Little green prescriptivists

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Today's SMBC starts with this panel:

And ends with this one:

The aftercomic:

My preferred imaginary event proving evolution false would be the discovery that highly-conserved junk DNA encodes versions of the Book of Genesis in Hebrew. Much more interesting than sauropods with nylon stretchpants — especially the variorum edition.


  1. Cervantes said,

    December 5, 2016 @ 6:27 am

    Brings this, inter alia, to mind.

  2. Yerushalmi said,

    December 5, 2016 @ 6:47 am

    Orthodox Judaism has no problem with evolution. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888), wrote this near the end of his life:
    "Judaism in that case would call upon its adherents to give even greater reverence than ever before to the one, sole God Who, in His boundless creative wisdom and eternal omnipotence, needed to bring into existence no more than one single, amorphous nucleus, and one single law of “adaptation and heredity” in order to bring forth, from what seemed chaos but was in fact a very definite order, the infinite variety of species we know today, each with its unique characteristics that sets it apart from all other creatures."

    The Rabbinical Council of America maintains that "evolutionary theory, properly understood, is not incompatible with belief in a Divine Creator, nor with the first 2 chapters of Genesis."

    If we were to discover that the original Hebrew text of the Torah were to be found in the DNA of all living beings, that would probably only strength both our belief in evolution and our belief in God. The two are not incompatible.

    I won't get into the body's use of so-called junk DNA; for that you should ask my wife, who has two biology degrees.

  3. Acilius said,

    December 5, 2016 @ 7:36 am

    @Yerushalmi: It might be interesting if, as you seem to suggest, the only event that could disprove evolution would also disprove a literal reading of the creation accounts in Genesis.

  4. Grover Jones said,

    December 5, 2016 @ 8:25 am

    Can we talk about which is more common, "stretchpants community" vs. "stretchpant community" (or "Yankees fan" vs. "Yankee fan," etc.)? Seems like the latter used to be more common, with the former showing greater frequency in recent times.

    [(myl) At least in the Google Books ngram collection, Yankees fan and Yankee fan seem pretty parallel:

    No form of "stretchpant(s) community" is known to that index. Also "pant" is mostly just what dogs do, not what people wear.]

  5. Grover Jones said,

    December 5, 2016 @ 8:43 am

    I wonder if "Yankee fan" has held on because its called "Yankee Stadium." Wonder what "Tiger/s fan" or "Redskin/s fan," e.g., would show (I'd look myself if I knew how).

  6. Brett said,

    December 5, 2016 @ 9:16 am

    I took the sauropods in stretch pants to be a reference to Terry Pratchett's Strata, which begins with this fictional epigraph:

    I met a mine foreman who has a piece of coal with a 1909 gold sovereign embedded in it. I saw an ammonite, apparently squashed in the fossil footprint of a sandal.

    There is a room in the basement of the Natural History Museum which they keep locked. Among other oddities in there are the tyrannosaurus with a wristwatch and the Neanderthal skull with gold fillings in three teeth.

    A little later on, there are are dinosaur remains with signs protesting against nuclear weapons testing.

  7. Jerry Friedman said,

    December 5, 2016 @ 9:44 am

    Grover Jones: Just go to the Google ngram site and type, say, "Tiger fan,Tigers fan" in the search box. For instructions on more complicated searches, click "About Ngram Viewer" at the bottom right.

  8. Jerry Friedman said,

    December 5, 2016 @ 9:57 am

    Brett: SMBC and Pratchett were probably both referring to claimed traces of humans in pre-human strata, such as the supposed human footprints next to dinosaur footprints in rock in the Paluxy River bed, which were first presented as evidence against evolution in the 1930s.

  9. Brett said,

    December 5, 2016 @ 10:47 am

    @Jerry Friedman: In Strata, it's obviously a reference to those kinds of real-world claims, but Pratchett weaves an entire novel about such temporal anomalies buried in the strata. It's the main subject of the book, although that's not so obvious much of the way through.

  10. Robert Coren said,

    December 5, 2016 @ 11:06 am

    In response to Mark's note on Grover Jones's comment: Some clothing advertisements use singular pant for what ordinary humans call "a pair of pants". (I would not consider that to be justification for the existence of sweatpant community, however.)

  11. peterv said,

    December 5, 2016 @ 5:44 pm

    @Robert Coren:

    I have been served many times in department stores in the US by men's clothing sales assistants who speak of "a pant" rather than "a pair of pants". Use of the singular is common, at least among this group of people.

  12. David Marjanović said,

    December 5, 2016 @ 6:09 pm

    I won't get into the body's use of so-called junk DNA; for that you should ask my wife, who has two biology degrees.

    Having three biology degrees, I'll say that highly conserved useless DNA would be very puzzling indeed!

    Fun fact: geologists hardly ever use the word strata anymore. It's far too imprecise, and when you don't want precision, you can just say layers… so if you google for Fossils & Strata, the name of a journal, most hits are creationist websites.

    All grammatically plural words for bipartite objects (pants, glasses, scissors…) have become singular in German over the course of the 20th century or so. Even in literature it's hard to find them as plural anymore.

  13. Viseguy said,

    December 6, 2016 @ 12:46 am

    FWIW, the ascendance of "Yankees fan" coincides with (or follows shortly after) the rise in popularity of British costume dramas on public TV in the U.S. (Upstairs, Downstairs, as I recall, first aired in the U.S. in 1975.) I say this because "Yankees fan" sounds British to my ear. Growing up in post-traitor-O'Malley Brooklyn, we were "Yankee fans".

