Thursday, September 16, 2010

Comic 793: At least it's a real science

[Alt: If you need some help with the math, let me know, but that should be enough to get you started! Huh? No, I don't need to read your thesis, I can imagine roughly what it says.]

The thing I love most about this comic is: it's making fun pf physicists, but he just throws in one of his trademark "liberal arts majors suck in every way" jokes, completely for fun. Look at that caption: It could easily start with "There's nothing more obnoxious than..." which would be snappier and get to the point faster. But no! Just like his disclaimer that his comic is too advanced for Liberal Arts Majors to enjoy, or his many comics about how if you are a liberal arts major, you aren't really learning anything or working very hard, and no one respects you.

Besides being incredibly smug and douchey, what's funny about this pattern is that the liberal arts includes a lot of math stuff. Here, go to the Wikipedia page on it. There are seven "liberal arts," which are as follows:
1. grammar
2. rhetoric
3. logic
4. arithmetic
5. astronomy
6. music
7. geometry
Now I can see that "rhetoric" is probably not something Randall thinks much of or has much respect for. OK. But I don't think the world is overrun with a scourge of aimless, destructive rhetorticians. Grammar is the same way. Music, #6, is generally not considered a science in any way but if you've studied music theory at all, you know that not only does it tend to include a lot of mathematical, logical thinking, but that a lot of people who study it seriously are also really into math on its own.

As to the other four, geometry and arithmetic are both clearly math, astronomy is a hard science, and logic is often thought of mathematically. So I don't see why Randall keeps shitting on the "liberal arts" given that the majority of them are hard sciences. Perhaps he means to say "Humanities" or something like that, or "soft sciences," but the fact is, he doesn't say that. So he should either correct himself or shut up. He sounds like a huge prick every time he goes down this path.

Now, it's true that I'm ignoring the majority of this comic, including its message, that physicists don't understand why things are complicated. Quite frankly, it's because I don't care. I'll let the rest of you folks tear that part to shreds; it simply doesn't speak to me.

As you can see, I've created a tag for "liberal arts suck don't they" for this type of comic, if you'd like to help me point out the old posts which should have this tag, that would be lovely.

In other news, Apokalips was never a great comic, but it is decent enough that I make a point to check it regularly. I think it's admirable that the author has recently chosen to slow down his publishing schedule and not hold himself to firm deadlines, rather than have the overall quality of the work go down. I with wish every author of a failing comic would think this way.

And this made me laugh.


  1. GOOMH Randall, my friends and I have inside jokes and catchphrases!

  2. Don't be so damn lazy. Go look up your liberal arts stuff yourself. BTW, are you gonna classify Randy's arithmetic jokes under this label, too?

  3. The new one made me shit a turd of pure boredom.
    Out of my mouth.

  4. GOOMH Randall, there's a monk on a ladder in my back yard RIGHT NOW!

    PS, Computer Science is considered a subset of Logic... sooooo... not sure what that gets you, just putting it out there....

  5. I mean, I think xkcd sucks as much as the next guy but it's a little unfair to criticize him on the point that "the liberal arts includes math, technically". Pretty sure no one thinks of the quadrium/trivium definition of liberal arts except the occasional loopy Avril Incanzenda-type. "Liberal arts" signifies "humanities" pretty unequivocally in our non-ancient-Grecian society and while you might nitpick his precision in word choice, it's not really the basis for a reasonable complaint.

    However, as an unreasonable, unasked-for complaint, it works marvelously.

  6. You "with" every author of a failing comic would think that, do you?

  7. The new comic literally doesn't have a joke. It's just the statement that people in the past probably had inside jokes. How is this supposed to be funny?

  8. "Liberal-arts majors may be annoying sometimes" is Randall self-consciously commenting on his previous comics making fun of the soft sciences. It's not a jab; it's an attempt at being fair and balanced.

  9. Why would you make up jokes whose stated end-purpose is that no one (including the guy who wrote them) knows why they're funny?

  10. Except it's not fair and balanced at all, he's reinforcing those previous comics.

  11. @Anon 9:26

    Randall Munroe, having lived approximately twenty-six (26) consecutive years on this planet, has only just found out about this interesting (read: boring) little tidbit. He is clearly intellectually superior to most people, and no one else could have possibly already known about this, so he needs to share his important bit of knowledge with the world, or we will never know.

    Of course, if he had the tiniest shred of common sense, he would know that the world did not begin the minute he was born, people have been around for thousands of years, humans are repetitive and predictable creatures, and THIS SHIT IS NOT NEWS TO ANYONE WHO PAID ATTENTION IN HIGH SCHOOL HUMANITIES CLASSES INSTEAD OF STICKING THEIR FINGERS IN THEIR EARS SCREAMING "LA LA LA LA I WISH I WAS IN FRONT OF A COMPUTER RIGHT NOW."

