Good question

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Today's For Better or For Worse:

Another good question (well, an implicit one) in today's Frazz:

A child who had just learned about Santa's list once told me that he didn't actually need any Christmas presents, thank you very much.

Today's Scenes from a Multiverse has some questions and answers that are relevant to Microsoft's recent problems with Tay:

The current xkcd also features some good questions:

Mouseover title: ""Oh dang, you have to pay? Hey, has anyone else paid already? If so, can I borrow your phone for a sec?"".


  1. Victor Mair said,

    March 26, 2016 @ 9:55 am

    And how come many out of the blue queries begin this way: "quick question"?

  2. Thorin said,

    March 26, 2016 @ 10:26 am

    Try as I might to escape xkcd, it always finds me.

  3. Gabriel said,

    March 26, 2016 @ 12:40 pm

    I think that most of us are subscribed to this blog to learn about linguistics, not to see unfunny comics or see your political propaganda against Trump. Please stop posting those.

    [(myl) I'm not sure what you see as our "political propaganda against Trump" — I've written one post explicitly defending him ("Trump's Eloquence",8/5/2015), and everything else has been value-neutral quantitative explorations of the form and content of his speeches and debate participations.

    As for the comics, de gustibus non est disputandum. But in any case, I invite you to take advantage of our unconditional offer to refund double your subscription price in case of less than full satisfaction.]

  4. Adam Roberts said,

    March 26, 2016 @ 2:17 pm

    In the first cartoon "I don't know" is perfectly consistent with what follows: the mother goes on to list a series of hypotheses, none of which are tantamount to knowledge.

  5. D.O. said,

    March 26, 2016 @ 2:28 pm

    It's not Passover yet. Stop asking questions.

  6. Thorin said,

    March 26, 2016 @ 3:07 pm

    I don't think there's a problem with posting comics if they address or inspire a linguistic topic, such as the one posted at the top. And despite my distaste for xkcd, or rather the man behind it, it addresses linguistic topics from time to time that I think are fair game for discussion here.

  7. Gregory Kusnick said,

    March 26, 2016 @ 3:28 pm

    I thought it was self-evident that blogs exist primarily for the amusement of bloggers. If they happen to amuse readers as well, that's gravy.

  8. Ned said,

    March 26, 2016 @ 3:54 pm

    @Thorin: Your comment on XKCD surprised me. Why your "distaste" for Randall Munroe?

  9. Thorin said,

    March 26, 2016 @ 4:41 pm

    @Ned: I often make out my dislike for Randall Munroe to be more extreme than it actually is, so I don't want to give off the impression that I hate him. I just dislike his older comics about how mathematics are ultimately superior to every other science and field, only to then post comics about linguistics and every other field. I feel that he's rather elitist, his comics don't appeal to me whatsoever (obviously they do appeal to many, many others so that's just about my personal preference), and I think he panders more than he has anything to actually say through his comic. I love early xkcd, but over the years I think it's become a self-indulgent mess.

  10. Sigurd said,

    March 26, 2016 @ 5:00 pm

    You can't support Trump and be interested in linguistics at the same time.
    Pick a side, Gabriel.

  11. Xtifr said,

    March 26, 2016 @ 7:54 pm

    @Thorin: his "older comics about how mathematics are ultimately superior"? I only remember one comic which could be interpreted that way, but it's about "purity", which is hardly the same as "ultimate superiority". Contrariwise, in the only comic I remember where he actually makes a claim about "the best science", it's biology! In any case, why should his opinion of which field is "the best" prevent him from making comics that cover other fields? That seems like a truly bizarre complaint.

    As for the charge of elitism, I can understand where it's coming from, but I would argue that Ten Thousand may be one of the most anti-elitism comics ever created.

    Curiously, my opinion of older xkcd vs. newer is pretty much the reverse of yours. I find early xkcd to be mostly odd non-sequiturs that make little or no sense, and his stuff seems to get steadily funnier as the years pass.

    Still, de bust-a-gut non est disputandum, eh? :D

  12. Thorin said,

    March 26, 2016 @ 9:01 pm

    @Xtifr: Very valid points. It's an opinion I've come to form after reading the comic for years, and I feel I didn't clarify my views as well as I could have (I'm also writing these comments from my phone so I can't go finding examples). But this is actually the one place where I've discussed my dislike for the comic (ultimately, I simply don't like the comic or how Randall presents himself) and not been insulted for it, which is very nice. In any case, it's no big deal and I am also happy to disagree.

  13. Thorin said,

    March 26, 2016 @ 9:03 pm

    @Xtifr: If I remember correctly, his older comics were largely inspired by Buttercup Festival, which is one of my favourites and makes heavy use of non sequiturs. I think that's why I enjoy them.

  14. Leslie said,

    March 26, 2016 @ 9:15 pm

    Anyone else momentarily thrown by the phrase "a former child of my acquaintance"? :)

    [(myl) OK, yeah, maybe better: "A child who had just learned about Santa's list once told me that he didn't actually need any Christmas presents".]

  15. Bob Davis said,

    March 26, 2016 @ 11:40 pm

    de gustibus et coloribus non est …. (?)

  16. Chris said,

    March 27, 2016 @ 1:11 am

    Scenes from a multi verse also features mouseover text. For the pictured comic: "and that's how the butlerian jihad began." It's a reference to the Dune novels, and a historical/future war they allude to where humans kill all of the sentient robots.

  17. andyb said,

    March 27, 2016 @ 3:00 am

    "Former child" isn't quite as unrestrictive as it sounds. Besides all current children, it also rules out Mearth from Earth, Athena, the first generation of the Eldar, …

    Anyway, I often stumble over how to refer to a "former child" when telling stories about offspring of acquaintances who were children at the time of the story but no longer are. Nothing sounds quite right, and the only option is to completely rephrase the story, as Mark did here.

  18. Rodger C said,

    March 27, 2016 @ 11:41 am

    B. Kliban cartoon: "'It was hell,' recalls former child."

  19. JS said,

    March 27, 2016 @ 10:25 pm

    Smegma for breakfast couldn't be drunk, but rather spread on toast or some such. Other than that, solid.

  20. DWalker said,

    March 28, 2016 @ 5:06 pm

    I was a child once…..

  21. Yuval said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 10:09 am

    I'm on Thorin's side, except that I tend to enjoy some of the non-xkcd stuff Munroe does, e.g. What If. The comic has been severly diluted since atleast #300 by the self-imposed 3-a-week constraint.

  22. andyb said,

    March 29, 2016 @ 1:29 pm

    I just realized why "former child" seems so odd.

    The word "child" is ambiguous: it can mean someone under adult age, or it can mean the offspring of a particular parent. If you referred to Jane Doe's son John as "the child of an acquaintance", that seems to naturally mean both: John is under-age, and also the son of someone you know. But if you refer to him as "the former child of an acquaintance", that no longer works, so the phrase is ambiguous. It's very hard to be a former son,[1] so we pragmatically work out that he must be formerly under-age, but still someone's son. But apparently the ambiguity at the syntactic or semantic level is enough to make it still feel odd, even if we don't recognize the ambiguity consciously.

    [1]: Even if John filed for divorce from his parents, or was disowned by them, or if he had been switched at birth and the truth discovered 16 years later, it would still seem very strange to say he was Jane's former son. I'm curious whether a culture with common high-status adoptions would see things differently—if the Emperor adopts a son, then disinherits him and adopts a different one, would you call the first one the Emperor's former son?

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