Omega Omega Top

The Wayno/Piraro Bizarro of 6/11, a cartoon that’s totally incomprehensible if you don’t know know one piece of American popular culture:


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

I would have entitled the strip Ω Ω Top, but Wayno and Dan went for Omega Omega Top instead. (More on the title below.)

In any case, to have any hope whatsoever in understanding the cartoon, you need to know that there’s an American rock band named ZZ Top. (The name of the band is pronounced /zi zi tap/, which is written as ZZ Top. Contrast this with the statistical test whose name is written as the Z-test, a name is pronounced as /zi tɛst/ by American speakers, but /zɛd tɛst/ by British, Australian, and most Canadian speakers. The band’s name is pronounced /zɛd zɛd tap/) only as a joke, or as a mistake by someone unfamiliar with the name.)

To begin to understand why the cartoon might be funny, you need to know that Ω is the (upper-case form of the) last letter of the Greek alphabet, just as Z is the (upper-case form of the) last letter of the Latin alphabet (as we use it in writing English); that the figures in the cartoon are playing ancient Greek musical instruments (two stringed, one percussion); and that the instruments and the appearance of the players match those of ZZ Top (two guitarists, one drummer; sunglasses for everybody; stetson hats and long beards for the guitarists). So the cartoon provides a complex mapping between ZZ Top today and music-making in ancient Greece.

The ancient Greek players. As best as I can tell, their instruments are, from left to right in #1: (string) lyre – (percussion) tympanum – (string) the harp-like psaltery

The modern rock band. From Wikipedia:


(#2) In performance in 2016: (left to right) Dusty Hill, Frank Beard, Billy Gibbons (Wikipedia photo, by Brian Marks)

ZZ Top is an American rock band formed in 1969 [52 years ago] in Houston, Texas. The group consists of founder Billy Gibbons (vocals, [lead] guitar), Dusty Hill (vocals, bass [guitar]), and Frank Beard (drums). Initially rooted in blues, the band’s style has evolved throughout their career, with a signature sound based on Gibbons’ blues guitar style and the rhythm section of Hill and Beard. Their lyrics, often embellished with sexual innuendo, focus on their Texas roots and sense of humor. Popular for their live performances and the identical physical appearances of Gibbons and Hill — who are rarely seen without their long beards, sunglasses, and Stetson hats — the group has staged several elaborate tours.

All three have Texas roots, and they are very much of an age: singer-guitarist Billy Gibbons (b. 12/16/49, Houston TX), bass player Dusty Hill (original name Joe Michael Hill, b. 5/19/49, Dallas TX) and drummer Frank Beard (b. 6/11/49, Frankston TX).

A sample of their blues:

(#4) “Blue Jean Blues” (2005 remaster), from the Fandango! album (1975)

The title of the cartoon. I’m still puzzling over the non-parallelism between the names of the musical groups in English and Greek: not ZZ Top and Ω Ω Top (letter-symbols in both languages) or Zee Zee Top and Omega Omega Top (letter-names, as spelled in English, in both languages), but the mixed ZZ Top and Omega Omega Top. Maybe Wayno wanted to avoid the /zi/ (spelled Zee) vs. /zɛd/ spelled Zed) issue, but as I noted above, that’s irrelevant, since ZZ Top always has /zi/. But I’ll send him a copy of this posting, so he can have his say, if he wants. (It’s a small, pedantic, point; nothing that makes the cartoon so complexly funny hinges on it.)

4 Responses to “Omega Omega Top”

  1. Stewart Kramer Says:

    I think the “alpha and omega” metaphor for first-and-last would make the spelled-out name slightly more recognizable to a general audience than the symbol, easily confused with the zodiac Libra symbol (♎︎ which has an underline to make it “equal to or Omega than”), or easily confused with “w” as ω in lower case.

    Also, the symbols can represent abbreviations for units (“Ohm Ohm Top” seems like a valid pronunciation, but makes no sense). Similarly, the pronunciation “Double-Omega Top” might lead to fruitless searches for meaning with 007, James Bond, and the secret agent genre

    I’ll defend the spelled-out version as more likely to be recognized and interpreted correctly. Stylistic parallelism would be nice, but not worth the chance of misunderstanding.

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    Wikipedia on the origin of the band’s name:

    The name of the band was Gibbons’ idea. The band had a little apartment covered with concert posters and he noticed that many performers’ names used initials. Gibbons particularly noticed B.B. King and Z. Z. Hill and thought of combining the two into “ZZ King”, but considered it too similar to the original name. He then figured that “king is going at the top” which brought him to “ZZ Top”.

    Stories of band name origins tend to have a random-accident quality to them.

  3. arnold zwicky Says:

    Also from Mike Pope on Facebook:

    I have another story about the band. Some years ago, I took lessons at a guitar school. One of their classes was for “teen rockers” — high school students. At the year-end recital, I guess you’d call it, one of the songs that that teen rockers played was “La Grange.” I told the guy who ran the school that I was a little surprised that he had teenagers singing about a whorehouse. It’s possible he was not aware till then what “that shack outside La Grange” was about.

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