The Legend of Gnome Ann

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Today's xkcd:

Mouseover title: "President Andrew Johnson once said, 'If I am to be shot at, I want Gnome Ann to be in the way of the bullet.'"

And there's plenty more Gnome Ann dicta where those came from; also here.

Some of my favorites:

Gnome Ann can serve two masters.
Gnome Ann putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment.
And Gnome Ann putteth new wine into old bottles
But of that day and hour knoweth Gnome Ann.
And when they were come, they say unto him, Master, we know that thou art true, and carest for Gnome Ann.

Or this:

I cannot hide
what I am: I must be sad when I have cause and smile at
Gnome Ann's jests, eat when I have stomach and wait
for Gnome Ann's leisure, sleep when I am drowsy and
tend on Gnome Ann's business, …

Seriously, it's true that there's normally an overlap in pronunciations — if not complete neutralization — between e.g. "law news" and "lawn ooze", or "say mere"  and "same ear", etc.

Update — P.F. writes:

I am an Australian and have Green political sympathies.  

I find I need to carefully split the name of the Australian politician Greg Hunt (Federal Member for Flinders, Minister for the Environment), otherwise it sounds like I am saying a crudity referring to a vagina. That word would appear to be more commonly used in Australia (and England) than the US. The government of which he is a part has significant climate change denialist tendencies.


  1. C said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 4:37 am

    Gnome Anne is an island.

    * * Click here for our super summer offers on luxury getaways… * *

  2. Tom Saylor said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 4:44 am

    Shades of Odysseus (Οὖτις) in that last panel.

  3. Joel Walmsley said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 4:48 am

    Billy Connolly had a similar idea in an old routine he did about a boy called "Wobie Tide", as in:

    "Wobie Tide, the boy who does not do his homework."
    "Wobie Tide, the boy who goes to football instead of coming to school."

    "Good old Wobie, I say; I like the sound of him"…

  4. Adam Roberts said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 5:22 am

    I'm put in mind of NASA astronaut Jack Schmitt's joke as part of the Apollo 17 mission, when setting up the gnomon prior to taking photographs: 'gnomon is an island' (here, at 118:01:49.). Google tells me Joyce made this joke before Schmitt, but Schmitt still gets credit for saying it on the actual moon …

  5. GH said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 5:41 am

    Reflecting on what makes versions of this joke work both in English and Ancient Greek made me wonder: are there any languages that have a separate grammatical number for zero (or perhaps for negations), rather than using either singular or plural?

  6. Neal Goldfarb said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 5:42 am

    There's also an overlap in pronunciation — if not complete neutralization — between "law and linguistics" and "LAWnLinguistics"

    (Please excuse the self-promotion; I couldn't resist.)

  7. Ralph Hickok said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 6:34 am

    The Two Ronnies did something similar with "Lord Knows" in a long Irish pub sketch.

  8. RachelP said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 6:50 am

    @Tom Saylor

    I was thinking Macduff. Maybe Gnome Ann used to be a nun (of woman born)?

  9. Narmitaj said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 6:55 am

    P.F.'s problem with Greg Hunt is even worse with Easter Egg Hunt, as you are more likely to say it around children, and indeed shout it out loud and enthusiastically.

  10. Eneri Rose said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 7:02 am

    I wish all speakers pronounced names with a hiatus between the first and last names, even their own. I could never figure out if the journalist's name was Christiana Manpour, Christiana Amanpour or the correct Christiane Amanpour.

  11. David Morris said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 7:12 am

    Then there's Gnome Ann's land. That's usually bigger than an island.

    In the movie Intolerable Cruelty, George Clooney's divorce lawyer character is a member of the National Organization of Matrimonial Attorneys Nationwide.

  12. bks said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 8:20 am

    San Francisco Giants outfielder Hunter Pence is known as Underpants, but not to his face.

  13. D-AW said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 8:25 am

    Scott Baio played an attorney named Bob Loblaw on Arrested Development. All the characters keep to [ɑ:] for the POT vowel when saying the name, making "Bob Loblaw" indistinguishable from "Blah blah blah". Bob Loblaw maintains an online presence too, called "Bob Loblaw's Law Blog."

