Shoe-high pie

The grim tale of the shoe elves who got wasted on ale and were baked into a bro pie by the evil shoemaker’s wife — I embroider a bit here — as condensed by Wayno and Piraro in their 11/7 Bizarro strip:

(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 4 in this strip — see this Page. Two of these, the Pie of Opportunity and the Lost Loafer, figure in the actual content of the cartoon and will be duly attended to in a moment.)

The Bizarro Bros have folded a fair number of things into this cartoon, starting with the bro mindset and the slang nouns dude and bro, going on to Grimm’s Fairy Tales, in particular the tale of the elves and the shoemaker, and incorporating shoes from both Grimm and Bizarro, plus Greek pie, and I don’t mean spanakopita.

dude and bro. As address terms, both function as markers of solidarity between young men (in American English). As referential terms, dude often approximates guy, while bro can merely be short for brother, or can be used specifically for reference to African American men, or can be used to refer to young men in closely bonded groups (fraternity brothers being the model). Both tend to take on connotations of “coolness”, but bro is especially inclined to pick up connotations of exclusion complementary to its solidarity content (in contrast to dude, which continues t expand its range of reference).

Some notes on these two items.

First, the abstract for Scott Kiesling’s article “Dude” in American Speech 79.3.281-305 (2004):

The patterns of use for the address term dude are outlined, as are its functions and meanings in interaction. Explanations are provided for its rise in use, particularly among young men, in the early 1980s, and for its continued popularity since then. Dude is used mostly by young men to address other young men; however, its use has expanded so that it is now used as a general address term for a group (same or mixed gender), and by and to women. Dude is developing into a discourse marker that need not identify an addressee, and more generally encodes the speaker’s stance to his or her current addressee(s). Dude indexes a stance of cool solidarity, a stance which is especially valuable for young men as they navigate cultural Discourses of young masculinity, which simultaneously demand masculine solidarity, strict heterosexuality, and nonconformity.

(On this blog, something of a dude digression, in my 12/21/12 posting “Dude Wipes”, with a section on Dudeism in The Great Lebowski.)

As for bro, there’s a substantial Page on this blog about brocabulary, with annotated links to a series of postings on bro and bro-words, including my 4/12/16 posting “On the brocabulary watch: brocialist”, drawing a distinction between

“bad”, negative bro, with misogynist connotations, as opposed to “good”, positive bro, [merely] connoting male bonding

The bros in the cartoon are good bros, and they’re bros in several senses: they’re buddies; they’re writing partners, churning out cool fables for modern times; they’re fraternity brothers, in Rho Phi Sigma; and they’re actual brothers, Jake and Willy Grimm. (And in fact there are rumors — you know how these things get around, dudes gossip like crazy — that after a bit of lager they get into giving each other bro-jobs.)

Symbols: pie. The cartoon is overloaded with content of all kinds. For instance, there’s Piraro’s Pie of Opportunity, in the lower right corner. Dan says of this:

The Pie of Opportunity: Opportunity is like a piece of pie underfoot. We must watch for it, for if we do not see it we may step in it and get sticky fruit and crust between our toes. If we search for it wisely, however, open to the possibility that it may be hiding anywhere, we may enjoy the delicious sweetness. But we must not jump hastily at found pie; what at first looks like a scrumptious dessert on the floor may actually be something the cat coughed up.

The message of the pie is scarcely hidden in the cartoon, since PIE is blazoned on one bro’s sweater and on the other bro’s ballcap. (They are, of course, both wearing ballcaps turned backwards; that’s part of the whole awesome bro presentation of self, along with the hipster goatees, or brotees.)

In a little symbolic joke, PIE is actually RFS, that is, (in Greek letters) Rho Phi Sigma, the fable-bros’ frat:


The bro-tale. Jake and Willy are updating a traditional tale. From Wikipedia:

(#3) Cover of the Paragon Books picture book version of 2013, a typically “cute” modern presentation of the story; Jake and Willy’s version has a bit more or an edge to it, since their elf dudes are into sucking up the shoemaker’s lager

“The Elves and the Shoemaker” is an often copied and re-made 1806 story about a poor shoemaker who receives much-needed help from three young helpful elves.

The original story is the first of three fairy tales, contained as entry 39 in the German Grimm’s Fairy Tales under the common title “Die Wichtelmänner”. In her translation of 1884 Margaret Hunt chose The Elves as title for these three stories.

There are many variants of the story in popular culture: in animated cartoons, tv shows, comic books, and children’s books.

Symbols: the shoe. An obsession with shoes and the making of shoes comes with the fairly-tale territory, but it plugs right into another of Piraro’s symbolic attachments:

The Lost Loafer: In life, all of us understand what it is to be lost — literally lost in the lingerie department of a store, or figuratively lost not knowing which way to turn in life, which job to take, which country’s customs officials are easiest to sneak past with recreational drugs. The lost loafer exists in recognition of that feeling we all have at some time in all our lives: useless, outcast, purposeless, smelly, without a mate.

The framed image of a gigantic shoe, radiating light like a beacon, is a central feature of the cartoon, along with the two bros’ faces (faces always catch our attention). Not at all a hidden symbol.

Notes on Jacob and Wilhelm and their fairy tales. As filtered through the movies and tv. From a 8/27/05 Language Log posting of mine, “Disowning The Brothers Grimm“:


No, I don’t want to disown Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, the first of whom is something of a hero of historical linguistics. I want to disown the movie The Brothers Grimm, and I’m doing this on behalf of linguists everywhere.

What the movie has in common with the real world is: two brothers named Grimm, early-19th-century Germans who were involved with fairy tales. As far as I can tell, that’s it. Imagine a Life of Noam in which, through the miracle of miniaturization, the heroic Chomsky (played by Brad Pitt in a revealing latex bodysuit) takes a band of brawling adventurers into the deepest recesses of the human brain, to recover bits of the language organ for sale through his start-up company — a sort of cerebral 21st-century Fantastic Voyage. Appalling.

In any case, not a movie to put on the recommended viewing list for students in your intro linguistics classes.

A more recent visit of mine to the movie and the original brothers: in the 6/29/19 posting “A bit more reaping”:

the actual Grimms and the movie Grimms are still open for reaperish play. A quirky note on the former, from Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips site, by Mignon Fogarty on 11/19/14:


Honored with a 1985 stamp: The next time you watch Snow White, remember that Grimm’s Fairy Tales may be what made the Grimm name famous in popular culture, but Jacob Grimm was also one of the giants of early linguistics.

(There are plenty of other Grimm-oriented German stamps. They are national culture heroes.)

And the movie, which has Matt Damon, Heath Ledger, and the slightest of connections to history. From Wikipedia:

The Brothers Grimm is a 2005 adventure fantasy film directed by Terry Gilliam. The film stars Matt Damon, Heath Ledger, and Lena Headey in an exaggerated and fictitious portrait of the Brothers Grimm as traveling con-artists in French-occupied Germany, during the early 19th century. However, the brothers eventually encounter a genuine fairy tale curse which requires real courage instead of their usual bogus exorcisms.

Along the way, my 11/12/15 posting “Movies and tv: Grimm”, about the very enjoyable tv show Grimm, set in Portland OR,  in a world populated by characters from Grimms’ Fairy Tales, with a note on Jacob and Wilhem Grimm.


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