The Impostor Syndrome cartoon

Whiling away yesterday morning at the CA DMV in Redwood City — being shepherded by caregiver Erick Barros through the process of renewing my senior ID from the state of California, which involved an interview and then a new photo — I entertained Erick with a retelling of the Jules Feiffer Impostor Syndrome (IS) cartoon as I recalled it, because our conversation had wandered onto the IS and because the joke that’s the hinge of the cartoon plays with ambiguity in a surprising, and especially satisfying, way.

Today I’ll just re-play the account in my 10/30/14 posting “Impostor Syndrome” and (exploiting the resources of OED3) unpack that joke into the lexical items that make it tick.

(It turns out that the cartoon has been described elsewhere (in cartoonist Dave Sim’s account of his conversation with Feiffer about an Irwin Corpulent cartoon of Feiffer’s), as having a very different resolution for the IS story. Four solid hours of searching through the materials available to me — including every damn cartoon in Feiffer’s thick volume Explainers: The Complete VILLAGE VOICE strips (1956-66) — did not, alas, produce an actual IS cartoon, neither the one I recollected nor the one Sim recollected. That search goes on.)

From my 2014 posting.

My long-time friend (and sometime collaborator) Steve Isard [Stephen D. Isard], a multi-talented researcher, used to carry in his wallet a cartoon (by, I think, Jules Feiffer) which featured an [Impostor Syndrome] sufferer haunted by the belief that “Some day they’ll find you out and take it all away”. Eventually it happened: the ominous They found him out (of the office) and proceeded to take everything in the office away. Steve found it reassuring.

The hinge joke. Turning on find you out ‘discover that you are a fraud’ …  found him out ‘discovered that he was away from home’. From OED3 (Dec. 2016) on the verb find:

Phrasal Verbs 4. transitive. To detect (someone) in an offence; to detect, discover (a fraud, etc.); to penetrate the disguise of, discover the identity or true character of. [1954 M. Connolly Mr. Blue “It is because most of us are such poseurs to ourselves that we so readily find a poseur out.”]

Similarly: find you out ‘discover that you are a fraud’.

Then in the main entry:

I. To come upon by chance or in the course of events. 1. a. To become aware of, come into contact with, or get possession of, in the course of some activity; to come across, meet with, light upon, discover. … (b) transitive. With object and complement (adjective, participle, or adverbial phrase).

A significant example for (b): 1895 T. Hardy in  Harper’s New Monthly Mag. “When they awoke the next morning they glanced into Sue’s nook, to find it still without a tenant.”

That’s find ‘discover’ + a “small clause” complement, the complement consisting of a subject + a predicative complement: find it still without a tenant ‘discover that it was still without a tenant’

Similarly: found him out ‘discovered that he was away from his home base’ (with the adverb out ‘away from home’ (NOAD, with the example he’s gone out))

Then, in synch with the switch from discovering your fraudulence to discovering your being out of the office, the phrasal verb take away is understood, first, as depriving you of intangible possessions (your reputation, your good name, your standing in society), that is, as shaming you; but then, as depriving you of material possessions (the furniture in your office). The same phrasal verb of deprivation, but applying to different sorts of things.


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