Bizarro roundup

« previous post | next post »

A collection of Bizarro cartoons I've been accumulating for some time:


1. Currently topical, now that California is about to marry same-sex couples and New York to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions (like Massachusetts, Canada, and California). Then there's the old issue about different senses of gay.

And a bonus, from Candorville (hat tip to Ned Deily):

Both of these cartoons use the term gay marriage. News stories and other discussions sometimes go back and forth between gay marriage and same-sex marriage, though the latter expression seems to dominate heavily. (You can search on Language Log Classic, on "same-sex marriage" for earlier discussions of marriage in this expression.)

2. Somewhat out of season, but this will recall our annual discussions of "Merry Christmas!" and "Happy Holidays!":

3. Next, an adventure in (fanciful) etymology:

4. A play on the word capital, which I find funny on its own, though the "dumb blonde" theme makes me uncomfortable:

5. It's all about spelling as Batman confronts Bat Man (both names are noun-noun compounds):

6. A play on the formula donate one's body to science:

7. A play on widen vs. whiten:

Even people who lack the distinction in Wales/whales and Wight/white (as a great many people do these days) are likely not to have whiten/widen as homophones (for me, the first has a medial glottal stop, the second a [d] or a voiced "flap"), so for most people this is an "imperfect pun" (see here). Not that that's a bad thing.

 

Share:



50 Comments »

  1. J. Hawker said,

    May 29, 2008 @ 12:19 pm

    Even people who lack the distinction in Wales/whales and Wight/white (as a great many people do these days) are likely not to have whiten/widen as homophones

    I'll say.

    Do you make these distinctions, the Great White Whale gets whistles in front of the Whs? Funnily enough, I can remember as a child my mother telling me never to it. Of course, there were many things she told me not to do, but this oner I never have.

  2. JS Bangs said,

    May 29, 2008 @ 12:29 pm

    I would be curious to hear whether anyone does have "whiten" and "widen" as homophones. For me, the words differ not only in the medial consonant but in the first vowel, since I use "Canadian raising". Anyone that had them as perfect homophones would have to not distinguish w/wh AND reduce t/d identically before syllabic /n/ AND not exhibit vowel raising or lengthening before voiced consonants. Does any such dialect exist?

  3. Christine Heinsohn said,

    May 29, 2008 @ 12:37 pm

    I have accutally heard this form of misspeech. Mostly southern parts of the us and from folks whose education is limited.

  4. Daniel said,

    May 29, 2008 @ 12:45 pm

    That Candorville gag is great, but The Onion did it already.

  5. Mike Anderson said,

    May 29, 2008 @ 12:49 pm

    Don't sweat the dumb blonde reference in that "capital of Texas" gag. The cartoon–whether knowingly or unknowingly–hints at the wry "nobody could be that stupid" type of wisecrack so beloved of Texans:

    SLICKER: "You from Texas?"
    TEX: "Yup."
    SLICKER: "What part?"
    TEX: "Why, all of me."

    When a Texan pauses before giving a foolish answer, it's usually because he's thinking of an especially creative way to misinterpret the question.

  6. John Cowan said,

    May 29, 2008 @ 1:10 pm

    One "pro", one "anti":

    "Never ask a man where he's from. If he's from Texas, he'll tell you; and if not, why embarrass him?"

    "Why are Texans always smiling?" "Because they have long thumbs."

  7. Neil Dolinger said,

    May 29, 2008 @ 1:15 pm

    Has Bizarro ever done a cartoon on the use of "complimentary" in stores, restaurants, hotels, etc. to mean "free" rather than "politely flattering"? Although this usage can be found in a dictionary, I always chuckle to myself when I see it. I wonder why "complementary" did not develop that meaning, since most people probably think of free stuff as completing/adding to their experience rather than a form of compliment.

