Knowing how vs. knowing that/what

The grilling of the One Big Happy kids on their social / cultural knowledge as evidenced in their language use continues in the 11/30 strip (previous episode: my 12/20/20 posting “What question are you asking?”):

(#1) Note the context. One person could ask another whether they used sarcasm, just as chat or small talk, but that’s not what’s going on in the strip. This is some kind of test — note the dad’s laptop — and Joe is perfectly aware of that, though he has no idea what’s being tested.

Then there’s something of a trap in the question “Do you use sarcasm?” It’s perfectly possible to know how to use sarcasm without knowing that the contemptuous verbal practice you’re engaging in is in fact called sarcasm: you know how, but you don’t know what it’s called. As turns out to be the case for Joe: he can wield sarcasm just fine — he uses a sarcasm-devoted linguistic form in Like I know what X is, conveying that you don’t know what X is and expressing contempt for someone who expects that you should.

An analogy without the contempt: it would in principle be possible to adore the  Canadian dish poutine without knowing that that’s what it’s called — so that an honest answer to the question Do you like poutine? would be I don’t know; what is poutine? — a non-contemptuous counterpart to Joe’s Like I know what sarcasm is.

I have no idea of the range of sarcasm-devoted linguistic forms in English, but it includes at least Like I know what X is (how to do X, who X is, where X is etc.)– and its expanded version Do I look like I know what X is?

Two examples of the expanded version (from American popular culture).

— from the Know Your Meme site (in Texan):


“Do I Look Like I Know What a JPEG is?” is a memorable quote uttered by Hank Hill in season 9 [episode 11] of the American animated television series King of the Hill.

Origin: On April 10th, 2005, Fox aired the King of the Hill episode “Redcorn Gambles with His Future.” In the episode, Hank Hill is tasked with organizing the Strickland Family Fun Day event by his boss, Buck Strickland. In one scene, Hank, at a print shop, irately asks the clerk if it looks like he knows what a JPEG is before telling the clerk that all he wants is a picture of a “god-dang hot dog”.

— from the Look Mamma! site, this badge / pin / fridge magnet:


3 Responses to “Knowing how vs. knowing that/what”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    I wouldn’t necessarily assume that Joe doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing.

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