Cartoon zeugma of the month

« previous post | next post »

From the first panel of the most recent Scenes From a Multiverse, an example of what Wikipedia calls "Type 2 Zeugma" or "semantic syllepsis":

Wikipedia defines the category as "a single word is used with two other parts of a sentence but must be understood differently in relation to each". And in the first of Wikipedia's examples (from Pope's Rape of the Lock, Canto 3), the pivot word happens to be the same verb "take" as in the cartoon:

Here Thou, great Anna! whom three Realms obey,
Dost sometimes Counsel take – and sometimes Tea.

Some previous LLOG examples:

"WTF grammar", 3/8/2005
"More WTF coordinations", 3/11/2005
"Still more WTF coordinations", 4/11/2005
"A recipe for WTF coordination", 6/21/2005
"WTF coordination in the bullpen", 4/7/2006
"A racy WTF coordination", 5/10/2006
"Syllepsis, aka WTF coordination", 4/14/2007
"Mistakes were made", 3/18/2009
"Syllepsis gone wild", 11/11/2009
"Syllepsis of the month", 11/11/2012
"Zeugma of the week", 3/28/2015
"Religions ranked by Google", 7/24/2015
"Ask Language Log: Is this a sentence?", 2/26/22016
"'and himself jail'", 4/19/2018



  1. Cervantes said,

    June 22, 2018 @ 7:59 am

    In this case the effect is intended to be (darkly) humorous. This is a common way of structuring jokes, I think.

  2. Benjamin Orsatti said,

    June 22, 2018 @ 9:02 am

    –> Cervantes.

    "In this case the effect is intended to be (darkly) humorous. This is a common way of structuring jokes, I think."

    Of course. It's the old "build-up-and-quickly-switch-expectations" gag. I'm sure it's no coincidence that the earliest recorded joke in English is one such "switcheroo" (though not a zeugma as such): Hangð hwæt fram þæt mannes þeoh ond gád tu pýtan þat hol hit pýteð ær?

    Se cæg.

  3. Theophylact said,

    June 22, 2018 @ 9:27 am

    My two favorite examples are in the Flanders and Swann classic, "Have Some Madeira. M'Dear":

    "And he said as he hastened to put out the cat,
    The wine, his cigar and the lamps:
    Have some madeira, m'dear."


    "She lowered her standards by raising her glass,
    Her courage, her eyes, and his hopes."

    Read more: The Limeliters – Have Some Madeira, M'Dear Lyrics | MetroLyrics

    [(myl) Indeed. Quoted in "Syllepsis, aka WTF coordination", 4/14/2007, including the best one:

    She let go her glass with a shrill little cry.
    Crash! Tinkle! It fell to the floor.
    When he asked "what in Heaven?" she made no reply,
    Up her mind, and a dash for the door.


  4. BillR said,

    June 22, 2018 @ 10:25 am

    C’mon, Benjamin, let us all in on the joke, please.

  5. Lewis said,

    June 22, 2018 @ 11:10 am

    So drop Benjamin's joke into Google Translate:
    Hangð hwæt fram þæt mannes þeoh ond gád tu pýtan þat hol hit pýteð ær? Se cæg.

    And Google, not unreasonably, suggest Icelandic, which gives:

    Hanging up, you're hot, you're so bad that you can do it? See cattle.

    It seems to lose something in Icelandic?

  6. richardelguru said,

    June 22, 2018 @ 11:50 am

    Lewis, and that's surely the key to all humour.

  7. Rube said,

    June 22, 2018 @ 11:51 am

    @BillR and Lewis:

    I hesitate to tromp on Benjamin's joke, but if you just Google the words, you get this website that explains it.

    It's still pretty funny

  8. Jen in Edinburgh said,

    June 22, 2018 @ 12:13 pm

    If this is the one about the stiff thing that hangs below a man's waist and goes into holes, or similar, then I think all it shows is that the first humour was dirty!

  9. Graeme said,

    June 24, 2018 @ 3:37 am

    I stumbled repeatedly over what an "ativan" might be. Before I guessed the equivalent saying here (Oz English) would be "take a Valium".

  10. Philip Taylor said,

    June 24, 2018 @ 5:53 am

    Leaving aside what I regard as a totally unnecessary obscenity in the cartoon caption, is the woman caricatured Sarah Sanders ?

  11. David Marjanović said,

    June 24, 2018 @ 9:58 am

    Yes; and while I don't think Sanders has actually cursed like this, it would fit her style so perfectly hardly anyone would notice if she did.

  12. VV said,

    June 24, 2018 @ 11:40 am

    @Graeme it's not a US vs. Oz distinction, they're just two different (though similar) medications. Ativan is a trade name for lorazepam; Valium is a trade name for diazepam. Both are benzodiazepines and both work for the joke of "take a [controlled substance anti-anxiety medication], though they are metabolized differently and diazepam is shorter-acting.

    Anecdotally, (in the US) younger people are more likely to talk about taking Ativan and older people are more likely to talk about taking Valium, which might reflect a shift in prescribing over the past few decades, but I don't really know.

  13. RP said,

    June 25, 2018 @ 8:34 am

    It could be partly a US v Oz distinction, if the trade name Ativan isn't used in Oz. The same medications are marketed under different names in different countries. I'm British and had never heard of Ativan, so it took me a while to realise what was meant, but I don't know whether the trade name isn't used here or was simply unfamiliar to me.

  14. B.Ma said,

    June 26, 2018 @ 5:09 am

    In the UK medical staff rarely use trade names for routine medications that are given out all the time, and probably only pharmacists would know them.

  15. James Kabala said,

    June 27, 2018 @ 9:44 pm

    I never heard of Atvian before. I have heard of Valium. Maybe this means I know count as among the "older people."

    (Also, Atvian gets the red squiggly line but Valium does not, so this spell check apparently considers only the latter to have "legitimate word" status.)

  16. James Kabala said,

    June 27, 2018 @ 9:45 pm

    I now count, obviously.

RSS feed for comments on this post