    Neil

  8. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    May 29, 2008 @ 1:57 pm

    A non-Bizarro comic that forayed into language or linguistics recently is yesterday's Ozy and Millie, which takes the expression "grammar Nazi" to its natural conclusion:

    http://www.ozyandmillie.org/d/20080528.html

  9. Timm! said,

    May 29, 2008 @ 2:10 pm

    An anecdote from "This American Life": A toy store was running out of high-end baby dolls just before Christmas and weren't able to order more until after the New Year. They eventually sold out of everything except the African dolls, which bothered the Caucasian customers, though political correctness prevented them being overt in their discomfort. In an effort to avoid uncomfortable conversations about the race of their dolls, employees were instructed to say, "If our current stock does not meet your needs, there is a wider selection available on line." In an effort to undermine management and take shots at their customers, the floor staff began trying to slip "whiter" into the approved line without getting caught.

  10. Arnold Zwicky said,

    May 29, 2008 @ 2:22 pm

    To Christine Heinsohn: flap as an allophone of /t/ beween a stressed vowel and syllabic n (where Americans mostly have glottal stop or glottalized t — in words like "button" and "kitten" — is attested in the American South, and so far as I know, is not tied to education.

  11. Ewan said,

    May 29, 2008 @ 6:42 pm

    Flap as an allophone of /t/ between a stressed vowel and syllabic n is also attested in at least one person I know here in Toronto (though I suspect a second of being so inclined), but I have no proper documentation of this; obviously I will keep my ears perked, but I wonder if anyone else in the area can attest to this so I know I'm not making things up…

  12. Melissa Bollbach said,

    May 29, 2008 @ 8:10 pm

    My friend who grew up in downstate New York has a flap in . He also has an /I/ as the second vowel ("short I" for you first-grade-phonics Nazis), making it almost homophonous to but with different prosody.

    This friend had no southern influence that I know of; his parents both have NY-metro-area accents. 9In our particular area of the suburbs, most kids my age grew up with what outsiders would call a moderate "New York accent", while most kids my sister's age (9 years younger) grew up with heavier NY accents, due to the influence of kids moving up from the Bronx and southern Westchester.)

    Anyway, Ewan, I wonder if this is just an idiosyncratic (in these isolated cases) feature that is more likely to develop than, say, pin/pen merger, just because the set of words that fits this context is pretty small.

  13. Melissa Bollbach said,

    May 29, 2008 @ 8:12 pm

    Oh rats, my orthographic brackets were interpreted as html. Should have realized. Here's what I was trying to say:

    My friend who grew up in downstate New York has a flap in "buttons". He also has an /I/ as the second vowel ("short I" for you first-grade-phonics Nazis), making it almost homophonous to "butt-ins" but with different prosody.

    This friend had no southern influence that I know of; his parents both have NY-metro-area accents. (In our particular area of the suburbs, most kids my age grew up with what outsiders would call a moderate "New York accent", while most kids my sister's age (9 years younger) grew up with heavier NY accents, due to the influence of kids moving up from the Bronx and southern Westchester.)

    Anyway, Ewan, I wonder if this is just an idiosyncratic (in these isolated cases) feature that is more likely to develop than, say, pin/pen merger, just because the set of words that fits this context is pretty small.

  14. Matt said,

    May 29, 2008 @ 8:33 pm

    This discussion is the very first time I have ever heard someone suggest "whales" and "Wales" are not homophones. In Australia, I have always been taught that the "h" in "wh" is silent.

    I can't recall ever hearing anyone pronounce it differently. If I ever did notice it, I probably interpreted it as either a slip of the tongue or a speech impediment, and chose to ignore it in either case.

    For those that have the distinction, how do you pronounce it? Does it sound like the w and h have been switched (eg. "hwales")?

  15. marie-lucie said,

    May 29, 2008 @ 9:27 pm

    I used to have (in Canada) an Irish landlord who pronounced wh as [fw], as in "for a fwile".

    I know a person from Oregon who definitely makes a sharp distinction between [hw] and [w].

    One of my Canadian students referred to the heir to the British throne as the "Prince of Whales" and explained it as "Prince of the Sea".

  16. Marjorie said,

    May 29, 2008 @ 10:15 pm

    Neil: It's my impression that "complimentary" came from the custom of sending or giving a gift "with my/our compliments." I'm not sure of the history of that usage, though it serves to suggest the gift is being offered because the giver thinks well of the recipient rather than for payment.

