Toad away, groaning

From Verdant on Twitter this morning, a link to this carefully set-up elaborate pun from cartoonist Eric Scott (in a strip published today):

(#1) The set-up introduces the crucial words, but indirectly:

In the 1st panel, we meet an amphibian character A, either a frog or toad; in the 2nd panel, A tells possum P that they live away from the city, thus evoking the conventional counterpart to the city, the country; in the 3rd panel, by saying they’re looking for a big book, A asks P to give him such a book (something you might refer to as a (weighty) tome), one of P’s own (which P would refer to using the possessive determiner my), evoking the conventional counterpart to the verb give, take; in the 4th panel, the four words are knit into the pay-off, a familiar formulaic expression, the song title “Take Me Home, Country Roads”:

— take [transportation take punned on by exchange take]

— me [direct-object me punned on by possessive determiner me ‘my’]

— home [adverbial home punned on by direct-object tome]

— country [location noun country ‘in the country’ punned on by source / origin noun country ‘from the country’]

— roads [punned on by toad]

Note that in all this punning (some perfect, some imperfect), the syntactic organization of take me home is drastically altered, from the song title’s verb with two arguments (‘convey me to my home’):

V + DirectObject + Adverbial

to possum P’s take me tome, a verb with one argument (‘accept my book’):

V + DirectObject, where this DirectObject is an NP composed of a possessive Det and a head N

About the song. From Wikipedia:


“Take Me Home, Country Roads”, also known simply as “Country Roads”, is a song written by Bill Danoff, Taffy Nivert and John Denver about West Virginia. It was released as a single performed by Denver on April 12, 1971

… The song is considered a symbol of West Virginia.

Determiner me ‘my’. Sticking out like a sore thumb in Take me tome, country toad is that possessive determiner me ‘my’: very much not standard English, but at least vaguely familiar to native speakers, and certainly comprehensible to them. So, a bold and outrageous move on the part of the cartoonist.

MWDEU p. 628 on me for my:

Our evidence suggests that this use is chiefly associated with Irish dialect; it is used humorously by others as well: … Flannery O’Connor, letter of 2/2/59: They are paying me well and unfortunately I have to earn me bread.

More details from DARE on determiner me:

Used as possessive adj in distinct regions and with separate origins in Amer Engl …

a [in the sea islands of South Carolina and Georgia, from Gullah; cites back to 1888]

b [in 19th-century representations of Irish speech (in print from 1894 on, then in interview data (mid-20th century) from aged speakers in NJ and PA)]

The cartoonist. New to me, and still pretty much of cipher, though he does love wild-assed puns.  There are many Eric Scotts in this world, and a surprising number of them are artists of one sort of world. On top of that, this one is decidedly cagey about his life and work. Two of his strips,1 and Done and Back in the Day, are distributed by GoComics, but he clearly does other strips (like #1). Today’s Back in the Day, with another groaner, not as elaborate as #1:

(#3) The line spoken by Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) in Field of Dreams (1989) is, “If you build it, he will come” (usually misquoted with they) — so /bɪld/ > /bold/, and /kʌm/ > /kom/

The genre. Outrageous elaborate set-up puns, based on formulaic expressions, are a genre in themselves, often treated as a kind of shaggy dog story (because of their complexity), though classic shaggy dog stories are anticlimactic, while these formula puns culminate in a complex pay-off. I learned the elaborately transpositional boyfoot bear with teak of Chan in high school, and then the elaborately punning crossing staid lions for immortal porpoises not long after — both, faute de mieux, under the shaggy dog label.

In any case, some cartoonists are especially drawn to the formula-pun genre. Stephan Pastis, in particular. From my 5/30/20 posting “Force cor”:


By far the most outrageous elaborate pun I’ve seen from Pastis (others can be found in the Page on Pearls Before Swine on this blog). Set up bit by bit, accreting the components of the monstrously complex result [in the 6th panel]. In a different order from the final result, of course, so you can’t appreciate where it’s going,

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