    Bah, I suck at writing, but you get my point.

  12. So when and where is the new comic meant to take place? The reference to monks suggests medieval Europe, but the guy on the left is wearing a turban.

    Perhaps Randall's trying to impress his readers by showing how ignorant he is of that unscientific liberal artsy field, history. (Also literature-- note how he says he's "looked through" "a few" annotated classics, not actually sat down and read them.)

  13. So.... I actually am a physicist. I mean, we don't generally go around telling other scientists how much they suck. We sorta recognize that most scientific fields are subsets of physics, so they've got their own approximations and systems they use. Much as physics is the end-all, be-all of science, we're pretty cognizant that we can't individually know everything about everything.

    Eh, I probably don't need to tell you guys how wrong he is.

    I don't think Randy's burned us this bad since his "ranking disciplines by purity" comic. The pattern seems to be "Physicists are smug douchebags", which I think is rather ironic for him to be saying.

  14. ...Why the fuck is a Muslim buying a ham?

  15. "People back then invented inside jokes, too!"

    How about giving this era some winners, Randall?

  16. omg... can't you see the inside joke?

    It's a muslim buying ham from a jew!!!

  17. Carl, did you seriously just make a claim that the fifth century definition of liberal arts is in any way relevant to sense used by Randall Munroe? Rob should be ashamed of you.

  18. I love that Randall's comic process consists of looking through annotated "classic books" and thinking, "hey, people other than my friends have inside jokes and catchphrases".

    (And the "get out of my head" reactions abound. I'm not sure why this is a revelation to anyone, though.

    Annotations are there to give cultural and historical context for certain parts of a story. If you focus on the annotations, of course it looks like a list of pop culture references. This is doubly so if you "look through" something instead of actually reading it.)

    I think the comic itself has been done before. It happens in Sandman, for want of a better example, as a hundred years pass and people are still talking about the same subjects.


    "The engineering degree through the College of Letters and Science, for example, will likely require more classes in language, history and literature. Meanwhile, the engineering degree from the College of Engineering will not require as many classes in the social sciences, Ronayne says."

    College of Letters and Science = College of Liberal Arts, as mentioned in the text.

    It really does sound like there are Liberal Arts colleges in which you can, for example, major in Engineering, but get a lot of Literature and History classes as well.

    And yeah, new comic sucks. Especially the "pop culture references are completely lost on us now" - that guy clearly doesn't have a clue that understanding these historical pop culture references is crucial in many fields of study, like um, history or theology.

  20. Phil above is quite wrong. This mistake of Randall's has always bugged me. I'm a liberal arts major - I majored in mathematics and computer science, both of them fell under the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. So, for that matter, did physics. My university is not unique. They're all like that. Randall's degree in physics was taken from his university's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

    What Randall has always meant to say is humanities/social sciences, which are subsets of the liberal arts.

  21. As extreme as the ball-washing at XKCD forums is, you guys are just as bad in your criticism. I don't much care for XKCD (at least not he last few years), but reading your stupid nit-picky remarks and missing the humor (on the rare times there is some) almost makes me want to defend it. Then I check the XKCD forum and want to bash the ever-living hell out of that comic.

    Also, stick to criticizing the comic. When you start making blanket statements about the author's character and delving into pseudo-psychology, you just look petty. Plus, there's more than enough to criticize in the comics.

    To conclude the most mixed-message comment I could muster: Keep up the work.

  22. While I agree that using "humanities" as a substitute for "liberal arts" is probably slightly more accurate according to the way the term is used to day, the difference is only a slight one. Although most science degrees even today are from colleges of "Arts" or "Liberal Arts," the term in practice almost always indicates the study of literature, philosophy, etc. Moreover, if you want to talk about historical connotations, then the term "humanities" is almost as problematic: in ancient Greece and Rome, the two terms basically meant the same thing (as they do today, although the common meaning is different).

    Basically, I guess I'm saying that you could have focused much more effectively upon the fact that many humanities still include a fair amount of math; statistical analysis is in fact becoming increasingly more common, even in literature, thanks to the ability of digital technologies to easily quantify things like the number of times a word is used in a book, etc. Or another approach entirely might have worked too; but as is, this just comes off as an odd and excessively nitpicky critique, the same as if I complained about your use of the word "douchey" because xckd can't actually be used to clean a vagina, as was the original meaning of the word.

  23. New comic is the Laziest piece of cobble together shit in the whole of human history

    I mean really. The joke is people from the past had jokes THAT IS NOT A JOKE.