  17. Meesher said,

    May 29, 2008 @ 10:24 pm

    JS Bangs has hit it on the head: there's both a glottal stop/flap distinction AND a related difference in vowels, even for the majority of us American English speakers who don't have a /hw/-/w/ distinction.

  18. Philip Spaelti said,

    May 29, 2008 @ 11:55 pm

    For those who think they have never heard "hw", there's a nice example by Bob Dylan in "Lay Lady Lay", where he sings "stay with your man a [hw]ile". I guess it sounds "country".

  19. Ray Girvan said,

    May 30, 2008 @ 5:19 am

    Matt > This discussion is the very first time I have ever heard someone suggest "whales" and "Wales" are not homophones.
    It's a complicated regional / class / age thing (for instance, in the UK, the distinction is mostly absent except in Scotland and with some RP speakers). Family Guy episode #85 had an extended joke on the the subject: got you YouTube and search "cool whip".

  20. Ray Girvan said,

    May 30, 2008 @ 5:21 am

    Pardon typos. Not fully awake yet. Brain recircuiting.

  21. JanetK said,

    May 30, 2008 @ 6:06 am

    An aunt of mine tried for many years to get me to say Wight (her maiden name) differently than white. She would say them over and over," Say Wight not WHite!". But I could not hear the difference and I still can't although sometimes I feel the difference in the amount of air being blown on my face when someone really gets carried away with trying the illustrate the difference. This is not a joke but a true story. I therefore tend to think of this as a very trivial subject. Oh well.

  22. J. Hawker said,

    May 30, 2008 @ 6:07 am

    Philip Spaelti said, '…a nice example by Bob Dylan in "Lay Lady Lay"'

    So what DO linguists have to say about Bob? I noticed on his radio show he has the same, intermittently odd, way of speaking that he uses in his singing: 'universiTEEE' he says, for example, for university, (but not every time). Is it a personal eccentricity, or does everyone from Minnesota talk like that?

  23. Theo Vosse said,

    May 30, 2008 @ 9:26 am

    Dave Barry wrote about the Atheist Christmas theme a long time ago. I'll quote the Relevant Passage (which would make a good name for a Christian rock band, by the way):

    Once again, we come to the Holiday Season, a deeply religious time that each of us observes, in his own way, by going to the mall of his choice.

    In the old days, it was not called the Holiday Season; the Christians called it "Christmas" and went to church; the Jews called it "Hanukka" and went to synagogue; the atheists went to parties and drank. People passing each other on the street would say "Merry Christmas!" or "Happy Hanukka!" or (to the atheists) "Look out for the wall!"

    These days, people say "Season's Greetings," which, when you think about it, means nothing. It's like walking up to somebody and saying "Appropriate Remark" in a loud, cheerful voice. But "Season's Greetings" is safer, because it does not refer to any actual religion. Some day, I imagine, even "Season's Greetings" will be considered too religious, and we'll celebrate the Holiday Season by saying "Have a nice day."

  24. Arnold Zwicky said,

    May 30, 2008 @ 10:25 am

    On the hw/w distinction: the first is voiceless, the second voiced; and the first is accompanied by a significant expulsion of breath lacking in the second (Sapir compared the first to the gesture made in blowing out a candle).

    As Ray Girvan said, the distribution of the distinction is a complicated regional / class / age thing. Fifty to sixty years ago in many parts of the U.S., schoolchildren were drilled on the distinction; using the voiced approximant in "whales", "which", "what", etc. was labeled "incorrect" and viewed as a sign of lack of education. Things have changed. Now, it seems that some people are being taught that the voiceless approximant is incorrect.

  25. J. Hawker said,

    May 30, 2008 @ 11:35 am

    Arnold Zwicky said, using the voiced approximant in "whales", "which", "what", etc. was labeled "incorrect" and viewed as a sign of lack of education. Things have changed. Now, it seems that some people are being taught that the voiceless approximant is incorrect.

