Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Comic 739: Malady


Hello dear readers! It is good to be back. Alas, I regret that once each year I must visit my hidden moon base and ensure that my robots are harvesting its sweet moon juices, though I hope that soon I will be able to do this via telecommunico-transporanarium. Until then, I think Harrison for dealing with a tricky week, and Rob can go suck a cow.

Today's xkcd comic genuinely mystifies me. I'd like you to try to imagine me writing the following post (the beginning of it, at least) with a more honest voice, not the sarcastic one I usually employ. Today's comic asks us a question: "Ever notice how Wikipedia has a few words it really likes?" And the thing is, I haven't. I have never noticed that. Have you?

Now it's true that I don't spend as much time on wikipedia as some people, those who notice some very specific facts about the website, so perhaps I am not in the best position to judge.

But really- what word is he even referring to? It can't be "Malamanteau," since that isn't a real word and isn't on wikipedia (though of course some xkcdicks tried). Some have suggested that the joke of this comic is that wikipedia loves the words "neologism" and "portmanteau" but that seems silly; the fictional page on "malamanteau" should have all those words in it, as they are crucial to understanding what the word "malamanteau" means.

Alas, like all xkcd comics, and wikipedia ones in particular, many xkcd fans assume that it is the height of cleverness to attempt to twist wikipedia to fit the world of xkcd. Why people do this, I do not know. Some seem to take a perverse joy in it. (that last forumite would be particularly terrible to argue with, I suspect - "let's get enough of us shouting the same thing and it will have to be correct!").

Anyway - I still have to ask: What words do they mean? Do they mean words that have articles about them (ie, wikipedia likes some words so their pages get to stick around while others are deleted) or do they just mean some words get used more often in articles?

this comic is like observational comedy but no one has shared the experience it is describing.

Here is an example of a terrible way to tell a joke. He starts with the conclusion, then explains the process which got us there, then says the conclusion we've already seen as though it is a punchline. BAD JOB.

I got way far behind on Homestuck recently and am trying to catch up. It is not fun, and I do not know why I am doing it.

Achewood has taken a turn a turn for the very, very creepy recently, but as should be expected, is doing it well.

Dinosaur Comics and Overcompensating both have new DISTURBINGLY SIMILAR shirts for sale. I see their sale and i call: shenanigans.


  1. I think the point is more that wikipedia likes to use ungainly strings of complex words when a short string of simple ones would work just as well, which is a tendency you can see in some of the more mainstream articles.

  2. I think his point was that he reads a lot of pop-culture articles on wikipedia, so he encounters the words "malapropism," "neologism," and "portmanteau" a lot. His idiot readers do the same thing, and so they can identify with this "phenomenon."

  3. the "joke", if it can be called that, is that wikipedia uses the words "portmanteau", a combination of words into one word, and "neologism", a word that has been coined but not of frequent use, are used often in articles to describe other words.
    I know this because i had often looked up words i have never heard before on wikipedia in my preparation for the SAT. That being said, i knew what the comic is talking about, yes wikipedia uses those words to describe other words frequently, because there are no better words to describes other words without requiring an entire sentence. Is this funny? NO IT IS NOT, it is just randall presenting us with something he has noticed, that we may have noticed as well, trying to sell it as a joke.


    Another comic for the randall's pictoblog classification

  4. Ever noticed that the Oxford English Dictionary likes the words NOUN and VERB a lot?

  5. Ever noticed that Munroe likes the words CUNNILINGUS and FIREFLY a lot?

  6. The talk page for that article is funny in that it contains a ton of hypocritical Wikipedia editor bashing by xkcd fans. It's almost like they're copying the opinion Randall has of Wikipedia editors!

  7. Maybe it's because I don't try to add a bunch of cruft to Wikipedia, but I've never noticed the editors being particularly awful. I can get behind an attempt to make Wikipedia, if not an academically rigorous source of information, at least a generally accurate and easily-navigated compendium for the curious. To that end, of course, they adopt policies about notability and verifiability and so forth, and thus they delete stupid fucking non-articles like "Malamanteau."

    Also, of course, Wikipedia Is Not A Dictionary.

  8. The other joke - the one in the alt-text - is that the (quite excellent) linguistics blog Language Log is known for coming up with descriptive neologisms for new kinds of language use; in particular, eggcorn, snowclone and (most recently) crash blossom are all words which have come out of Language Log and all of which describe particular words, phrases, or usage patterns.