    That's like me walking up to your wife, staring into her eyes, and saying 'car' before impaling her anally with my entire forearm.

    I mean what the hell this made me so angry there's no context at all

    It's like, Randall seems to think that people in the past were some kind of brainless primitives who spoke on robo-mono syllables and could be classed as subhuman sapients. (probably because they didn't have much physics amirite?)

    And of course because Randall's case of high-functioning autism means he cannot comprehend or even understand that ANYONE could possible EVER think anything different from what HE PERSONALLY thought; he must educate us all with his shitty nega jokes.

    "Hey guys remember how all the people in the past were retards and didn't know how to communicate because they didn't have science well it turns out they might have actually told jokes!"
    "FUCKING HILARIOUS- primitive people telling jokes! OH MY SIDES THEY ARE SPLITTING!"

    fuck life

  24. They also developed the ability to count from one to many.

  25. 793 is so bad, Randall actually had to write "Ha Ha Ha" on it so people knew it was meant to be funny.

    Seriously, did Randall not take any English classes in high school? Otherwise he would know that there are jokes in Shakespeare, Chaucer and ancient Greek plays. FFS, I learned that in my freshman year.

  26. *cartoon drawing of a wagon, led by two horses*

    "Did you know that people in the past ALSO USED TRANSPORT?"

    Please point out how Randall's comic is any funnier than the above. Without using the word "random," because there is random humour done well, and then there is a stick figure talking about monks being up ladders.

  27. At least he didn't go with that weather-worn stereotype of early humans drawing pornography on their cave walls. 'Cept I can't shake the feeling he has done that before. Refresh my memory, someone.

  28. Charles Augustus FortescueSeptember 17, 2010 at 5:34 AM

    The alt-text to the new one is maddening. You "looked through" a few classic books, did you? They make references that are totally lost on "us" now, do they? What an ignoramus.

  29. "I with every author of a failing comic would think this way."


    Also, I suppose you meant "wish"?

    Anyway, I confess: up to this comic, I didn't know what "liberal arts" really meant. Maybe Randall doesn't, and I'm thinking Carl doesn't either, or he would probably have brought up this before. TAKE THAT! But anyway... I always supposed it was a shorthand term for "fine arts and humanities". Why did I think so? Because I know there is a strong prejudice against these two fields here in my university, mostly perpetrated by Engineering students. So, I sort of guessed.

    ...okay, fine, I'll read the new comic so I can fit in.

    Aiko aha itêko



    794 is... pointless. It fails as humor and as an insightful observation. Let me tell you a tale of my life.

    In high school, we had to read this book, which was actually a play, pretty much like Shakespeare, but Portuguese. It was something about a boat to Hell, and it was incredibly boring and uneventful, but I got to read the Devil's part when we made the read-through in class, so that was cool. Anyway, the book was FILLED with footnotes explaining the origins of nonsensical expressions of the past and even some satirical comments.

    With that I must say Randal noticed what any high schooler with a didactic book would have noticed. But here's more.

    It fails at humor: because the revelation isn't funny, and the inside joke isn't funny(because it's an inside joke, we would have to be there to get it, you see). In fact, the fact that Randall probably doesn't even have an explanation for this joke makes it even worse(unless I'm wrong and there is an explanation to this joke, and I'll have to hand it to Randall).

    It fails as an insightful observation: I think it mostly fails because of the "there's no reason" in the start. Of course there's no reason, Randall. In fact, no one claimed that! In fact, it's so incredibly interesting that in many historical movies(especially the most recent ones, which tend to deconstruct the ideal view of History and its heroes) people in the past live just like people in the present(except with less technology and all that). So, in the end, Randall's observation sounds as me like "There's no reason to think people in the past didn't eat like us".

    Finally, alt-text: if the annotated books have caught them, then I guess the pop culture references weren't lost on us, Randall.

    In short, this comic is stupid. What a great way to fill your fans' weekends, Randall!



  31. No, no, guys, you got this all wrong. This is a joke about jokes. It's *metahumor*. Observational metahumor! About history! It's fucking sophisticated!

  32. No, no, IllumationStation. This is *bad* metahumor.

  33. Professional Mole don't make fun of Carl's lisp

  34. Ugh, 793 bugged me to no end. Let's take Randall's statement in two parts:
    1. "Liberal arts majors may be annoying sometimes"

    This is a ridiculous caveat, proclaiming to the world "no matter what comes next, let's remember that liberal arts majors suck!". I'm generally in agreement with Carl, though I wouldn't take it to the same extreme-- it suffices to me that the "liberal arts" are just a ridiculously huge catch-all. It's not enough to rag on a single major, he has to attack what (at my grad school) encompassed probably 30 majors. Hear that, Italian students? You're ANNOYING!