  14. D-AW said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 8:31 am

    Correction: "The Bob Loblaw Law Blog"

  15. KeithB said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 8:41 am

    Tom Saylor:
    I don't know what you are getting at, but it is a direct reference to "The Lord of the Rings"

    Interesting circularity – Tolkien originally called Elves "Gnomes", but of course Eowyn was 100% human. Arwen, being 1/4 human was more of a "Gnome Ann".

    There are a lot of jokes like this, there was a UK comedian called Nosmo King – named after a sign in the hospital.

  16. Tom Saylor said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 9:31 am

    @ RachelP and KeithB:

    I think the Odyssey parallel is much stronger because neither Macduff nor Eowyn exploits homophonic ambiguity in the way that Odysseus and Gnome Ann do.

  17. Theophylact said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 9:40 am

    Gnome Ann's Land.

  18. Joe said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 10:16 am

    It's the main ingredient of Bart's prank calls. Mike Hunt, an adolescent favorite, isn't in it – probably NSF prime time – but Mike Rotch is.

  19. Larry Throgmorton said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 10:36 am

    My father (God rest his soul) used to say: "polish it". I also remember: "hoof hearted." Unfortunately, this sort of thing seems to come naturally to me also.

  20. Keith said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 10:38 am

    @Mark Liberman there's normally an overlap in pronunciations — if not complete neutralization — between e.g. "law news" and "lawn ooze"

    Er, no, not "normally" in the sense of "this is the norm, the correct pronunciation".

    To pronounce "news" as /nuːz/ instead of /njuːz/ is widespread in the USA, but is not the "norm". It is just one variant among several.

    [(myl) What I meant by "normally", of course, was "in the absence of extraordinary efforts at facultative disambiguation", not "among people who talk properly". It's true that was an implicit restriction to "people who talk more or less like I do", so that the "law news" example obviously won't work for people who pronoun "news" with /nj/, or for people who have different vowels in "law" and "lawn".]

  21. Dennis Paul Himes said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 10:57 am

    From Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll:

    'Who did you pass on the road?' the King went on, …

    'Nobody,' said the Messenger.

    'Quite right,' said the King: 'this young lady saw him too. So of course Nobody walks slower than you.'

    'I do my best,' the Messenger said in a sulky tone. 'I'm sure nobody walks much faster than I do!'

    'He can't do that,' said the King, 'or else he'd have been here first.

  22. Phil said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 11:04 am

    Couple of months ago, I overheard a conversation about some kind of Huge Eggman, which, I assumed, was some kind of famous children's book I don't know. Turns out they were talking about Hugh Jackman.
    I know that this is not a complete neutralization but for a non-native speaker like me, it was close enough to cause some serious misunderstanding.

  23. Vulcan With a Mullet said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 11:15 am

    @Tom Saylor

    I do enjoy imagining the action movie version of the Odyssey, where Odysseus blinds the Cyclops and then shouts, "Homophonic ambiguity for the win! IN YOUR FACE, Polyphemus! LITERALLY!" *mic drop, leaves the cave*

    Then he comes back in and says, "An EYE for an I! Anyone? Anyone?"

    Lots of mugging for the camera, that Odysseus.

  24. Thomas Rees said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 11:47 am

    A friend named her dog Grey-Scale. He’s a Weimananer. Her Mom heard Grace Gail and thought it was inappropriate for a male.

  25. Miles said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 12:09 pm

    Who is the character in the last panel? The one that can be killed by no man?

  26. Miles said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 12:10 pm

    Ah, never mind, I found a different website who explained it.

  27. mollymooly said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 12:32 pm

    I previously suggested "Obama's Elf" as the name for a deliberate mondegreen. Introducing "Gnome Ann" makes me wonder if "Fairy Nuff" and "Imp Lisset" are about to emerge from behind the next toadstool.

  28. David L said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 12:49 pm

    marginally related: WETA radio has an announcer who for years I though was Jeannie Naba or perhaps Jean E. Naba, but who turned out to be Jean Inaba, and another whose name I always hear as Chip Rienza but who unaccountably spells it Chip Brienza.

  29. Rebecca said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 1:01 pm

    Not as funny, but:

    During the immediate Brexit aftermath, I saw a short speech on TV by the Scottish First Minister, who was up to that point unknown to me. I saw her name, but it didn't stick with me. What stuck was that Scotland had something called the First Minister, and that the current one was woman.