    When i was a child (let's say, 40 yrs ago) it was considered by my parents' generation in England to be a hyper-correction (a sign of lack of education) to make this distinction between wh and w. Ironically it was a nursery-school teacher who had tried to make us do it. It is the kind of give-away of lower-middle-classness that was the butt of many a 1950s BBC radio comedy, Hancock and the like. It is not unlike the George Eliot 'denied aspirant' (putting an unneeded H at the beginning of words beginning with a vowel) found in Dickens and currently being discussed at Language Hat.

  26. J. Hawker said,

    May 30, 2008 @ 11:38 am

    Aspirate, not aspirant.

  27. DaveJC said,

    May 30, 2008 @ 11:44 am

    My wife grew up in Los Angeles, and she quite consistently makes the w/wh distinction, at least for high-frequency words. I think it might be influence from her mom, who's from the South.

    As for the t -> glottal stop before syllabic /n/ rule, my 13-YO daughter has a bizarre rendering of it I'd never heard before: for words like 'button' she has [b@?In], with intervocalic glottal stop, but with second-syllable full lax [I], and NOT a syllablic /n/. Always sounds very jarring to me. I don't know if this is a local quirk or some 'wave of the future'.

  28. Arnold Zwicky said,

    May 30, 2008 @ 1:55 pm

    To J. Hawker: the "denied aspirate" really *is* a hypercorrection: the addition of initial h to words that didn't have it etymologically, in varieties that have extensive omission of initial h in words that *did* have it etymologically. If I understand what you're saying about the disparaged use of initial hw in British English, what was going on was not hypercorrection, but simply maintenance of a distinction that had been levelled in more elite varieties. Unless, of course, people were using hw in words that didn't have it etymologically — though it's hard to see how that could have come about, if hw had already gone to w in the speech of the elites (which would serve as the model in hypercorrection).

  29. John Cowan said,

    May 30, 2008 @ 2:09 pm

    I know a certain Whitlock (from Virginia) who claims that he refuses to answer to [wItlAk]; he considers it [wItlEs].

  30. JBL said,

    May 30, 2008 @ 2:42 pm

    I know a couple of people (midwest, boomer generation) who tend to blow the wh as a sort of emphatic. "Wat time is it?" but "You did WHAT!?"

    I don't think I do it myself, but the distinction seems reasonable.

    Are there instances of people emphasizing the w in who?

  31. Arnold Zwicky said,

    May 30, 2008 @ 2:51 pm

    To JBL: a great many (maybe most) hw-users have variable usage. In particular, hw-words that lack sentence accent are sometimes pronounced with w, while emphasized hw-words will preserve the hw, and in fact have an exaggerated breathiness. (This is my system, in fact.)

    Yet another variation is that some people use hw for emphasis, period, even in words that have w historically, like the modal "will". Somewhere I have a small collection of real-life examples (but where? but where?)

  32. Steve Harris said,

    May 30, 2008 @ 2:57 pm

    My experience of growing up in the 50s in midwest US was that it was considered important to teach children a hearable difference between "wh" and "w", but the difference I learned (which may or may not be the same one I was intended to be taught) is not one that would lead me to call "wh" voicless and "w" voiced. Rather, the difference is this:

    "wh" (as in "whales") is pronounced–by me, anyway–with an audible exhalation using pursed lips, much like in whistling (though no tone is produced), while "w" (as in "Wales") is much more vowel-like, not wholly different from pouncing it with "u" (almost as if it were spelled "oo-ales"). Well, that's an exaggeration of the vowel-like quality of "w"; the important point is that there's no audible exhalation.

  33. Hawker, J. said,

    May 30, 2008 @ 4:51 pm

    Arnold Zwicky said, "…not hypercorrection, but simply maintenance of a distinction that had been levelled in more elite varieties."

    Hmm. Are you sure this spoken distinction goes back very far? My recollection of it in American English is as a Hollywood pre-war thing, how Margaret Dumont talks in the Marx Brothers movies, for example.

