An xkcd for Geoff Nunberg

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Mouseover text: "I'm the proud parent of an honor student, and the person driving me is proud, too!"

From Geoffrey Nunberg, "The pragmatics of deferred reference" (in L. Horn and G. Ward, eds., The Handbook of Pragmatics, Blackwell, 2003):

Meaning transfer is the process that allows us to use an expression that denotes one property as the name of another property, provided there is a salient functional relation between the two. … Meaning transfers can apply to predicates of any kind, whether lexical or phrasal, and whether used attributively or predicatively. By way of developing some of the features of the process, let's consider (3):

(3) I am parked out back.

One might be tempted to say that the transfer in (3) applies to the subject I, in a sort of "driver for car" metonymy. But there are a number of reasons for assuming that the transfer here applies to the conventional meaning of the predicate. For example if the speaker has two cars, he wouldn't say:

(4) We are parked out back.

though of course this would be an appropriate utterance if there were two people who were waiting for the car. Note, moreover, that we can conjoin any other predicate that describes the speaker, but not always one that literally describes the car:

(5) I am parked out back and have been waiting for 15 minutes.

(6) *I am parked out back and may not start.

For both these reasons, we assume that the predicate parked out back in (3) carries a transferred sense, which contributes a property of persons whose cars are parked out back.

I'm disappointed to have to report that explain xkcd hasn't picked up on this possible connection. Very extremely disappointed. Because I totally wouldn't have minded getting scooped on this. In any case, they helpfully explain that a bumper sticker "is generally a thin rectangle piece of plastic with a message on one side and adhesive on the other side in order to stick to a car." But if you're wondering what a car is, you'll have to look elsewhere.


  1. Neal Goldfarb said,

    October 26, 2018 @ 9:50 pm

    Hey Mark, isn't it about time that xkcd got added as a category tag of its own?

  2. rosie said,

    October 26, 2018 @ 11:46 pm

    Several years ago, in Proms seasons, the Royal Albert Hall used to sell fans on which was printed "I'm a Proms fan".

  3. Rick Rubenstein said,

    October 27, 2018 @ 1:54 am

    I figured out what a car was when I was on the internet yesterday.

  4. mollymooly said,

    October 27, 2018 @ 2:45 am

    I am familiar enough from TV etc with stereotypical US bumper sticker praxis not to need explainxkcd's help, but other unAmericans may not be. Positioning (bumper v window v nowhere) and content (politics v humour v sport v local radio v stick family) vary by region.

  5. Michael said,

    October 27, 2018 @ 5:12 am

    Remember "I never lost it"?

  6. Philip Taylor said,

    October 27, 2018 @ 6:45 am

    Molly : I'm an "unAmerican" (I prefer the term "Briton") and having read not only the thread but all the material cited therefrom, I still fail to understand. "I'm a car" is fine; "and I vote" makes no sense whatsoever to me. Incidentally, is "I totally wouldn't have minded …" really standard English ? To me it reads more as something one might expect to hear from a mall rat than something that the author of a Language Log article might be expected to use.

  7. Theophylact said,

    October 27, 2018 @ 7:37 am

    "I'm an X — and I vote" is a bumper sticker trope in the US. The message is "don't ignore members of group X, because we can vote against you". There are innumerable variations on the theme.

  8. Philip Taylor said,

    October 27, 2018 @ 7:58 am

    Theophylact — OK, thank you, I now understand on what the sticker is modelled, but it still makes no sense to me. Am I being stupid, or is the sticker intentionally meaningless ? Or is there a sub-text "I'm a car driver and I vote" (so don't try to impose even lower national speed limits, increase the tax on petrol, force me to buy after-market seats for my child, and so on) ?

  9. John Roth said,

    October 27, 2018 @ 8:39 am

    Philip Taylor – It's an intentional violation of the trope, presumably for sarcastic effect. The author of the XKCD comic does this frequently.y

  10. Philip Taylor said,

    October 27, 2018 @ 8:50 am

    OK, thank you John, understood.

  11. Stephen Hart said,

    October 27, 2018 @ 10:14 am

    I assumed the joke was referring to self-driving cars having crossed a line.