    Shortly later, I heard a report on NPR that referred to the Scottish first minister, but this time, the name struck me: Nicholas Turgeon. I was brought up short, because by then, I knew that the Scottish first minister was female.

    So I googled when I got a chance. I don't think I was biased to think I was hearing a male name, since I already knew the person to be female. It may be that Nicholas is a more common name than Nichola. But I think Sturgeon is probably a more common name than Turgeon.

  30. Thomas Rees said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 1:13 pm

    Weimaraner. Why don’t they correct you when you need it?

  31. KeithB said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 1:24 pm

    This was also exploited in the most recent Muppet movie.

  32. KeithB said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 1:36 pm

    Not the Muppet movie, but the latest "Night at the Museum"! I guess the fact that they both ended on roof tops confused me!

  33. Guy said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 1:47 pm


    Mark was talking about whether there is a distinction in pronunciation based on whether a nasal consanant belongs the preceding or following syllable. That he picked an example that only works for dialects where "news" is pronounced /nuz/ is incidental, and beside the point. He probably wasn't even thinking about the /njuz/ pronunciation when he wrote that. That having been said, I'm not sure if you were making a statement about normativity versus positivity, but as an empirical matter the /njuz/ pronunciation is a minority variant in US English of the much more common /nuz/ (to the point where it's not surprising that a US academic would forget to consider that the /njuz/ pronunciation exists in making an example on an unrelated pointed), although /njuz/ is the standard pronunciation in, for example, RP.

  34. Robert Coren said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 2:07 pm

    @Ralph Hickok: There's also the Two Ronnies' "Four Candles" sketch:

    (Ronnie Barker, as a rural farmer, enters what in the US would be called a "general store", where Ronnie Corbett is the clerk)

    RB: (consulting shopping list) Four candles.

    (RC presents him with four candles)

    RB: No, no, fork 'andles. 'Andles for forks.

    And it goes on from there, with one item after another.

  35. Ralph Hickok said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 2:22 pm

    @Robert Coren:
    That's one of the all-time great comedy sketches. Ronnie Corbett's reactions are priceless.

  36. Tom Heil said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 2:43 pm

    I schedule all my dentist appointments at the same time, lest I forget "What time?" you ask. Why "two-thirty" of course.

  37. Michael Watts said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 3:55 pm

    Seeing two separate examples makes me ask: is it common to pronounce the reduced vowels in "enough" and "betide" as unreduced /i/?

  38. Bill Benzon said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 3:57 pm

    Hey! Where's Gnome Ann?

    Gnome Ann is'n Ireland.

  39. Stephen said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 4:05 pm

    Former first grade teacher checking in.

    At least twice I had kids write about something that happened involving a "neck store neighbor."

  40. Ralph Hickok said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 6:14 pm

    Forty or fifty years ago, the Saturday Review asked readers to send in their favorite mondegreens. My two favorites were both children's mis-hearings of hymns.

    One was the child who asked her parents why there were three kings for two countries. She explained that she was talking about the "three kings of Orey and Tar."

    The best, IMHO, was the boy said that for Christmas he wanted the teddy bear they had sung about in Sunday school: "Gladly, the cross-eyed bear."

  41. David Morris said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 7:09 pm

    Not specifically an entendre in a name, but a journalist's mispronuncation. A 'blooper' show showed a journalist introducing a man named Gordon Johncock, scrambling in some way (maybe 'Jordan Goncock') and giggling. He composed himself and started again, but once he'd started mispronouncing the name and giggling, it was almost impossible for him to get it right. He eventually did. Gordon Johncock was standing next to him all this time.

  42. Anthony said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 7:49 pm

    Pound, Canto LXXIV:
    "I am gnomeann, my name is gnomenann"

  43. Randy Hudson said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 10:21 pm

    @Keith: so you prefer ewes to ooze?

  44. Randy Hudson said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 10:29 pm

    Some years ago a co-worker suggested something we should aim for on a project we were working on, and I replied "That's a laudable goal." She looked shocked and offended; after a few tense moments it came out that she'd heard "That's a lotta bull girl".

