The A.I. Apocalypse

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Today's Non Sequitur:

This strip makes me wonder who first called humans meat-sacks or meatbags, and when.


  1. Theo said,

    February 19, 2021 @ 6:31 pm

    "Ugly bags of mostly water":

  2. MattF said,

    February 19, 2021 @ 7:19 pm

    1991 short story:

  3. John From Cincinnati said,

    February 19, 2021 @ 7:51 pm

    Close but no cigar? In I Henry IV, Act 2 Scene 4, Line 139, Prince Hal says to Falstaff, "How now, woolsack, what mutter you?".
    Of course I acknowledge that a sack of wool is not a sack of meat.

    Off topic, but I fondly remember all the name calling between Hal and Falstaff. For instance:

    HAL: Why, thou claybrained guts, thou knotty-pated fool, thou whoreson, obscene, greasy tallow-catch—

    FALSTAFF: ’Sblood, you starveling, you elfskin, you dried neat’s tongue, you bull’s pizzle, you stockfish! O, for breath to utter what is like thee! You tailor’s yard, you sheath, you bowcase, you vile standing tuck—

  4. Michele Sharik Pituley said,

    February 19, 2021 @ 7:59 pm

    @John — you just reminded me of the Shakespearean Insults Generator!

  5. Robert said,

    February 19, 2021 @ 9:18 pm

    It looks like the earliest use of "meatbag" to refer to a human was by the robot character Bender in Futurama, about twenty years ago.

  6. maidhc said,

    February 19, 2021 @ 9:25 pm

    There's a band called Meat Puppets that's been around since 1980.

    From the Tropes page about insulting terms for human beings:

    In 1990, Omni magazine published Terry Bisson's They're Made Out of Meat.

    In Chapter 6 of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), Dorothy tells the Cowardly Lion that Toto is a "meat dog", as opposed to a tin or stuffed one.

    I sampled some of the books referenced and most of them seem to have been written later than 1980, except for The Cyberiad (Stanislaw Lem, 1967) and the Oz book.

  7. ktschwarz said,

    February 20, 2021 @ 1:39 am

    The Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction includes "meat puppet" — first citation Neuromancer (1984) — but not "meatsack" or "meatbag". According to the entry, William Gibson was indeed thinking of the band!

  8. Bob Ladd said,

    February 20, 2021 @ 1:58 am

    I wondered about a different word in the strip: "easy-peasy". I first encountered this when my children were in primary school in Scotland beginning around 1990, and I've always assumed it was British usage (Collins online dictionary agrees). But if it's now showing up in an American comic, I assume it has spread to the other side of the Atlantic as well. Has it? Or is this a more esoteric joke about AI that I'm missing?

    [(myl) I don't know who started it, but it's been around in the U.S. for a while. Patricia Marx, "Hillary: What’s Not to Like?", NYT 8/11/2006:

    If only the Hilary/Hillary problem stopped there, I could live with it. But the dilemma (two m’s, easy-peasy) has leaked (notice I did not say “spilled”) into the Alison/Allison area.


  9. Raempftl said,

    February 20, 2021 @ 6:19 am

    A question from a non-native speaker: Why meat and not flesh?

  10. Allan from Iowa said,

    February 20, 2021 @ 9:01 am

    Why meat and not flesh? I think it's to make it sound more strange or jarring, by using a term that's not quite right.

  11. Stephen Hart said,

    February 20, 2021 @ 10:43 am

    Why meat and not flesh?

    It's easier to say in English. t sa is easier to say than sh sa

  12. Ralph J Hickok said,

    February 20, 2021 @ 10:48 am

    Perhaps because meat primarily means food but we don't often think of flesh as food.

  13. Michèle Sharik Pituley said,

    February 20, 2021 @ 11:40 am

    I thought I remembered easy-peasy (with or without lemon squeezy) from my (American) childhood in the 70s & 80s, so I liked it up.

    Apparently the earliest American occurrence is from 1953, in a review by an American journalist of a British film:

  14. Michèle Sharik said,

    February 20, 2021 @ 11:44 am

    I agree with Ralph about why meat & not flesh. Meat is food, flesh isn't, because flesh implies human flesh. However we're ok with the flesh of fruit, so I dunno.

    Let's not forget the Dinosaur Comics book "Your Whole Family is Made out of Meat"!

  15. SlideSF said,

    February 20, 2021 @ 1:53 pm

    Not so much because meat is food, as because it is lifeless. Flesh can be living, but meat is always dead (or at least rapidly trending that way).

  16. Lester said,

    February 20, 2021 @ 2:20 pm

    Good King Wenceslas begs to differ.

    Bring me flesh and bring me wine
    Bring me pine logs hither
    Thou and I shall see him dine
    When we bear them thither.

  17. David Morris said,

    February 20, 2021 @ 5:03 pm

    Very informally, 'meat' can mean 'penis', so 'meat(-)sack' could mean scrotum. This word appears (alongside the sense we are discussing) in the Urban Dictionary (with the usual disclaimed about quoting anything from the Urban Dictionary: "Another word for the sack were testicals are founded [sic]".