  14. Andreas Johansson said,

    December 6, 2016 @ 5:01 am

    @David Marjanović

    It occurs to me that probably most instances of "stratum" I've seen recently have been in a linguistics context. Frex, the WP page on the Glottalic Theory has this sentence "The oldest stratum of Iranian loanwords to Armenian demand consonant shifts from voiced to voiceless, which are not possible in a glottalic theory framework in which they were voiceless to begin with."

  15. Miles said,

    December 6, 2016 @ 11:23 am

    I'm puzzled. Everyone's discussing the evolution panel of the comic and ignoring the linguistic panel. I am on Language Log, right?

  16. Jerry Friedman said,

    December 6, 2016 @ 4:57 pm

    I just tried to use the Google Ngrams "embed" feature. It's not showing up in Preview, so here are the links:

    pant cuff,pants cuff,trouser cuff,trousers cuff

    pant pocket,pants pocket,trouser pocket,trousers pocket

    No, I can't explain either the differences between "pants" and "trousers", or the differences between "cuff" and "pocket".

    Miles: The majority of the discussion has been related to language, I'd say.

  17. Yerushalmi said,

    December 6, 2016 @ 11:41 pm

    @Miles Well, you used to be, but then the blog evolved.

  18. Johan P said,

    December 7, 2016 @ 4:42 am

    Interesting that "*pant" stands out so much – besides "trouser pockets" no-one bats an eyelid at e.g. "Sunglass Hut" or "Scissor Sisters". Something like "*eyeglasses frames" sounds actively wrong.

  19. Robert Coren said,

    December 7, 2016 @ 10:59 am

    @Viseguy: After the Dodgers left you became Yankee fans? As a former Brooklyn Dodger fan (although I didn't live in Brooklyn), I find this hard to imagine. (Maybe that's in part because I've been a serious Red Sox fan for the last quarter of a century, but I think even at age 11 I couldn't possibly root for the Yankees.)

    I notice that I said "Dodger fan" and "Yankee fan" above, both of which seem normal and natural to me; however, a supporter of the Detroit team would be a "Tigers fan" in my lexicon. I can't explain this. (Of course Red Sox and White Sox fans get to dodge this issue.)

  20. Viseguy said,

    December 7, 2016 @ 10:32 pm

    @Robert Coren: The Dodgers' defection caused me to experience what the shrinks call reaction formation: I went over to the dark side. (Mickey Mantle's heroics had something to do with it, but make no mistake, the six-year-old me was pissed.) Besides, with the Giants gone too, what was the alternative?

    Fascinating about "Tigers fan" (and I certainly agree). I can only speculate that the team identification has primarily to do with tigers, plural or collective, whereas the singular "Yankee" and "Dodger" exert a greater identifying attraction for fans of those teams.

  21. ajay said,

    December 8, 2016 @ 7:00 am

    besides "trouser pockets" no-one bats an eyelid at e.g. "Sunglass Hut" or "Scissor Sisters".

    How shall I put this: the Scissor Sisters are not called that because they have a particular fondness for scissors. It's a reference to "scissoring".

    I don't think "Sunglass Hut" sounds right – "Sunglasses Hut" sounds more natural.
    And, yes, "trouser pocket" sounds right. But does "jean pocket"? "Chino pocket"? "Slack pocket"? "Short pocket"? "Overall pocket"?
    I think it might be more to do with the s-schwa-r-s-p string in "trousers pocket" which is a bit trickier to say.

  22. Robert Coren said,

    December 8, 2016 @ 10:07 am

    @Viseguy: Well, in my case, I drifted from one National League team to another, eventually losing interest altogether. And then somehow, after living in the Boston area for 20+ years without paying any attention to baseball, I found myself becoming a serious Red Sox fan starting in the late 1980s (I now have season tickets; try explaining that to my 30-year-old self).

  23. R Bremner said,

    December 8, 2016 @ 6:11 pm

    Descriptivism is not a theory but a praxis, no?

  24. Tim said,

    December 8, 2016 @ 11:31 pm

    I agree with the poster above me who says that descriptivism is more of an approach than a theory. But descriptivism is also frequently used to say "Hey, don't tell people how to speak, you think you're making claims about logic and etymology, but really you're just being classist/sexist/racist/etc." So if you could prove that AAVE speakers learn SAE, but then individually deviate from that in unpredictable ways, that would blow a big hole in the way I teach 101. Or if you could show that all the things men criticize in women's speech are things that only women do. Or if all the great examples of Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, and other great writers you should admire doing things you claim to despise, if you could demonstrate that those were false examples created by descriptivists.

    In the comic, tho, that would do absolutely nothing. They are basically just the Academie Française writ large. It makes me wonder if all the natural science jokes I pretend to get actually make no sense once you're actually in the field. (Then again, SMBC's glottal stop comic was pretty good.)

  25. J.W. Brewer said,

    December 9, 2016 @ 12:00 pm

    The google n-gram viewer says that "jean jacket" is more common than "jeans jacket," although "denim jacket" is more common that both combined. I think my idiolect has "jeans jacket," but I probably haven't myself worn the garment in question since the earlyish 1980's (when the "jean" form was still in the lead but by a less dramatic margin than in more recent years) and it's not something my kids have thus far taken to wearing, so my lexical intuitions may be a bit out of date.

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