    Also, I am a real, honest-to-god linguist, and I don't know what the hell "...incorrectly combining a malapropism with a neologism," is supposed to mean. I understand each thing in isolation, but put together, those words are meaningless.


  10. I have frequently run into "portmanteau" on wikipedia, but haven't really noticed "neologism". While it seemed odd, it didn't really bother me enough to take the trouble to *tell* anyone about it, much less make a comic.

  11. The whole "wikipedia's favourite words", and even the setting of this definition being on wikipedia, detract from the basic tightly-knit-word/definition jumble.

    In fantasy land, Randy's posts something interesting to his Illustrated Picto-Blog. And then as a separate post, a little bonus, he puts up his definition of "malamanteau".
    Or even less attention-getting, he finds somewhere to use the word malamanteau and puts a footnote at the bottom of his post with the definition.

    This is my issue though: the basic joke here (and a lot of other xkcd places) is alright, but *tiny*. Not as "Wednesday's Update! Trumpets!"

    I know Elvis Costello does it (don't infer I'm a fan; just a bit of trivia I caught once reading a Paul McCartney interview...uh, I mean...shit. Look, don't infer I'm a fan of Paul McCartney either...ah balls. Sod it. Really dug a hole there.) - he has whole notebooks full of little phrases and momentary wordplays and half-ideas and strange thoughts that caught his ear. And when he writes a song, he goes through his notebooks and tries to squeeze as many of those mini-ideas in as he can, and that's how he ends up with a whole Song. Most of the ideas are just sitting waiting unused sure, but hey that is the nature of delivering good material, most of your ideas get chiseled off the finished piece.

    Randy, y'know Randy does have good mini-ideas. It just pisses me off to see how he squanders them.

  12. hey you guys, far down the talk page

    randall has made a comment or whatever along the lines of:

    "Oh my God everyone what are you doing.

    Thank you so much. I was genuinely not expecting to wake up to this; I figured someone would probably try to make the article, someone else would delete and protect it, and that would be the end of it—Wikipedia has gotten pretty good at handling that kind of potential abuse. I had no idea I'd wake up to this cavalcade of hilarious opinionating, but it's definitely brightened my morning.
    Yes, I made up the word (although I didn't Google it until moments before the comic went up; like many nonsense words, it did have one use in a discussion thread somewhere). No, it shouldn't be an article. Yes, a clarifying article would be helpful. No, you shouldn't be helpful in this situation, because it's not your job.
    Apologies to all the editors who are trying to keep this discussion under control. I know you have better things to do (like carefully documenting every public mention of Wikipedia, even offhand ones, in the Wikipedia article). Also, just so you know, nobody used the word 'disambiguation' until you people showed up. <3 --Xkcd (talk) 14:53, 12 May 2010 (UTC)Randall"

    and another user made the comment:

    "there you go. No need for an article. The lord has spoken. Coolug (talk) 14:57, 12 May 2010 (UTC)"

    i hate randall with the fury of ten thousand suns, may he burn in hell for idolatry

  13. I like how a bunch of people on that talk page are going "You guys at Wikipedia totally use those words a lot!" when Kalos from the forums already showed that isn't true at all.

    I also like the stupidity of xkcd fans going "Wiki editors are Nazis and it says everyone can edit but that's obviously a lie!" and "We'll make this word noteworthy and you'll HAVE to make an article on it!"

    Randall will make more shitty comics and next week no one will even remember this word because they'll be too busy going "LOL GOOMH RANDALL."

    Oh yeah, and BULLSHIT, Randall didn't invent the word because it was already used on some webpage a few years back. So if that is Randall (it may very well just be an xkcd fan or anti-fan imitating him), then that makes him a liar and a thief.

  14. Maybe I don't get it, but what does Anatomy Text have to do with wikipedia (as this is what was linked to as "specific facts" blah blah

  15. The alt-text mentions anatomy pictures on Wikipedia.

    By the way, Wikipedia editors deleting and "censoring" articles? That is so... Orwellian.

    (I'm sorry, but one of the xkcdumbasses on that talk page referred to this as "so freakin' meta", and it reminded me of another term I hadn't heard them misuse in a while)

  16. oooh! I should do a "meta" rant. Maybe I could also do a metarant, which would be a rant about the problems with people getting really angry.

    Coren: Randall explained that the joke of the Anatomy comic was to make fun of the overly sterile (to use a phrase) anatomy photos on wikipedia. The first two panels are meant to be wiki photos.

