Iddle-Do and Not Zarella

As a temporary diversion from some truly awful times in my life (which I will eventually post about), two reprised One Big Happy strips recently in my comics feed, in which Ruthie struggles to interpret language unfamiliar to her.

The strips.

(#1) The Iddle-Do Rule; which should lead us to reflect some on the distinction between circumstances in which “good enough for some purpose” — it’ll do — is the appropriate goal (the general case for most aspects of everyday social life) and the special cases in which a perfect performance is called for

(#2) Not Zarella cheese (with Not Zoball soup as a bonus); I note that Zarella is a fairly common Italian surname, which Ruthie (who is of Italian descent) might well be familiar with, so that  a cheese named after a Zarella wouldn’t be at all surprising

Iddle-Do. First, the phonetics. The spelling IDDLE in IDDLE-DO is intended to represent the pronunciation of it’ll with “flapping” — with an intervocalic voiced alveolar tap as a casual-speech variant of the phoneme /t/ in the pronoun it. On “flapping”, see my 7/8/18 posting “Adam atom” about:

the sentence Adam bombs, with intransitive bomb ‘fail miserably’ … in the pres. 3sg. vs. the (plural) compound N atom bombs.

Adam and atom are phonetically close for English speakers in general, but for most American speakers, they’re homophones, thanks to the “flapping” of the alveolar consonants t and d between an accented vowel and an unaccented one (as in atom and Adam).

Then, the concept of It Will Do: most things just have to be good enough for the circumstances. That’s the way ordinary conversation works — it’s enough to convey your intentions approximately, relying on your interlocutors’ background knowledge of the social context you are in to fill in most of the details.

On the other hand, there are circumstances in which exactness is crucial — for instance, circumstances in which exact numerical values determine things. You have to be at least some specified age to participate in some activity, that sort of thing.

Not Zarella. We have to accept the cartoonist’s premise that Ruthie is not familiar with mozzarella cheese (under that name), which is a lot to ask of us, I think. But let that pass. Then her misunderstanding of her grandmother’s assertion hinges on a mishearing, of the initial /m/ of mozzarella /matzǝrɛlǝ/ as an /n/, so as the initial of the negator not /nat/, in combination with a name Zarella /zǝrɛlǝ/, presumably the name of some kind of cheese.

As it happens, /m/ and /n/ are the most easily confused pair of consonants in the perception of English. And of course /nat/ makes sense in a way that /mat/ doesn’t. So: not Zarella.

Ruthie’s father, understanding all this, then makes a little joke for the grandmother, playing on matzo ball soup (which Ruthie certainly is not familiar with, under any name) to get Not Zoball soup. Leaving us to speculate on what or who a Zoball might be.


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