  12. Jonathan Badger said,

    October 27, 2018 @ 10:32 am

    @Stephan Hart
    Reminds me of what William Gibson wrote about AIs getting citizenship

    "'It own itself?' 'Swiss citizen, but T-A own the basic software and the mainframe.'
    'That's a good one,' the construct said. 'Like, I own your brain and what you know, but your thoughts have Swiss citizenship. Sure. Lotsa luck, AI.'"

  13. Robert Coren said,

    October 27, 2018 @ 11:19 am

    All the "I am parked" examples cited seem to assume that the speaker is in the car. I would also be likely to say this when not in the car, e.g., in indicating to a person to whom I am giving a ride which direction we should go in order to get to the car.

  14. KevinM said,

    October 27, 2018 @ 12:33 pm

    Readers of a certain age will recall the TV series "My Mother the Car." But yeah, it's probably a deferred reference.

  15. Robbie said,

    October 27, 2018 @ 3:54 pm

    Philip Taylor — I was equally baffled. Having read this article, I think I get the point now. If the car sticker says "I vote", then logically it's the car making that claim, not the driver. The quoted mouseover text makes the point a bit more clearly: "I'm proud of my child, and so is my driver".

    It's a bit of a flop as a joke, if you ask me, but I guess you can't get a winner every time.

  16. Keith Clarke said,

    October 27, 2018 @ 4:18 pm

    "But if you're wondering what a car is, you'll have to look elsewhere."

    Shame. Bumper stickers are only for cars, then, not SUVs and crossovers, according to Wikipedia. How do I tell if I'm allowed to put a bumper sticker on my vehicle?

    Another confused unAmerican.

  17. DaveK said,

    October 27, 2018 @ 5:30 pm

    @Robert Coren: “I’m parked out back” doesn’t make me think the speaker is calling from their car. It could easily mean face-to-face conversation. “I’m parked out back. Can you help me carry the packages?”
    Compare: “”If anyone is parked out back, please move your car”

  18. Robert Coren said,

    October 28, 2018 @ 11:12 am

    @DaveK: Exactly. But the examples cited in the original post seem to assume otherwise.

  19. CP said,

    October 28, 2018 @ 2:16 pm

    Please respect the image's license: you need to link to original cominc.

  20. Michael Watts said,

    October 29, 2018 @ 2:40 am

    Please respect the image's license: you need to link to original [comic].

    Why do you say this? I see several problems:

    – No license is necessary in order to copy the comic for the purpose of making scholarly commentary about it.

    – Even if you think complying with the license might be necessary for some other reason, that's wrong: the license expressly preserves normal fair use rights in section 2.

    – The XKCD license page (as opposed to the CC BY-NC 2.5 license itself) doesn't even require a link. It specifically asks that you indicate where the drawing is from, and specifically authorizes the text "" in the comment field of a LiveJournal icon as acceptable indication.

    – Where you do provide a link, you're not supposed to link the original comic — you're supposed to link the license page.

    – The XKCD license page claims to license the work under CC BY-NC 2.5, but pretty clearly doesn't actually do that; the terms stated on the page at conflict with the actual terms of the CC BY-NC 2.5 license:

    You must include a copy of, or the Uniform Resource Identifier for, this License with every copy or phonorecord of the Work You distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, or publicly digitally perform.

    (emphasis mine)

    So, to sum up:

    – The actual license offered on claims to be CC BY-NC 2.5, but isn't. (Or more generously, makes the images available under your choice of the CC BY-NC 2.5 license or the bespoke license there.) xkcd's bespoke license asks you to link to or otherwise indicate where the image came from on a best-effort basis.

    – The CC BY-NC 2.5 license does require a link to the original comic, and also requires a link to . It also requires a collection of other information: all existing copyright notices for the work; the author's name; and the title of the work.

    – But fortunately, none of that matters, because neither license applies at all in this context.

  21. DWalker07 said,

    October 29, 2018 @ 12:41 pm

    For the xkcd license, it's a little hard for any other site to link to BOTH a particular comic and also the license… at least, not in the same link or URL.

  22. Mick O said,

    October 29, 2018 @ 5:49 pm

    Most previous LLOG posts commenting on an xkcd comic have linked to the original comic. I am not sure why that practice didn't continue this time around, but as a reader (not a lawyer) I would like to have the link included.

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