  18. monscampus said,

    February 20, 2021 @ 10:32 pm

    The dialogue is written in English, but we don't know whether they actually converse in another language that only has one common word for flesh and meat? Are there other languages – apart from English – that have two different terms?

    John 1:1-14
    The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
    Das Wort ward Fleisch und wohnte mitten unter uns.

  19. Monscampus said,

    February 20, 2021 @ 10:35 pm

    P. S.: The dialogue in TB's short story They're Made of Meat.

  20. TPJ said,

    February 21, 2021 @ 12:12 am

    I’m not certain if it is the earliest use, but the alien (wearing its “Edgar suit”) calls Jay (played by Will Smith) a “meat sack” in Men In Black (1997).

    The usage is at the very end of this clip:

  21. Raempftl said,

    February 21, 2021 @ 3:03 am

    „Meat is food, flesh isn't“

    But wouldn’t that mean flesh is more appropriate? All the examples above are about living beings and it does not seem as if they are regarded as prey either.

  22. ktschwarz said,

    February 21, 2021 @ 4:50 am

    Are there other languages – apart from English – that have two different terms?

    French does: viande and chair. But a thousand years ago, English didn't: "flesh" was used for both, while "meat" was any solid food ("sweetmeats" is a relic of this meaning). Then "meat" narrowed its meaning to animals as food and replaced "flesh" in that sense, so that "flesh" is now somewhat archaic in the food sense. Apparently viande went through a parallel development in French, formerly meaning any food, then narrowed to meat, though (if I understand correctly) chair is more current in the food sense than "flesh" is in English.

    If you want to know what languages use the *same* word for two different things, go to the amazing Database of Cross-Linguistic Colexifications (CLICS). It shows that the concepts MEAT (The edible flesh of animals, especially that of mammals) and FLESH (The soft substance in the body of living things) are the same word in hundreds of languages. You can also see that in some languages MEAT is the same word as ANIMAL, FRUIT, FISH, PIG, etc.; and in some languages FLESH is the same word as BODY, SKIN, etc.

  23. Doug said,

    February 21, 2021 @ 8:29 am

    One reason for the choice of "meat" over "flesh" is probably the existence of the old witticism, "If we're not supposed to eat animals, why are they made out of meat?"

    Not sure when that originated.

  24. djw said,

    February 21, 2021 @ 12:13 pm

    Not a linguist, but I laughed at "meat sack" because it conjured "Meathead" from Archie Bunker in the old All in the Family. That would never have been funny with "Flesh head." (Also, in the middle 50s we had Crayola crayons labeled "flesh," so I still think of "flesh" more as a color than a "thing." Crayola has dropped that label now, for obvious reasons.)

    I don't remember hearing "easy-peasy" much in central Texas before maybe the 1980s, but it's been a common part of my vocabulary since then. (I remember it then because my older sister was using it around her kids a lot.)

  25. Tony DeSimone said,

    February 21, 2021 @ 12:51 pm

    On the history of meat-themed insult: I offer "slab of meat with mittens," from 1987

  26. KevinM said,

    February 21, 2021 @ 5:52 pm

    Sins of the meat can be committed only on Fridays, or during Lent; sins of the flesh can be committed anytime.

  27. Batchman said,

    February 21, 2021 @ 6:39 pm

    Crayola changed "flesh" to "peach" decades ago, FWIW. Still for the same obvious (to us) reasons, presumably.

    That brings up another distinction: "flesh" meaning the superficial covering commonly referred to as "skin" (epidermis + dermis) as opposed to muscle, which is what flesh as meat normally is. So ""flesh-colored" is really "skin-colored."

  28. Michele Sharik Pituley said,

    February 22, 2021 @ 2:26 pm

    @Raempftl: "But wouldn’t that mean flesh is more appropriate? All the examples above are about living beings and it does not seem as if they are regarded as prey either."

    That's the joke.

    In the case of Dinosaur Comics, "your whole family is made out of meat" because T Rex is a predator "your whole family" is prey.

    It's ridiculous to call living beings "meat" which is why it's a joke (ironic?).

    Cf Doug's comment above.

  29. Philip Anderson said,

    February 23, 2021 @ 11:52 am

    While “flesh” has generally been replaced by “meat” when referring to food, poets and hymn writers are notorious for using archaic words, hence the GKW quote above.

    Meat has narrowed in meaning from the Biblical “meat and drink”, and in restaurants often excludes poultry. And for my wife, it only means beef (translating Portuguese’”carne”).

    “Flesh-coloured” and “skin-coloured” are, or should be, relative terms now, not absolute, since people have different colour skin – it’s almost laughable to read of the difficulty some ballet dancers have buying skin-coloured tights.

  30. Joe said,

    February 24, 2021 @ 5:04 pm

    Perhaps its derived from meatspace.

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