  17. Wow. What a miserable "comic".

  18. @Anonymous 6:32

    > Also, I am a real, honest-to-god linguist, and I don't know what the hell "...incorrectly combining a malapropism with a neologism," is supposed to mean. I understand each thing in isolation, but put together, those words are meaningless.

    Maybe that's because the words put together in one sentence is a form of incorrectly combining a malapropism with a neologism.
    Recursion makes my head hurt.

  19. The answer is in
    Actually, once I read it, I thought it was pretty funny.

  20. Wait, so nobody realised what's explained at Surely it's just the one Anonymous...

    The way I see it not even really knows what's up with the joke. They make no attempt at all to riddle out the inconsistency between the caption and reality. The caption wouldn't be there at all if what they describe was supposed to be the entirety of the joke. There wouldn't even be any need to put it in the context of a Wikipedia article.

  21. As far as I can tell, the original joke was just the self-referential word-play. Randall made the joke, didn't really like it (either because it wasn't as funny as he first thought, or because it was too obscure and obscurity isn't allowed on XKCD anymore) and tagged a (what he was hoping would be found funny) caption on it to try have a comic that appeals to everyone.

    It does sound a bit off, but when you think back he's done that a LOT of times before! Like the 4D & Spongebob one, or the Crazy Grammar Nazi & Word-Play one.

  22. "Apologies to all the editors who are trying to keep this discussion under control. I know you have better things to do (like carefully documenting every public mention of Wikipedia, even offhand ones, in the Wikipedia article). Also, just so you know, nobody used the word 'disambiguation' until you people showed up."

    Translation: I know my readers are idiots, but you guys are total aspie cuntheads.

    It's like watching the casino shuttlebus from the old folks' home run into the short bus from the special school, or something.

  23. the comedy is... Randy knew EXACTLY what would happen. I know he said, "Oh my God everyone what are you doing. Thank you so much. I was genuinely not expecting to wake up to this." but i call BULLSHIT. He wrote that comic to create a word that would get into wikipedia through brute force by his legion of pretentious lame fans. This is exactly what he wanted.

  24. Agreed. He knew damn well what would happen, because it happens for EVERY SINGLE FREAKING COMIC. If he didn't know it would happen, he's a fucking moron, oblivious to the world around him. So, fuck him and his pretentious douchebag fans.

    God forbid Wikipedia uses big, albiet precise, words in their articles. People might be forced to, you know, use a dictionary. Unless it's a conspiracy by Wikipedia to force people to use Wiktionary; a thought I'm sure half the fucking cuddlefish out there have had. Goddamn I hate pseudo-intellectuals.

  25. Update from Randall on the talk page:
    Whoa, whoa, whoa. Okay, apparently that was the wrong place for banter. Let me try sincere: I'm really sorry if I've offended any of you; I was just trying to joke around a little. Obviously 'disambiguation' is a real word (I was joking about how Wikipedia seems to be the main user of it lately) and I don't know your mom. I just thought it was funny that you took my comment literally and seemed to get so angry about it. And by the way—if you think I draw comics for t-shirts, you don't know how frustrated the xkcd store guy is that I never get him t-shirt designs and never want to link them at the top of the site; whenever I do (like right now), it's because he's bugged me about 20 times about it. I really don't enjoy the merchandise part of this job; it's why there were no new t-shirts for like a year a while back. I'm just a guy who likes doodling jokes about whatever I'm reading or thinking about or whatever project I'm working on, and I try not to think about how many people read them. I'm sorry if my comics aren't funny enough. I do my best to draw what makes me and my friends laugh; it's all I can do. And I'm sorry if I was rude earlier.
    I had gotten the impression that lately my fans had calmed down a little and Wikipedia had gotten better at handling this kind of situation. I genuinely didn't expect this clusterfuck of a talk page. I sincerely apologize for all the trouble it seems to have caused.
    Wow. Uh. I meant that as a loving jab at this place I hang out all the time. I love Wikipedia and I totally devour those lists and I'm as much a contributor to the problem as anyone. I was just trying to be a little lighthearted about it all; I meant what I said about you guys having better things to do seriously; I really appreciate the work done here. That was intended as a little mockery between friends; sorry if it didn't come across that way.

  26. A.k.a: Snivelling and ferociously backpedalling.

  27. @Anon 1:35: you're not making sense.

    And "malamanteau" uh is not an example of a malamanteau.

    Lamamanteau might be, because "lamapropism" is a malapropism of "malapropism".
    But "malamanteau" is just a portmanteau, nothing weird about it.