    Aside from being ridiculous, it's simply inaccurate. If I went to a party, I could talk socially with the "annoying" liberal arts people. Sure, some of them couldn't stop talking about philosophy, but they were a small percentage. Compare that to the 95% of engineering majors I knew that couldn't talk anything but shop, hounding me because I was one of few people who would understand what they were talking about. And those were the ones social enough to *go* to a party.

    2. "NOTHING is more annoying than blah blah blah."

    This is the weakest jab at self-deprecating humor I'd ever seen. "While liberal arts majors are annoying in general, physics majors are annoying in one specific instance. And even WHEN they're annoying, they're the MOST annoying." Even then, there's an air of superiority leveled against the plebeians.

    And how often would anyone observe this? The only time I would imagine seeing a physics major encounter a "new field" is when they're encountering mine. I don't follow physics majors around (well, there was the one, but damn he had a body that wouldn't quit). To me, Randall's saying "trust me on this, we're the most annoying!"

    Of course, he just shows "Unspecified Major" fuming. "Physics Major" doesn't get any sort of comeuppance other than being labeled as annoying.

  35. I vote 794 doesn't get a blog post. That would be giving it more time than it is worth.

    If you must at least acknowledge that you did read it, add a note to the bottom of a post about something completely unrelated saying that you read it but it sucked too bad to get its own blog post.

  36. Quintopia, stop giving Carl incentive to be a lazy hack! He's got enough of that already when he's being Randall Munroe.

    Joi gin


  37. Anyone that has ever read Hamlet or R&J knows that most modern additions have to be footnoted like crazy to fill you in on all the inside references to mythology, vernacular, and so forth. It's amazing that he can be so condescending to English majors and then act surprised when he figures out something like that.

    Also, to the person who said the guy on the left was a Muslim: the turban is also worn by some non-Muslims, like Sikhs.

  38. Oh, I hated 794 when I first saw it too. But it works surprisingly well when taken in conjunction with 793, as an illustration of an annoying physicist (or at least "physicist") assuming that his physics background gives him a basis for understanding everything, and thus that his insight into the humor present in older literature is both profound and novel.

    Like any good scientist (or "scientist"), Munroe is, after all, compelled to offer proof of his initial assertion.

  39. Re: Carter. Good point. He could be an Arab from before the founding of Islam, or lots of other things too.

  40. Wow Randall. Calling liberal arts majors annoying and useless once again, followed by a comic talking about how you like to think about classic books and their historical context? That's bad sequencing, man.

  41. Randall is getting beaten up in the comments section of his own forum for a change. That is nice to see.

  42. The more specific part of Carter's point is bad though because Sikh turbans don't look like that.

  43. Who's to say it's a turban? It looks like it could be an ushanka or something similar to me. With Randall's art it's hard to say.

  44. OK, maybe not an ushanka. My point being, Randall's art is so shitty it could be any number of things.

  45. Cool, the posts in the official thread for the latest comic can be loosely divided between people dismissing it as an inane observation (presumably people with a brain) and people clamouring to prove that they have made this observation too (presumably people just barely managing to stop short of excitedly squealing GOOMH!!!!!!)

  46. Okay, folks, we've probably just witnessed the DUMBEST XKCD EVER (794).

    If Randall wasn't as self-important and elitist, his ignorance would make me feel just simply sorry, not angry.

  47. Oh wow, I'm so glad Randal discovered that old literature contains pop-culture references. The field of Literature is going to open wide up. Thank god a physicist finally used his vastly superior brain to look through a few books with annotations pointing out all the jokes. We would never have known otherwise.

  48. Anon 7:45 - Heh. Troof.

    I think the physics one is alright, as long as you assume good intentions. And folks it's no way to live, to assume other than good intentions until hard proof says otherwise.

    /flowers & rainbows

    794 is terrible. You just have to wonder where Randy's been all this time. His 'realisation' just stupidly obvious.

    It just shows, it's not enough to have the idea for a joke. You have to develop it.
    Because sometimes the novelty alone might make people laugh, but other times you'll miss the mark and draw attention to some banal fact. And then what have you got?

    This comic, is what.

  49. Someone Else: wait what? I DEMAND A DETAILED REPORT ON THAT, DAMN IT!

    Anon849: indeed, it could be a shell. Maybe this joke is from the time the mansnails roamed the Earth.

    ..all I want to say is, yes, his art is so incredibly non-descriptive... complete here with your favorite consequence for Randall's shitty art.

    Also, I was going to make a speculation about how Randall things just because he never noticed inner jokes and current culture references in old literature, then no one ever noticed before(even though he only knew it because someone who studied story and literature made those annotations) but, frankly, even I think it's too much.

