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CSotD: Tuesday Titterings

The world is full of serious issues, but I’m in a Big Nate mood: Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight.

Starting with …

Juxtaposition of this past Friday



(Flying McCoys)

This was such an odd Juxtaposition that it made me stop and say, “Didn’t I just read this?” and go back.

It also struck me in particular because I am about to acquire a puppy and am dealing with the fact that, in about five hours, I will lose my ability to be alone for the next decade.

For the past 34 years, I’ve had ridgebacks, who are hell on four legs as pups but grow into hounds who, when you come home, greet you from the couch with a “Wuzzup?”

Figured it was time for a change.

There will be moments, I’m sure, when I’ll wish I’d gone with the houseplant, but, then again, my current ridgeback will help teach her to go outside to pee, a trick which, once mastered, will distinguish her from a cat.


Also on the topic of small creatures who keep you on your toes, Wallace the Brave once more skips back and forth over that line between surrealism and nostalgia, at least for those of us who were bad kids because ADD hadn’t been invented yet.

Wallace isn’t as self-aware as Calvin or as purposefully disruptive as Alice Otterloop, but he really does the things the rest of us almost did, or wish we had done, or would have done, if we’d been better able to distract ourselves from contemplating the obvious outcomes.

Wallace has that gift: He genuinely doesn’t see any difference between having left the house 30 seconds too late to catch the bus and whatever got him into that state.


Language Notes

The discovery of phosphene gas in the clouds that shroud Venus touched off this language note from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal and sent me back to junior high, not so much for the pun but for the fact itself, which I remember reading in Science Digest.

The preferred adjective for things relating to Venus is “Cytherean,” precisely for the reason in the SMBC cartoon: Venereal was already taken, and taken in a context that made astronomers go back to a Greek name for Aphrodite, which was already a Greek name, but if you’ve read Homer, you know how the Greeks loved to coin additional names for gods and heroes.

I was going to go on about this, but the explanation in that link is funny enough to disprove the notion that explaining a cartoon kills the humor. Not only is the adjectival form of “Venus” too close to “venereal” for comfort, but

Since Venus has a Greek name, as well as a Roman one, this could be used; however, the adjectival form of Aphrodite, “Aphrodisian” … was felt to be unfortunately similar to “aphrodisiac”, again evoking sex rather than astronomy.


Meanwhile, xkcd, not to be out-geeked by SMBC, suggests we all cool our jets a little, and I laughed even harder because the headline on that Reuters article with which this section began was “Potential sign of alien life detected on inhospitable Venus.”

Last night, someone on NPR remarked that we hadn’t really explored Venus (which isn’t true), even though it’s closer to the Earth than Mars.

I don’t recall who made the comment, but their own Nell Greenfield-Boyce filed a story that explains why we haven’t visited a whole lot, adds some skepticism to all the unbridled excitement and is, if not intentionally humorous, certainly entertaining enough to be well worth your time.

There is a place in science writing where dry facts and dry wit tend to overlap, and the writer’s intentions can be hard to pin down.


Still on the topic of nerds, Candorville explains the current state of the term.

And staying with those sorts of descriptors, I find it interesting that the main character in this strip is something of a dork, evidenced by the fact that, in these recurring usage-based episodes, he comes across as perhaps correct but certainly annoying and, well, dorky.

I say “perhaps correct” because it’s often possible to argue with his points. In this case, I agree that he’s got current usage right, but I’m old enough to remember when a “nerd” was someone who farted in the bathtub and bit the bubbles.

Or maybe that was a “dork.” It was a very long time ago, and language changes.

A whole bunch of those faux-yiddishisms came out at once, at roughly the same time as elephant jokes, a period when not being funny was the hip way to be funny.

Ask your grandparents.


SMBC and xkcd being webcomics, they were able to leap immediately on the Venus news story, but I don’t think Bizarro has that kind of no-deadline timing, so I’m going to congratulate Wayno with dropping this just as news was breaking that the AP has decided “fewer” and “less” are now interchangeable.

Except that I saw that reported on Twitter, the tweet has since been deleted, and when I went to look for the original source, all I found from the AP was a usage note saying the two words are not interchangeable, and a Columbia Journalism Review article from 2011 explaining that they aren’t except when they are, with grocery lines being an example.

So, fake news until proven otherwise.

The CJR article even cited this 2008 JC Duffy New Yorker cartoon to illustrate the issue, noting that the reason to use “less” is that the crucial factor is the size of the order, which is distinct from the specific items in it.

As the writer points out, you say “less than a thousand dollars” even though you can count individual dollars.

However the AP feels about lesser and few — and editors and English teachers are champions of bogus language rules — the best part of Wayno’s gag is that it relies on her being able to see his word balloon.

Let your Auntie Grizelda ponder that!


Community Comments

#1 Mark Jackson
@ 9:15 am

The Nell Greenfield-Boyce story link actually points to the Wikipedia article.

I think the /CJR/ article’s analogy between “N dollars or less” but “M fewer dollars” and the express lane is flawed. In the first case “N dollars or less” can exist in multiple forms – N/10 Hamiltons, for example, or 1 check – whereas “M fewer dollars” is structured to emphasize the unit dollar. In the case of the grocery store the limitation is entirely driven by the time required to scan or key in each individual item. “Fewer” is better.

#2 phil von neupert
@ 9:45 am

I’ve always thought it was more important to be understood than to be grammatically correct. But that’s just me. (Or is it I)

#3 Brad Walker
@ 10:39 am

Not my own, but —

I have a spelling checker,
It came with my PC.
It plainly Marx four my revue
Mistakes I can knot sea.
Ive run this pome threw it,
I’m sure your pleased two no.
Its letter perfect in it’s weigh,
My checker tolled me sew.

#4 phil von neupert
@ 11:05 am

The Google spell-check on my phone substitutes incorrect punctuation and spellings for correct ones. Maybe they’re just messing with me because I never buy anything from Google ads.

#5 Tara Gallagher
@ 12:25 pm

Yeah, I’m gonna go there.
What is the preferred adjective for things related to the seventh planet? “Uranasal” might be something a scientist wants to say to some colleagues, but not all the time.

#6 Brian Fies
@ 5:20 pm

Tara, as tempting as it is to reply “Urinal,” the answer is sadly boring: “Uranian.”

I also see “Caelean,” after the Roman version of the god Uranus, Caelus, but have never heard or read anyone actually use it.

#7 Kip Williams
@ 6:22 pm

For the past few years, Wegman’s signage up at the registers refers to “…and fewer” when saying who can use a lane, and that always makes me smile when I see it.

#8 Shirley Williams
@ 7:38 pm

I don’t mind ‘Uranian’. That planet was almost named ‘Herschel’ after the guy who found it. Coulda been worse is all I’m saying. The ‘Uranus’ jokes are are amusing only because we don’t pronounce it correctly, but if we did, life would be a little less amusing, so there’s that. And why can’t we just say ‘Venusian’, anyway?

#9 Brad Walker
@ 8:40 pm

When in Missouri don’t forget to visit the “town” (actually a pit stop and fudge factory) of Uranus. “The Best Fudge Comes from Uranus!”

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