supply the template; all you have to do is fill in your own nasty words in the 3rd panel; you get to judge what would truly wound your intended audience.

In this case, David’s FB readers included a large number of people who had failed to finish their PhD dissertations, or completed the work over long painful self-doubting years, or finished but without any enthusiasm for the dissertation they somehow squeaked though with, or gave up before embarking on the task at all (believing that they could only be defeated) — or who were close to people who went through such experiences. Waves of pain washed over quite a few of David’s FB friends, me included.

On the other hand, others found the cartoon wickedly funny, which was David’s first response, and I appreciate that reaction too.

To come: more on the Explosm Hurtful Dog meme, and on uncompleted PhD dissertations, and on another Explosm cartoon involving that same dog, whose bark turns out to be much, much worse than its bite, even though its bite is exquisitely painful.

What David said at the time:

I don’t know what makes me feel worse, that I posted such a nasty joke, or that so many people liked it! 😂I love you all, of course, it’s the way the joke is told that I found funny…

Fair enough.

Significant backgound: David (who is a composer, performer, and scholar of music) and I (an academic linguist) both completed PhD dissertations, he at Harvard in 1999, I at MIT in 1965. We both went on to professorships, in which positions we advised a number of PhD students and served on the dissertation committees of many others; he is still actively at it, while I have been retired from teaching and advising for some time now.

I found writing my dissertation to be painful and, in a way, humiliating: the best I could do in the time I had wasn’t very good. And then both of my life partners embarked on dissertations that they were unable to complete, to their great sorrow (Ann Daingerfield in French linguistics at the University of Illinois, Jacques Transue in linguistics at Ohio State).  So completing the PhD is a very sore point for me. Still, #1 is in fact wickedly funny.

As it happens, I’ve already written about another Explosm Hurtful Dog cartoon, in a 10/6/16 posting “Dog savages linguist”:


(#2) In fact, not at all savage, but on the silly side, though a fair number of linguists are somewhat ashamed of the state of their abilities in more than one language; you don’t use them, they degrade

The universe of Explosm Hurtful Dog cartoons. Gigantic, and incredibly diverse. The texts for the 3rd panels are deliberately offensive childish taunts, or psychologically astute, or narrowly tailored jabs directed at a particular reader, or cultural commentary, or inscrutable. A sampling, in no particular order (how could anyone order this stuff?):

PS4 Pro can’t play games in 4K.
Everyone at Princeton is smarter and more talented than you.
Trump is your President.
You will never be popular on the internet.
Your mom never loved you.
There are only two genders.
You will never find love.
That chocolate syrup was my diarrhea.
Your Ford is a piece of shit.
Lmao ur soundcloud is shit.
Your need to demonstrate status to others via materialism is a sign of immaturity and a low I.Q.
Post-Rock should never have vocals.
Episode 5 will be even worse.
Your startup won’t take off.
Robert E. O. Speedwagon died of a heart attack in 1952. Age 89. He was still single.
Keanu Reeves will die in your life time.
Your calves will never grow.
Firefly sucked.
All gun laws are infringements.
You are shit at upselling.
Your guitar timing sucked.
Seattle is such a wonderful place.
Fetch will never become a thing.

An Explosm Hurtful Dog with a disastrous bark. The dog from the Hurtful Dog meme has been used in a very different fashion, in this 5/18/15 Cyanide and Happiness strip by Kris Wilson:


(#3) Cyanide and Happiness tends to the sophomoric, and is frequently both cruel and disgusting

This strip takes a proverbial expression entirely literally, to alarming effect. From OED2 on the noun bark-3 in a metaphorical use in a familiar proverb:

2. b. contrasted with bite, esp. in his bark is worse than his bite: his angry words, threats, etc., are worse than the actual performance. [1st cite 1663]

Whoa! That dog’s bite is painful, but his bark is far worse.

3 Responses to “The hurtful dog”

  1. Max Vasilatos Says:

    I always say it’s a blessing I didn’t finish, it would have been a bleak route, and I’m not kidding but still…

  2. [BLOG] Some Thursday links | A Bit More Detail Says:

    […] Zwicky looks at “The Hurtful Dog”, a Cyanide and Happiness […]

  3. Tim Evanson Says:

    My not interesting tale:

    I finished my doctoral program in political science at American University with outstanding grades. I got honors on both my written completion exams, and the oral exam. I was the only person in some decades to do so on all three.

