Archive for the ‘Linguistics in the comics’ Category

Team X

January 28, 2023

The Zippy strip of 7/27/22:

(#1) At the Pig ‘N Whistle Diner in Brighton MA, immersed in the Team X snowclonelet

Two things here: the Team X snowclonelet; and Pig ‘N Whistle as the name of an eating establishment. Let’s dive right in with Team X, and look at Pig ‘N Whistle afterwards.


January 27th

January 27, 2023

Every so often the accidents of the calendar bring together remarkably contrasting occasions. This is a day of such cognitive dissonance. Weep with me. Gasp in pleasure and delight with me.

First, today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, marking the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp, in 1945, an event that serves as a symbol of the Holocaust — the Shoah — that wiped out around six million Jews (and a number of others) and caused untold suffering.

But then today is also the birthday of two people whose works have brought pleasure to millions: the astonishingly prolific composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (born in 1756) and the mathematician-turned-comic-writer Charles Lutwidge Dodson, who wrote the Alice books and a number of remarkable nonsense poems under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll (born in 1832).


Snow tires

January 25, 2023

A classic Don Martin Mad magazine cartoon for the winter season, illustrating the utility and flexibility of N + N compounds in English — and also their enormous potential for ambiguity, which has to be resolved in context:


Four examples of N1 + N2 compounds in English, all four highly conventionalized  to very culture-specific referents. In these conventionalized uses, two (snow tire, snowshoe) are use compounds (‘N2 for use in some activity involving N1’), two (snowman, snowball) are source compounds (‘N2 made from N1’). But N + N combinations are potentially ambiguous in  multiple ways; this lack of clarity is the price you pay for the great brevity of these combinations (which lack any indications of the semantic relationship between the two elements).

So: we get snow tire and snowshoe understood as source compounds in #1: ‘(simulacrum of a) tire made of snow’, ‘(simulacrum of a) shoe made of snow’.

I’ll turn to the four snow + N2 compounds in #1 in just a moment, but this presentation is now interrupted by breaking news from the snow-cartoon world, a wonderful wordless cartoon by snowman maven Bob Eckstein in the 1/30/23 issue of the New Yorker, which has in fact not yet arrived in my mailbox.


Adventures in cartoon understanding: Victor alignment

January 20, 2023

Today’s Wayno / Piraro Bizarro (Wayno’s title “Job Satisfaction”):

(#1) To understand this cartoon, you need to know something about what a tire and auto service garage does, and you need to recognize the significance of the name Frankenstein (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 5 in this strip — see this Page.)


Double negatives: the big picture

January 19, 2023

In yesterday’s installment, the two kids of the Lombard family in the comic strip One Big Happy, Ruthie and Joe, advance a devious — and transparently malicious — idea about the pragmatics of conversation. As a slogan,

Two nasties make a nice.

That is, saying two nasty things about someone counts as saying a nice thing about them, yuk yuk. We-e-ell, the kids maintain, with impish speciousness, that that’s just a special case of the general principle that

Two negatives make a positive.

First thing: such a slogan is a highly abbreviated formula in ordinary language of some significant technical principle, the virtue of the slogan being that it is striking and memorable; it’s an aide-memoire. But it’s just a label, and labels are not definitions.

Second thing: the kids’ version exploits a massive ambiguity in the adjectives negative / positive, and a corresponding ambiguity in the verb make. To which I now turn.


Double negatives

January 18, 2023

Two One Big Happy strips on double negatives, in which Joe and Ruthie take the slogan Two negatives make a positive into fresh territory. Today, I’ll give you the two strips, with my complete commentary on this blog for the first of these strips, and put off until tomorrow a broad-scale analysis of what’s going on here.


The bearded cartoonist, post-simectomy

January 17, 2023

It begins with a Facebook posting by Bob Eckstein on 1/12:

BE: The Daily Cartoonist just ran this piece … and that is Sam Gross on the cover on the right:

(#1) The BE cartoon: a bearded fellow — I take him to be a cartoonist (since this is in The Daily Cartoonist) — in a hospital bed, post-simectory

Note simectory ‘the surgical removal of a simian’ — in this case not an actual simian, but the simulacrum of a monkey: a one-man-band-monkey toy. I hadn’t realized that such toys are still being made, but it seems that they are (classically they are wind-up metal — “tin” — toys, but now they appear to be battery-operated plastic, and considerably more durable than the vintage versions; I speak with recollected sorrow over the short life of my very own monkey-band toy, roughly 75 years ago).


Gingerbread man seeks fortune cookie’s wisdom

January 14, 2023

From the world of anthropomorphic (AmE) cookies, a Seeker and the Seer memic cartoon, in the Rhymes With Orange strip for 1/11:

In the cartoon meme of the Seeker and the Seer, the seeker scales a mountainside to seek enlightenment (and perfection) from the master

In the Piccolo / Price strip, you have to recognize the meme, see that the characters are anthropomorphic cookies, and identify the seer as a “Chinese fortune cookie” (with its fortune sticking out). That’s a lot of work in cartoon understanding.

I got all that, and so admired the assembly of these disparate elements in a single, wordless image. Just lovely.


Tropical snowfolk

January 13, 2023

The 1/11 Wayno / Piraro Bizarro displays the intersection of two cartoon worlds:

— a polar cartoon world of winter and cold, populated by stereotypical Eskimos and anthropomorphic polar bears, penguins, and (directly relevant here) snowmen (or, more generally, snowfolk)

— a tropical cartoon world of sun and surf, populated by stereotypical tropical islanders (especially Hawaiians), surfers, and the clientele of tiki bars


Cat people

January 11, 2023
From the New York Times Book Review, 1/8/23 in print, p. 23:

Sketchbook / Cat People / By Bob Eckstein and Nava Atlas. Famous authors and their beloved feline companions.

From Ursula LeGuin through Patricia Highsmith

Bob Eckstein is a best-selling author and the world’s only snowman expert. His new book is “The Complete Book of Cat Names (That Your Cat Won’t Answer to, Anyway)”.
Nava Atlas is a cookbook author and the creator of Literary Ladies’ Guide.

(You’ll need to embiggen the image to appreciate the pleasures of the text.)