    So, Doei


  50. Re: Keep. Should we try to assign good intentions to 794 as well? If we do, then I think there's the possibility of a joke here, but one that was mangled by poor presentation. For example, if the caption was re-written as something like "People might rail against shows like Family Guy for being nothing but a series of postmodern pop culture references, but if you think about it, this is just as true of the past as it is now." And then the alt-text could be something like: "Seriously. Read the annotated edition of any classic work and you'll find tons of references to contemporary things that most of us have no idea about. Shakespeare was the Family Guy of his day."

    With that re-write, it becomes less about something that he just happened to notice, and more about trying to correct idiots who go on and on about the depravity of modern culture. I'd like to think that this was his intention, but that requires a fair amount of stretching (not to mention capacity on Randall's side for bungling his message, but I would guess that most people here wouldn't have a problem assuming that).

  51. tom that is somehow even worse than the actual comic

  52. ScottMcFuckEverythingForeverSeptember 17, 2010 at 10:20 AM

    Hey guys there's no reason to believe people in the past didn't breathe.

  53. Concerning 794:

    "So Randall, how do you think Obama's been doing so far?"
    "What do you mean? I thought Bush was the President."
    "No, his term ended in 2008. A new guy's there now."

    That's kind of what Randall's train of thought must have been like. He's oblivious to the point that not only is he shocked to find out that books contain era-specific humor, but he also thinks that no one else could've ever realized that either. The only way this could have been worse would be if he had started the text with, "Contrary to popular belief..."

  54. Inside joke=/=pop culture reference, by definition. If it's an inside joke, than it's not part of the larger popular culture.

    Dante didn't write the Inferno thinking "Ha ha, this is funny because those dumb jocks in the 21st century don't know what a Ghibelline is. Only me and my 14th century friends will get this"

    Also, is there any reason to think that high-schooler have more in-jokes than any other age of people? Or is this just more evidence that xkcd is targeted towards high-schoolers?

  55. So, Randy's math/CS jokes tend to be pretty unfunny and low-level. And his latest comic betrayed an incredible ignorance of history and literature.

    Are we sure he went to college at all?

  56. He went; he just spent all his time talking to that strange kid in homeroom.

  57. and drawing girls' asses in spanish class

  58. Randy is just pandering to high school students as per usual.

    I personally didn't critically read Shakespeare until my senior year, and I loved the humor of it, I loved reading a line that didn't make any sense at all, and then looking at the time period and trying to figure out what it could have REALLY meant. And I was a pretty big math/physics nerd.

    So really, if I had read this new comic during the exact week that I was amusing myself with references within Elizabethan works (around 4 years ago) I might have smiled.

    In fact, around that period was also when I found XKCD and enjoyed it...

    HOLY SHIT what if XKCD was never actually good, and we just look at the 200s-era strips through rose-tinted glasses - because that's when we were the intended targets of the comic???

  59. Also, my favorite quote from the fora:

    "Randall get out of my spleen!"

  60. xkcd 793, meet xkcd 675. 675, say hello to 793.

    The only thing nearly as obnoxious as a physicist encountering a subject for a first time is a philosopher encountering physics for the first time. Because philosophy isn't real science, you know? Also, philosophers are so dumb they think that physics is a monolithic entity with a president (oops Randall, Sukekatsu Ushioda and the IUPAP actually fit that description).

  61. @Tom: Yeah, we should assign good intentions to 794. But as you point out, good intentions don't rescue it.'s a bit shit.

    I get tired of some folks here who seem determined to make every xkcd as bad as possible, and Randy as dislikeable as possible.

    xkcd sucks because even when you assume the best about it, it's still shitty. But that shouldn't mean you assume it's completely all shitty and Randy's an evil jerkoff.

    He tried a jab at physicists. It was pretty weak yah agreed. But I don't see the effort deserves vitriol guys.

  62. "HOLY SHIT what if XKCD was never actually good, and we just look at the 200s-era strips through rose-tinted glasses - because that's when we were the intended targets of the comic???"

    it was pretty damn bad but it had occasional insights and a pride in nerdy things without the negative aspects. also it didn't pander to anyone and the fanboys weren't quite so rampant

  63. Professional Mole:
    Here is that Randall Bashing on the XKCD Forums for 794 report you requested.

    - Myrcutio notices that it is extremely weird for a seemingly muslim man to be buying a ham from a seemingly jewish man.

    - Montagfaber and BlueNight express that Randall's thought is dull and uninspired.

    - CorruptUser tells of many examples used in Shakespeare's plays of this, and how obvious they are.

    - AlsoPenCover is incredulous that this is news to Randall.