  34. Chris Henrich said,

    May 30, 2008 @ 5:12 pm

    Re "w[h]" – I grew up in Western New York, and have lived in the boston area, New York City, and New Jersey. I think I use a "voiceless w" for wh, and U think I hear it from my neighbors; but it is hard to be sure without careful observation.

    Re vowel sounds: to me the first vowel in "whiten" is noticeably different from that in "widen." Both are diphthongs, ending in an upward glide. But the vowel in "whiten" starts out as an "uh" whereas that in "widen" starts out as an "ah". I think these are allophones of one phoneme, because I cannot switch them around without sounding weird to myself, nor can I think of a pair of words differing only in this sound.

  35. Stephen Jones said,

    May 30, 2008 @ 7:14 pm

    So the aspirant was denied what she aspired to because she used a denied aspirate?

    There are lots of corny kids's jokes about whales and wales.

    "How do you get two Whales in a Mini?" "Take the M4 and cross the Severn Bridge."

    They obviously wouldn't work if the majority of the population didn't treat them as homophones.

    I do remember hearing the 'hw' in 'Lay Lady Lay'. I always thought it was some kind of stylistic affectation!

  36. marie-lucie said,

    May 30, 2008 @ 10:26 pm

    @Chris Henrich, who has different vowels in "whiten" and "widen": according to your description, you speak like an anglophone Canadian. "Canadian raising" is a misnomer, instead Canadian English is preserving an older pronunciation of the diphthong before voiceless consonants where most other varieties have switched to a lower diphthong before all consonants.

  37. Arnold Zwicky said,

    May 31, 2008 @ 10:42 am

    To J. Hawker, who wrote (about the hw/w distinction): "Hmm. Are you sure this spoken distinction goes back very far? My recollection of it in American English is as a Hollywood pre-war thing, how Margaret Dumont talks in the Marx Brothers movies, for example."

    It goes back to *Old English*, and is recognized in the pronunciations for "wh" words in the 1989 edition of the OED (all of which have hw as their only pronunciation — except for a few words with exceptional histories, like "who", "whom", "whose", and "whoa").

    I understand that you don't make the distinction, but you seem to be assuming that your system must be the historical original (just because it seems "right" to you). In this case, you've ended up figuring that hw-speakers are getting their hw from the spelling, but ask yourself where the spellings come from. As in so many cases, the spellings here represent the pronunciation distinctions of earlier stages of the language.

    Also note that hw-users like me generally have hw in exactly those words that are spelled "wh" (with exceptions like those noted above), and that many of these words were acquired before these people learned to read and spell. (In fact, learning to read and spell is a little bit easier for hw-users, since they can figure out which words get "wh" just by referring to their pronunciations, while other people have to memorize the spellings for words that begin with /w/, word by word.)

    I'm away from my sources on the history of English, and I don't know the timeline for hw > w, but it seems pretty clear that the swamping of hw by w (except in certain islands of region, class, and age) was an early 20th-century thing, at least in North America and the U.K.

  38. Chris Henrich said,

    May 31, 2008 @ 10:46 am

    Marie-Lucie: I grew up in Buffalo. [finds Wikipedia article on "Canadian raising"] Fascinating stuff – especially, that I've been doing it all my life and never knew it.

    Actually I don't think I follow all the rules of C.r.
    By the conventions of http://www.alt-usage-english.org/ipa/ascii_ipa_combined.shtml ,
    I use [aI] before voiced consonants and [Vj] before voiceless ones. But I think I use [aU] in words like "loud," and would perceive [Vw] in that context as noticeably "Canadian."

  39. Hawker, J. said,

    May 31, 2008 @ 2:20 pm

    Arnold Zwicky wrote: You seem to be assuming that your system must be the historical original (just because it seems "right" to you)

    No, not at all. I'm interested in hearing what happened, and thought I'd ask a linguist. Thanks for the reply!

    Arnold Zwicky also wrote: It seems pretty clear that the swamping of hw by w …was an early 20th-century thing

    Why?