    I never began the dissertation.

    About two years ahead of me were a married couple, Scott and Debbie. He completed his doctorate in poli sci and she completed hers in statistics. They began looking for a joint appointment somewhere, and after a year he got one at one of the smaller University of Wisconsin satellite campuses and she at Mt. Mary (I think). Anyway, close enough that they could purchase a home in-between and commute to work in about 30 to 45 minutes.

    Scott published a piece in “PS”, the “trade industry” journal for political scientists. He was shocked by the job market for political science graduates, and did a quick survey of about 300 colleges to see if what he experienced was normal. It seemed so: Every open tenure-track position received about 150 applicants. Half were newly-minted doctoral students, half were long-tenured professors seeking a career move. Almost none of the doctoral students were hired. The universities far preferred candidates with extensive classroom experience, solid student evaluations, a track record of regular publication in peer-reviewed journals or of books, and lots of courses taught (with well-developed syllabi).

    The rare doctoral candidate who did get hired often had extensive teaching experience. (Not teaching assistant work, but courses taught without supervision.) They had good student evaluations, and two or three course syllabi to show off. Many had six or eight conference papers, even published articles or book chapters. Smaller schools preferred candidates who had real-world experience — such as being a lobbyist, the kind of person who testified in hearings, a government career, that sort of thing. (Their programs tended to be “practical” ones, focused on training state, county, and local civil servants to be better at their jobs.)

    I myself was looking for a job even though I hadn’t finished the dissertation. I made the final four at a small Great Plains university, and at a very small Protestant college on the West Coast. In both cases, I was told that my lack of a government career disqualified me. They loved my work, they loved my conference papers, they enjoyed the research background I had. But…

    I was clearly at a disadvantage in other ways, too. Many colleges claim to have big-name professors, but the people teaching the lower-level undergraduate courses are doctoral students. AU, however, sold itself as a college where doctoral students didn’t teach courses. That was great for undergrads, and knee-capped doctoral students seeking jobs. AU, like many private universities, prided itself on the small doctoral class sizes, its location in D.C., and its personal attention. However, it provided no research support to its doctoral candidates, unlike the bigger (less prestigious) public schools. If a student wanted to write a conference paper, they had to fund their own research, fund their own travel and housing, pay their own conference fees. Married students or those with existing government or private-sector careers were able to do this, sometimes. I — an unmarried gay male with no job — could not.

    Being a gay male was an additional disadvantage. This was 1992, and being public about one’s sexual orientation could be a serious disadvantage. Moreover, the LGBTQ caucus within the American Political Science Association was fairly upfront about what young LGBT professionals would face: The most likely job would be a non-tenure track full-time position on a two-year contract at a small, rural public college in a conservative location. Working as hard as one could, an individual might present four conference papers (of varying quality), turn one’s dissertation into a book or book chapter, and — if you were very lucky — get an article accepted in one of the minor poli sci journals. (Serial submission is the norm in poli sci. It takes about a year for an article to be accepted, and another year to 18 months for publication to occur. Submitting to multiple journals at once gets one blackballed.)

    With superb student evaluations, a 3-3-2 course load each year, and professional service at the college, an individual might get a tenure-track full-time position, or a full-time non-tenure track job (with promise of tenure track in two or three years) at a slightly larger college in a slightly less homophobic location. Assuming tenure track, after seven years more of hard labor — including at least one book publication, four journal articles, two conference papers a year, a 4-4 course load, extensive professional service for the college and the profession — one could get tenure.

    At that point, an individual could apply for tenure-track positions at mid-size urban schools in LGBT-tolerant locations. You could probably come out of the professional closet if you got a job at one of these schools. Your course load would drop to 3-2 or 2-3 or 2-2-1, and your publication productivity would be expected to continue (although it would drop off, while the quality of work was expected to rise).

    I’d be 35 or 36 years old, finally able to date for the first time since I was 22, exhausted, and still renting.

    APSA was also clear about what was happening in 1992: Tenure-track positions in the social science were being done away with. Getting a tenure-track position in the next five years was critical. If students didn’t get one, they would likely never get one.

    I quit. I loved what I was doing. I grieved intensely for my abandoned dreams for some years. But I quit.

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