One cartoonist who reveled in language but has been largely neglected in my postings on linguistics in the comics is Walt Kelly, the creator of Pogo. The problem is that good examples of Pogo material are hard to find on the net. But here are a few high points: the quote “We have met the enemy and he is us”; notes on the Okefenokee swamp dialect in Pogo; and the inspired nonsense of Kelly’s song parodies.
Archive for the ‘Nonsense’ Category
Yesterday was Edward Lear’s 200th birthday, certainly a day to celebrate. The barest facts, from Wikipedia:
Edward Lear (12 May 1812 – 29 January 1888) was a British artist, illustrator, author, and poet, renowned today primarily for his literary nonsense, in poetry and prose, and especially his limericks, a form that he popularised.
On limericks, see here.
And then, yesterday in the NYT, an appreciation by Verlyn Klinkenborg:
Today’s Zippy:has the denizens of Dingburg’s Beatnik District bopping on the bongos:
Shades of Mr. Zopittybop-Bop-Bop (here)!
More play on nonsense syllables — bebop, rebop, plain bop, oobity, doo-wop, etc. — from various musical genres: R&B in Lionel Hampton’s “Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop” (1946), “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” from Walt Disney’s Cinderella (1950), rockabilly in Gene Vincent’s “Be-Bop-A-Lula” (1956), the Beatles’ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” (1968), Afro-beat/punk/rock in Who Shot Jonson’s “Oobity Bap” (2009). And more, much more.
… caught on the radio as I was going to sleep several days ago. Didn’t record the source, but you can google up large numbers of this expanded version of the predicative idiom few and far between — and also a respectable number of the truncated version few and far ‘few and far between/apart/away’. The expanded version looks like it originated, eggcornishly, as an attempt to make more sense of the standard idiom (by incorporating the idiom in between in it), and the truncated version looks like a nonce truncation that might be spreading on its own.
Following “Somewhere over my poncho” (here), Bill Griffith goes on to “Lady chow mein”:
As Lise Menn pointed out in a comment on “Somewhere over my poncho” these mangled lyrics are in the tradition of Walt Kelly’s famous “Deck us all with Boston Charlie” (taking off on “Deck the halls with boughs of holly”). No doubt there are other precedents as well.
This is a style of nonsense verse that takes some familiar verse and subjects it to massive intentional mondegreening. I don’t know if there’s an established name for the genre.
The nonsense can be remarkably sticky. I have the text of “Boston Charlie” so firmly in my head that it takes me a little while to recover the correct words. “Lady chow mein” might yet displace “Lady of Spain” as a goofy accordion classic.
(I suspect that there will be more Zippy cartoons on similar lines. I probably won’t try your patience by posting more of them, though I find them tremendously entertaining. But then I’m easily amused.)
Come on baby let’s play th game of words:
Note little pun on play, as in “play a game” vs. “play music”; both senses are conveyed at the same time. And the score for the song, which seems to be set in glyphs, without either words or musical notation. And of course the nonsense of the words Zippy is singing, vaguely reminiscent in content of a truncated version of the X Without Y snowclone (X without Y is like Z without W: “Potato salad without eggs is like scrambled eggs without ketchup”). What’s conveyed by X Without Y is that Y is an essential part of or accompaniment to X, just as W is to Z.
[X Without Y is one of a family of simile snowclones, among them The Y of Z (X is the Y of Z, discussed in several Language Log postings; for the particular variant "X is the Barry White of Y", see Mark Peters) and the absurdly popular The New Y (X is the new Y, done to exhaustion in Language Log and elsewhere). All of these are specialized variants of Proportional Analogy, or X:Y=Z:Q (a Zippy from 2006, with Griffy looking at a diner: "Th' fifties are to the 21st century what th' 1890s were to th' 20th!").]
In fact, it looks to me like Zippy’s lyrics “The purpose of X is to love Y” are related to reverse-simile versions of X Without Y, in which W is not in fact an essential accompaniment to Z, implicating that Y is not an essential accompaniment to X, or in which W is an actual impediment to Z, implicating that Y should not accompany X. The prototype of reversed-simile X Without Y is “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle” (widely attributed to Gloria Steinem, though it might have appeared first as an anonymous graffito); there are examples all over the place.
(More on simile snowclones on another occasion.)
Then again, Zippy’s lyrics also evoke the child world of purposes, as in Ruth Krauss’s 1952 A Hole Is to Dig: A First Book of First Definitions (with illustrations by Maurice Sendak; Sendak also illustrated the charming What Do You Say, Dear? A Book of Manners for all Occasions by Sesyle Joslin).