  28. One of the xkcd apologists posted on Xkcd's talk page:

    How is it his fault? He didn't tell people to vandalize Wikipedia. He just wrote the comic. It's not his fault that a bunch of people are idiots. What is he supposed to do, never mention Wikipedia on his site? That would deprive him of half his material. (talk) 15:51, 13 May 2010 (UTC)

    I like him pointing out that half of xkcd's jokes are Wikipedia-based, unintentionally admitting one of its major shortcomings...

  29. @Michael: I don't think you would see neologism on Wikipedia much. Wikipedia isn't a dictionary. If a term is notable enough to get it's own encyclopedia article, then it's probably widely used enough not to get tarred with the neologism brush.

    "Cromulent" and "MP3 player" are both recent coinages. Wiktionary calls cromulent a neologism, but not MP3 player. Wikipedia has an article on MP3 players (well, "digital audio players", but they're "usually referred to as an MP3 player"), but no article on cromulent.

  30. This has reached Slashdot:

    The commenters there are praising xkcd for inspiring people to do these things. Makes me nauseous.

  31. "This is the best example of why XKCD is an awesome web comic - a modern "funny" - I've seen in some time. In fact, I'd argue the societal commentary is often better - more cutting and intelligent - than you'll find most anywhere else (WSJ included)."

  32. "And this is why I love xkcd. Revolutionizing the way we think about things with comics."

    Fucking Christ.

  33. @ ...said...

    Beautiful, hahaha!

  34. so basically randall is socially retarded.

    aka apsie.

  35. yep, you pretty much just hit the nail on the fucking head


    is it? lets find out

  36. "152,000 results in Google

    Notability is now well established, shall we make this the article, make a new article or what? This talk page is a core part of the phenomenon. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 20:10, 13 May 2010 (UTC)"

    Absolutely desperate to wedge xkcd into Wikipedia aren't they?

    xkcdsucks should get organised and coin the word "xkcdisacomicforsociallystuntedchildren" to enter WIkipedia under the same criteria.

  37. I just looked at the xkcd forums. Thankfully, a decent number of people are speaking out against xkcd related vandalism, but there's a fair amount of Wikipedia bashing too. I saw this gem:

    "A related failing with Wikipedia is that it wants to also be where people go learn how to pronounce words, but for Pete's sake are people really expected to understand stuff like /ˌsuːpərˌkælɪˌfrædʒəlˌɪstɪkˌɛkspiːˌælɪˈdoʊʃəs/? I'm sure that there are valid reasons for using jibberish but the average person is just left scratching their head. Most smart people just go to a real dictionary site since they will get their answer faster rather than expending effort learning Wiki-jibberish. Most programmers look at this jibberish and figure that they've accidently read data past the end of the string."

    xkcd is a comic for smart people? OK, I don't know how to convert all of the IPA characters into sounds; there's a learning curve. But at least I've heard of the IPA (not "wiki-jibberish"). If there's an alternative way to to convey pronunciation unambigously that doesn't involve learning the IPA, I'd like to hear it. I've never seen a dictionary that didn't use some weird characters to indicate the pronunciation.

  38. We're fighting a losing battle, guys. In a week, there'll probably be a malamawhateverthefuck page on Wikipedia and cuddlefish will be amazed at how their idol once again shaped internet history.

    I bet this is how General Lee felt at the end of the US Civil War.

  39. I liked this Reddit comment:
    "I've said it before and I'll say it here again.

    RANDALL MUNROE is an anagram of LOL, U R A NERD, MAN"

  40. Aahhg, my eyes! stop linking back to 631! I'd rather forget, but you keep reminding me.

  41. @Anon 2:46 - That's the creepiest thing ever.

  42. From the talk page:
    "I think the people who were so bitter and mean are just jealous because being bitter and mean isn't nearly as popular as being funny."

    And I think people become terrorists because they just HATE FREEDOM!

    So wait, does this person believe that as one of the enlightened ones who aren't bitter and mean, they are thus funny and popular? Careful there, commenter - you're not following procedure here. You're not supposed to imply popularity could be a positive thing.

    You're supposed to imply that wanting popularity is a worthless, shallow attitude - thus suppressing and hiding the fact that you wished you could have had it in high school.

  43. @Sepia: really? Jesus that's depressing. I don't know IPA off by heart, but it's Wikipedia, man, it takes like three seconds to look it up! Shouldn't they be all over that, anyway? "Look! Nerdy language! Lots of symbols! Stuff that normal folk don't necessarily understand!"


