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That BC strip explained

There is currently much discussion of this BC comic strip:

BC strip - We the people

The question is: what exactly is the grammatical mistake being referred to?

Language Log proposes a few good options, but rejects them all. Nicole and Pashmina are wondering, too.

Folks, your methods are flawed — the answer is clear. The important thing to consider, once you’ve found that there is nothing obvious, is the context. You’ve got to look at the artist’s modus operandi — what has he written before? How do his other strips work? Where does he derive his humour from?

And when we consider these issues a pattern emerges. Take this, from 20 September 2005:

Character is reading a dictionary. The dictionary says: “Centaur. A senator who has been horsing around”. [Character looks out of frame, directly at the reader.]

The punchline derives from the way “senator” sounds a bit like “centaur”, and is rammed home by the way the character appeals for help to the reader. Now look at this, from 16 September 2005:

Character 1: What’s that?

Character 2: It’s an alligator, silly. What did you think it was?

Character 1: A cute pair of boots with a matching purse.

Interesting that we assume initially that Character 1 doesn’t know what she’s looking at, yet in the final frame it becomes apparent that she does, even if she was mistaken. So why, we are left to wonder, did she ask about it in the first place? Now finally take this, from 13 September 2005:

Reporter to football coach: Why do you have a pig for a mascot?

Coach: Nepotism. [Produces football.] Say Hi to his cousin Hank. [Pig looks out of frame, directly at the reader.]

Once more there is an apparent disjointedness between the assumptions (a mascot tends to express aspirations for the team) and the reality (it actually expresses something about the ball). Once more this uses the device of a character in the final frame appealing directly to the reader, to ram home the punchline.

By now the pattern should be clear. Tracing it from frame to frame, from day to day, it’s abundantly clear that this comic strip isn’t funny. It’s rubbish. It’s what discerning linguists categorise as actually pretty shit.

The artist’s sole job is to produce something that’s funny. He hasn’t bothered to do this. He isn’t close to funny. He isn’t even in the same city. If he hasn’t put the effort into that, what makes you think he’s going to put the effort into his background research on grammar? He didn’t make the effort for you; you’re wasting your time if you put any effort into thinking about it.

So let’s forget it. It’s rubbish. Let’s move on, and spend some time on something worthwhile.

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