    - Punto pokes fun at Randall for him appearing to have JUST LEARNED of Shakespeare.

    - Gamer_2k4 is disappointed that Randall is just churning out bland material to meet a deadline, and that his revelations are most certainly dull.

    - Argos brings up the hilarious point that this is another reason why the comic is unsuitable for Literature majors.

    - Cal Engime breaks the comic down to it's raw, wholly disappointing and obvious point - That people in the past are the same as people today.

    - Ledahulevogyre points out that this comic is obvious.

    - SecondTalon somewhat acknowledges that this comic was words thrown together to make a joke that none of us would get.

    - Clanders bashes the comic for not being funny, which in my opinion is totally valid.

    - Quintopia, who posted on this blog, also acknowledged that 794 is idiotic and unfunny.

    - SirMustapha agrees that this comic is unsuitable for anyone in any major, because it is so dumb.

    - StNowhere points out that while many of the comics in the past 2-3 months were boring, this one was especially disappointing.

    So, analyzing the raw data, there's roughly 15 posters who obviously thought the comic was stale, unfunny, or obvious. This is compared to a total of 74 posters, many of which posted stuff that was ambivalent with regards to their feelings about the comic. Regardless, the proportion of XKCDbashing reaches a little over 20% of the total comments.

    However, going through the posts again, there are only 4 posters who shown distinct support for the message of the comic. So in a comparison between XKCDlove and XKCDhate, there is roughly 79% of hate to 21% love. Finally, 75% of total posters either show no allegiance to either side, express a tangential thought or quote, or are having their own converations.

  64. Gamer_2k4 is disappointed that Randall is just churning out bland material to meet a deadline, and that his revelations are most certainly dull.

    Wow, that's giving my civility a lot of credit. I was sure I'd stopped just short of wishing cancer on his future kids.

  65. #794 shows why XKCD sucks.

    - "Absurdity" that isn't funny except to the creator.
    - An observation not even modified to form an actual joke.
    - Lack of awareness about people, coupled with a sense that his every revelation is unique.
    - Stick figures requiring laughter and emotion to be explained, rather than shown.
    - A tendency to post a raw thought in comic form, rather than exploring how it could be funnier.
    - Pandering to high school students and showing his disinterest in the arts.

  66. Two points:

    1. Being a CS/Linguistics person, I constantly had to defend linguistics, which was considered one of the "Humanities". (It is technically a social science, but whatever.) At one point, I discussed the idea of a minimal pair, which is properly speaking, a kind of proof—namely, a proof that two sounds are treated by a given language as different phonemes, as opposed to different articulations of the same phoneme. The CS people were shocked: "Wait, you have to prove something in a non-technical field?"

    That's the kind of thought that hardcore engineers have about other fields. They don't realize that other fields are ever beholden to reality.

    2. There is a book called "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds" by Charles Mackay, and it's amazing. It has an entirely chapter devoted to what can only be called "Memes of the 19th Century," and a lot of them are a hell of a lot funnier than the "inside jokes" Randall came up with. My personal favorite of the lot is, "What a shocking bad hat!"

    That particular chapter is right here, but I'm going to take some of it and quote it right here:

    "And, first of all, walk where we will, we cannot help hearing from every side a phrase repeated with delight, and received with laughter, by men with hard hands and dirty faces, by saucy butcher lads and errand-boys, by loose women, by hackney coachmen, cabriolet-drivers, and idle fellows who loiter at the corners of streets. Not one utters this phrase without producing a laugh from all within hearing. It seems applicable to every circumstance, and is the universal answer to every question; in short, it is the favourite slang phrase of the day, a phrase that, while its brief season of popularity lasts, throws a dash of fun and frolicsomeness over the existence of squalid poverty and ill-requited labour, and gives them reason to laugh as well as their more fortunate fellows in a higher stage of society."

    So, moral #2 is that Randall doesn't know how to do research, either.

  67. On 794:

    There is an incredible book called "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds" by Charles Mackay, which is about things like witch-hunts, conspiracy theories, and so forth. It has an entire chapter devoted to what I can only call "Memes of the 19th Century," and most of the ones he cites are a hell of a lot better than what Randall came up with. (My personal favorite is, "What a shocking bad hat!")

    The whole chapter is here, but I'm going to quote a bit here for lazy people:

    "And, first of all, walk where we will, we cannot help hearing from every side a phrase repeated with delight, and received with laughter, by men with hard hands and dirty faces, by saucy butcher lads and errand-boys, by loose women, by hackney coachmen, cabriolet-drivers, and idle fellows who loiter at the corners of streets. Not one utters this phrase without producing a laugh from all within hearing. It seems applicable to every circumstance, and is the universal answer to every question; in short, it is the favourite slang phrase of the day, a phrase that, while its brief season of popularity lasts, throws a dash of fun and frolicsomeness over the existence of squalid poverty and ill-requited labour, and gives them reason to laugh as well as their more fortunate fellows in a higher stage of society."