  40. marie-lucie said,

    May 31, 2008 @ 5:46 pm

    Chris: "loud" ends in the voiced consonant [d], so the diphthong is [aU] for everyone, just like "side" always has the diphthong "aj". But "sight" and "about" have [Vj] and [VU] respectively in English Canadian pronunciation (where V is more like schwa than like [a]).

  41. Rick S said,

    June 1, 2008 @ 1:57 am

    I grew up in Central New York, and:
    1. I have what I think is Chris' partial Canadian Raising; for me, the diphthong in "sight" is [Vj], but that in "about" is [aU].
    2. I (often) distinguish "wh" from "w" as I was taught in school in the 1950s (even though my parents did not distinguish them). Except that
    3. I use the word "white" a hundred times a day (I sell paint), and I think I've pretty much given up pronouncing it as "hw" since hardly anybody else here in Central Virginia does.

    "Yes, Cool Whip. Pie is better with Cool [huIp]!"

  42. panne said,

    June 1, 2008 @ 7:29 am

    @ Philip Spaelti: There is also many examples of this in Futurama: professor Farnsworth uses the wh all the time. I had never heard that before I got into Futurama, so I thought it was just an idiosyncracy of the Professor ;-)

  43. J. Hawker said,

    June 1, 2008 @ 2:41 pm

    Arnold Zwicky wrote: ask yourself where the spellings come from. As in so many cases, the spellings here represent the pronunciation distinctions of earlier stages of the language.

    Ok, but I was just reading that 'island', for example, used to be spelt 'iland' until some proto-linguist decided, wrongly, that it came from the Latin 'insula' and so stuck an 's' in. The same with 'dette', a perfectly fine word that was wrongly altered to 'debt' for the same (Latin) reason. So isn't it a bit dangerous to rely on spellings for how words should be pronounced?

  44. Arnold Zwicky said,

    June 1, 2008 @ 6:09 pm

    J. Hawker wrote: "The same with 'dette', a perfectly fine word that was wrongly altered to 'debt' for the same (Latin) reason. So isn't it a bit dangerous to rely on spellings for how words should be pronounced?"

    I never said that that spellings always represent earlier stages of languages. I said that they often do. The history of spelling is complicated.

    This would be a good time for me to bow out of this discussion permanently, since it seems I no longer have anything to contribute to it.

  45. dr pepper said,

    June 1, 2008 @ 6:19 pm

    Are our wh- words related to the latin q- words and their q- and c- descendents? That would make sense with the "hw" pronunciation.

  46. marie-lucie said,

    June 1, 2008 @ 11:22 pm

    @dr pepper: Absolutely! the Latin q-words are actually qu- words, and the pronunciation was [kw]. The [hw] pronunciation is due to the Germanic sound-shift which affected a number of consonants (eg k > h, so kw > hw). Note that the current Wh- words were written hw- in Old English.

  47. Daniel Barkalow said,

    June 2, 2008 @ 1:44 am

    I personally try to avoid the term "gay marriage" for what's getting legalized these days, because marriages between pairs of gay people have always been legal. Consider, for example, Samuel Delaney and Marilyn Hacker whose difficulty in getting married in 1961 was due to their races, not their sexual preferences (both identify as homosexual).

  48. marie-lucie said,

    June 2, 2008 @ 8:10 am

    I don't know the story but I doubt that these people identified themselves as homosexual when applying for a marriage licence. That they were respectively male and female was enough for them to qualify as marriageable in the eyes of the law, which does not care about individual preferences or about how the spouses mean to run their lives after the wedding. "Gay marriage" as currently understood refers to two males or two females applying to get married to each other, not about gay people of opposite sexes entering a legal marriage of convenience.

  49. dr pepper said,

    June 2, 2008 @ 10:13 pm

    marie-lucie: thanks. Now does anyone here know if that is also going on on the indo side of indoeuropean?

  50. marie-lucie said,

    June 3, 2008 @ 6:27 pm

    If you mean the k > h change (and several others also specific to Germanic, such as p > f), no, it did not happen in Indic, where other changes took place. I don't have the details on hand, but such things are explained in a number of books on Indo-European.

RSS feed for comments on this post

Leave a Comment