  45. Noscitur a sociis said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 10:37 pm

    The 1998 video game Quest For Glory V featured a hotelier named Gnome Ann (her business was called "Gnome Ann's Land Inn) and included many of these puns (among many others).

    A screenshot (not featuring a pun) is available at

  46. M.N. said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 11:46 pm

    Teacher: "What did you draw? Oh, it's a nativity scene! I see Mary…Joseph…the baby Jesus…the three wise men…but who's this big fat guy?"
    Kid: "That's Round John Virgin!"

  47. Stephen said,

    July 9, 2016 @ 7:14 am

    @Ralph Hickok

    There is a book based on your last mondegreen. Gladly The Cross-Eyed Bear by Ed McBain (see
    is, from memory, about a dispute between two people over the rights to a literally cross-eyed bear call Gladly, which bear was inspired by the same childhood mishearing.


    One of the jibes at Nicola Sturgeon is that she looks like the comedy character Wee Jimmie Krankie, a mischievous schoolboy, see

    Making the situation even more multi-layered is the fact that father & son Ian & Jimmie Krankie were played by husband & wife Ian & Janette Tough.

  48. Ari Corcoran said,

    July 9, 2016 @ 8:32 am

    @ P.F. re: the minister for the environment in Australia. On Facebook, at least, he is regularly called the Minister for Rhyming Slang.

  49. GH said,

    July 9, 2016 @ 10:59 am

    @Robert Coren:

    I wonder if the "Four Candles" sketch was an inspiration for 30 Rock's "Homonym!" game show:

  50. maidhc said,

    July 9, 2016 @ 10:40 pm

    As a child I wondered who this Wal was that people were always asking to sing "Matilda". Wasn't the Harry Belafonte version good enough?

  51. Norris Lurker said,

    July 9, 2016 @ 11:09 pm

    The Goons (long ago) – Captain Hugh Jampton (for non-Cockney speakers

  52. rosie said,

    July 10, 2016 @ 1:42 am

    P.F.'s problem with Greg Hunt makes me wonder whether he devoices final [g]. If he doesn't, what's the problem? the homophony you allude to is not exact.

  53. Robert Coren said,

    July 10, 2016 @ 9:29 am

    @rosie: The homophony doesn't have to be exact for the unfortunate alternative interpretation to get across.

    I do in fact know someone named Michael Hunt. He is (as far as I know) always Michael, never Mike.

  54. ardj said,

    July 11, 2016 @ 2:47 am

    I am puzzled (distressed ? stressed ?) by the cartoonist's avoidance of the word 'whom'.

  55. ajay said,

    July 11, 2016 @ 9:54 am

    Related, of course, the story of someone being very confused at Auckland airport when he was told that in order to fly to Wellington he would need to find the Mystic Chicken. "The what?" "The Mystic Chicken. If you're going to Wellington, you need to go to the Mystic Chicken."

    This went back and forwards a few times, feeding his hallucinatory, Narnia-like vision of some sort of immense magical bird taking off bound for Wellington with passengers sitting on its broad, feathery back, before he realised that he was of course being directed (in a very strong Kiwi accent) to "Domestic Check-In".

  56. Jamie said,

    July 11, 2016 @ 2:53 pm

    On BBC radio's flagship movie review show, he is known as Huge Action.

  57. Robert Coren said,

    July 12, 2016 @ 9:23 am

    @ajay: Love the Mystic Chicken. I'm assuming that the person was newly arrived in NZ. By the time I'd been int he country a couple of weeks I recognized the vowel shift.

  58. Matt McIrvin said,

    July 12, 2016 @ 1:22 pm

    @KeithB: Tolkien was almost certainly referencing, or influenced by, The Odyssey in the original of that episode–though Munroe is actually quoting the movie version here, which brings the parallel even closer.

  59. Robert Coren said,

    July 13, 2016 @ 9:16 am

    @Matt McIrvin: Well, I dunno. The situations are not really parallel: Odysseus was, in fact, a man, but used a pseudonym that made it difficult for Polyphemus to get help from his countrymen, whereas the two agents of the Nazgûl's fall were really not men.

  60. Troy S. said,

    July 13, 2016 @ 9:54 pm

    "I move … for Gnome Ann." – The Black Knight

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