    Sepia, you are responsible for me finally snapping. When I go postal and blow up the next Internet cafe I pass, the State will hold you fully responsible.

  44. Well, if you search Wikipedia for "neologism" and "portmanteau" you get about a million entries that mention both :)

    metrosexual, petrocurrency, vingle, prequel, rockumentary, portmanteau, etc.etc.

  45. If you search wikipedia for "neologism portmanteau" you get 92 entries. (I suppose you could consider that "millions.")

    If you search wikipedia for "piranha gun" you get 193 entries.


  46. A search for neologism gives 1,406 results. Portmanteau results in 2,023. The maximum number of articles that could contain both is the lesser, 1,406. That is not a large amount.

  47. You can search for more than one word at a time, anon...

  48. A malapropism occurs when someone uses a word in place of another word that sounds similar, but has a different meaning. For example, to say "weary" (tired) when you mean "wary" (cautious), and vice versa.

    A portmanteau is a word that is created when two words (along with their meanings) are combined. For example, the offspring of a lion and a tiger is called a "liger" - the two words and meanings are merged. Likewise, a "grapple" is an apple that tastes like a grape.

    So a "malamanteau" would be a portmanteau itself - a combination of "malapropism" and "portmanteau," but since a malapropism involves the substitution of one word for another with a different meaning, and a portmanteau involves combining two words and meanings into the same word, a malamanteau is some kind of spawn of the two.

    A "neologism" is just a new word.

    Language Log, which appears in the mouseover text, is a language and linguistics blog. They gave a shoutout to the xkcd comic.

  49. I think I've figured it out! "Malamanteau" is a combination of a malapropism and a portmanteau because it was meant to be "neomanteau" (neologism + portmanteau) but "malapropism" was accidentally substituted for "neologism"(this substitution being a malapropism). (Of course, I assume Randall did this all deliberately, so it's not really a malapropism either.)

  50. sex and math together at last -- 250 results.
    randall is so lonely -- 148 results.
    math related suicide -- 117 results.
    neologism portmanteau -- 92 results.
    tyrannosaurus sex -- 72 results.

    Am I making a point? Well, all of the above would make for interesting band names. Also, this could pass for another pictureless xkcd comic. ...Well, there would probably be a graph for some reason.

    Captcha: seeks. I thought it wasn't supposed to be dictionariable?

  51. I didn't get the comic either.

    But to the similar shirts thing. It's just two shirts about naked people. Not sure what to say to that.

  52. It's two shirts about naked people and how the shirt is preventing them from being naked. They are both self referential.

  53. After seeing Randall's latest shirt offering, I can well believe that he doesn't enjoy coming up with designs for them and just submits any old thing when his shop admin nags him enough. My suggestion is that he should follow the example of other webcomic artists and make an effort to come up with shirts that might have appeal outside his rabid fandom.

  54. I agree that XKCD can be weak at points, but with this one it seems very clear that a lot of people simply didn't understand the depth of the joke. Your explanation Carl, for example, completely misses the meta humor which was explained very well by Emily and Anom 5:28 a couple posts above me. Understanding the meta humor makes the comic (at least to me) humorous on top of just being a fun thing to think about.

    It would be nice to see you at least admit that you missed the joke this time, although I am guessing you will subsequently insist that XKCD sucks because its jokes are too smart for its audience.

  55. Except substituting malapropism for neologism is not itself a malapropism because the words don't sound similar. So maybe 'neomanteau' never fucking comes into it at all. Maybe Randall's original description of malamanteau contains enough self-referential and 'meta' humour without this after-the-fact neomanteau bullshit rationalisation. Sometimes a cigar is just a fucking cigar, folks.

  56. I have noticed portmanteau a *lot* while reading Wikipedia. I've also noticed neologism from time to time. Not sure about malapropism.

    Anyway, I thought this was funny, mainly because I read Wikipedia a great deal and I have noticed the interesting phenomenon that although Wikipedia articles all have different authors (and many authors), the style tends to be the same. Also, Wikipedia tends to have articles about obscure or highly contrived ideas. Therefore, I think this comic is a good parody of Wikipedia. And funny.

    Also, all of you kind of annoy me. Why do those of you who dislike xkcd continue to read it? Why not just ignore it like you ignore the other 99.95% of the Internet that isn't worth consuming?

  57. because it's fun to make fun of. why the fuck are you so stupid?

  58. I thought I read wikipedia a lot but apparently I do not read it enough. Check the FAQ or Rob's Rants for more on your second part.