The shoe in the toilet

Today’s Wayno/Piraro Bizarro “Writer’s Block”, with a plumber coming to the rescue:


(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 6 in this strip — see this Page.)

The plumber’s explanation alerts us to the fact that this is about a pun (involving homonyms), but it doesn’t locate the responsible item. He’s holding out a shoe, indicating that this is the relevant object. Crucially, it’s not just any shoe, but a specific type of shoe, known as a … clog.  Ah, and the plumber’s job was presumably to clear a clog in the toilet. (But ya gotta know your shoes.)

Further ah: the clog in the toilet was a clog.

Lexicographic notes. From NOAD:

noun clog: 1 a shoe with a thick wooden sole. 2 an encumbrance or impediment: a clog in the system. ORIGIN Middle English (in the sense block of wood to impede an animal’s movement): of unknown origin.

The surprise here is that the two grossly different senses of clog derive historically from the same ME word. (This is the sort of objectively accurate but subjectively fantastical etymology that leads people to believe that any story you could concoct about an etymology — especially if it is vivid, detailed, and surprising — can be advanced as a plausible history.)

In fact, the etymology appears to begin with a ‘chunk of wood’ sense, which is then developed in two quite different directions by semantic specialization — chunk of wood as an encumbrance vs. chunk of wood made into a shoe. A highly compressed version of the development,  from OED2, without datings:

1. A thick piece of wood; a short piece of the trunk, or of a large root, of a tree; a block, clump. Still the ordinary sense in Scotland.
2. a. [specialization of sense 1] A block or heavy piece of wood, or the like, attached to the leg or neck of a person or animal, to impede motion or prevent escape.
b. [generalization of 2a] A load to obstruct the motion of anything.
… 3. [further generalization, from 2]  figurative. Anything that impedes action or progress; an impediment, encumbrance, hindrance
… 6. [also from sense 1, highly specialized] (a) A wooden-soled overshoe or sandal worn (chiefly by women) in some localities, to protect the feet from wet and dirt;  (b) a shoe with a thick wooden sole protected by a rim of metal, worn in the north.

The fact remains that any modern speaker should be expected to think of impediment clog and shoe clog as two entirely different words — two different lexical items, or lexemes — that are merely accidentally homophonous. Yet they’re together as subsenses in a single entry in NOAD — entirely because of their history.

The shoes. From Wikipedia:


(#2) Maguba’s (a company specializing in Swedish-design clogs) “Berkeley Black” style, similar to the one in the cartoon

Clogs are a type of footwear made in part or completely from wood. Clogs are used worldwide and although the form may vary by culture, within a culture the form often remained unchanged for centuries.

Traditional clogs remain in use as protective footwear in agriculture and in some factories and mines. Although clogs are sometimes negatively associated with cheap and folkloric footwear of farmers and the working class, some types of clogs are considered fashion wear today, such as Swedish träskor or Japanese geta. Clogs are also used in several different styles of dance. When worn for dancing, an important feature is the sound of the clog against the floor

We’ve been here before. Another Bizarro version of the clog pun, in my 3/31/13 posting “Another pun from yesterday”:


(#3) “Despite the fact that the cartoon is wordless, it still communicates a pun. … The plumber is there to deal with a clog ‘impediment, blockage’ in the toilet — note the plunger — and what he’s found is a clog ‘shoe with a thick wooden sole’ in the toilet.”

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