    The moral of the story is that Randall doesn't and possibly can't do research, because if he did, he'd realize that real life is funnier than any of the shit he came up with.

  68. ...I apparently just wrote the same comment twice because Blogspot told me I lost the first one and didn't bother checking that. Disregard the repetition.

  69. Looks like Randall finally took a freshman literature class.

  70. Mesosade: Thanks a fucking lot, it saved me a visit to that dreaded place of XKCD adoration! I shudder only by thinking of it...

    Now, it seems Randall has reached the GOOMHorizon, now any step in the wrong direction might turn his fandom against him! I foresee... a comic about the new Internet Explorer and, for some reason, Megan punching a "liberal arts major"(bonus points if he has a goatee) for Monday.

    Also, great finding, Anon. It's stuff like that that brings a good name to the ubiquitous name of Cuddlefish!

    Iki pasimatymo,


  71. Thanks for the info, Mesosade.

  72. The "there's no reason to believe" bit makes it sound like he's defending himself against criticism. "I know I rely heavily on clannish indulgence, but I just found out that Chaucer and Shakespeare used period humour!"

    Scott Kurtz once did the same thing in defence of his constant fart gags. The Canterbury Tales had farts, so his many comics about a troll doing a fart and everybody going "dude, that's gross" were just as good.

    It could be that we've seen two consecutive XKCDs which are trying to counter criticism... and if so, I wonder why. Is he seeing a worrying downward trend in popularity? Are t-shirt sales dropping? Does he foresee a future in which he may have to dust off that old degree and see if he can convince somebody to employ him in a proper job?

  73. I think so. That ad for the store is still up, and some were speculating that its appearance was an attempt to counter falling sales.

    He's in an odd spot; his degree's about four years old now, with no real work experience in between. XKCD is something of course, but will it net him a science/tech job? Any job? Are his science skillz still strong enough to get him through grad school? Tune in next year to find out.

  74. Each of these comics can't take more than 15 minutes to crank out so what the fuck does Randall do for the other 39 hours and 15 of his week?

  75. Wistfully dreams about Megan.

  76. Ian, I've two guesses.

    The first is that Randall is extraordinarily retarded when it comes to making comics, and so producing this shit actually does require a significant time investment on his part.

    The second is that he drinks and faps during the day.

  77. The real thing is, Randall is just incredibly dull. His room is fulled of balled up pieces of paper with scribblings of concept maps and venn diagrams, and at the end of his 8 hours, he picks the idea that is the least bad. He then attaches some quickly drawn artwork that vaguely resembles dialogue, and a comic is born.

    He's a trooper, for sure. 39 hours and 15 minutes of his week are spent thinking of his precious readers, and if he only has 15 minutes to make his art in order to give the world his best jokes, so be it.

    /heavily-laden sarcasm.
    Captcha: Fortiffi
    We had to fortiffi the castle, but no one could find enough materials to make forty of them.

  78. And I've just been ninja'd.

  79. That was a nice burn, Gamer_2k4, I'm gonna have to quote it here for the people who can't stand to even look at the xkcd forums for amusement anymore:

    There's no reason to think people didn't have inside jokes back in the day? Okay, who said otherwise? Was someone trying to convince you that humor only began recently? "It's okay that you're not funny, Randall...humor is a pretty new invention, after all." Was it something like that?

  80. Heh.

    I edited that wikipedia page with incorrect information before whatisname cited it. "Rhetoric" is not a liberal art.

  81. Jeez, I've heard of "nerd-rage" but never have I witnessed such a potent unleashing of it by liberal arts students until, this thread was made with their "oh I totally knew that already and can't appreciate the fact that when other people read old works of literature they're not as equipped as me to handle the social and historical context in which it was written".

  82. Carl:
    "Now, it's true that I'm ignoring the majority of this comic, including its message, that physicists don't understand why things are complicated. Quite frankly, it's because I don't care. I'll let the rest of you folks tear that part to shreds; it simply doesn't speak to me."
    So basically you've devoted an entire blog entry to spelling out what a liberal arts major is and is not? I'm sorry but I thought you were supposed to be critiquing the comic, not acting as Randal's fact checker. I mean I know he needs one but in this case you're just nitpicking. The point is not "oh he made a generalisation and hence the whole comic is moot", the point is that he's lampooning the elitism of physicists v "soft" degrees. I mean I got what he meant by "liberal arts" and while I'm sure the misconception pisses off a few sensitive people with such degrees, the fact is that it doesn't detract a whole lot from the message which as you said you completely ignored.

    You can't just say "Hi guys, I know I'm missing the point so you can't say it's a flaw in my post". It's like saying "This movie wasn't meant to be good so you can't call it shit". The bottom line is that the creative product in both cases is bullshit.

    This whole thing ties in with my overarching "theory" that XKCD sucks is going the way of the comic it targets, becoming tired and out of ideas.

    As for this fiasco with 794, I agree that it's a bit random and it's perfectly fair to label it as a "Hi I'm Randal and I'm insightful" comic strip. However one thing I want to point out is that saying "Oh this book on shakespeare, WHICH WAS EXETENSIVELY RESEARCHED, explains all the historical pop-culture references of the time so Randal is wrong" doesn't really work. The mere fact that they had to include that information in the first place affirms Randal's point. We DON'T know what they meant so we had to get experts on the matter to explain it for us. See when he says "We don't know" he's making what's called a generalisation. I touched on it in reference to the liberal arts degrees; it's something many people do because being completely accurate (while better for sci-cred) usually does not make for a good punchline.

  83. anon 5:39:

    you realize that randall was the one who posted a comic about it, right

    its not a bunch of people dogpiling on some random stranger for having never read the canterbury tales, its a dude posting about how students in the humanities are clueless fools who don't learn anything and then going on to post as fascinating revelations those simple observations which any student of the humanities (or anyone with any sort of interest in the component fields) could reasonably be expected to already know

    i mean if people are bragging about anything its, like, paying attention in their high school lit class instead of drawing robot spiders in their notebook

  84. The alt text turned it from "well duh, Randall" to... I don't know what, but it made me angry for sure.
    It seems like Randall genuinely doesn't think that many people will have realised this, but luckily he, with his intelligence powers, is able to discover it by merely "looking through" a "few" old books, and disseminate his stunning new observation to the ignorant public.

    Anyway, somehow I find it hard to reconcile the Randall who authored this comic with the Randall of #451.

  85. {DIABO: A barca, C barca, ba gente,
    que queremos dar C vela.
    Chegar a ela, chegar a ela,
    muitos e de boa mente!
    Oh, que barca tao valente!}

    OMG, people, did you know there were boats in the 16th Century???? We have to tell EVERYONE.

    Randall's one-panel layout led me to two thoughts: a)everyone was laughing from the start, as if they were re-enacting some sort of common skit. b)This is a skit, and these are actors in front of a stage. So Randall just saw a play recently or something? But I mean, with all that free time it is plausible he may have googled "classic literature" and scrolled over a few titles.

    ...or he just read this recently linked-to Kate Beaton post, and thought he, too, could tell everyone that the past's jokes.... existed? I don't really know, because unlike "Hark! A Vagrant" the latest XKCD didn't really make a point in a funny way.

  86. "astronomy is a hard science" I laughed. Classic Carl humor.

  87. 5:09
    Literally none of the comments here have been people claiming to have a "liberal arts" degree, or that their personal knowledge of history and literature makes them special. There have been two complaints about the comic:

    1) It doesn't contain a joke, just an observation. Also, it doesn't contain an insightful observation, just a remarkably obvious one.

    2) In the alt text he's "shocked" to learn of the many pop culture references "lost to us" that he's found in annotated classical books. Again, he's trying to make an insightful observation, but it's painfully obvious. We already had the revelation in 9th grade English class. This isn't about what degree Randy has.

    And really 5:39, Randall has made insulting other people's degrees into a recurring theme of XKCD. So go choke on a cock. Even if someone had been pretentious about their degree and rude because Randall's is different (which again, nobody here has), he's more than set himself up for it.

  88. That last post meant to being "5:39" not 5:09.

  89. I just want to point out that different majors make fun of each other all the time. Mathematicians make fun of physicists and vice-versa. Heck, mathematicians even make fun of statisticians. They're not idiot, they realize those majors aren't really complete jokes.

    Stop pointing out things everybody already knows and acting like it's clever.

  90. @Rioghasarig

    Am I missing something, or do you just have multiple personality disorder and the second half of your post was directed towards your first half?

  91. UndercoverCuddlefishSeptember 18, 2010 at 1:09 PM

    randall is not in school any more

    silly randall

  92. But this blog always seems to be schooling him, yo.

  93. You smile and laugh when your crazy uncle tells a racist joke. Then he tells it again and you start to feel awkward. Then, he tells it for the 100th time and you start to feel violated. You say to yourself "He's still just joking" but frankly no one believes it.

    Randall is that uncle.

  94. UndercoverCuddlefishSeptember 18, 2010 at 10:06 PM

    thats right randall is a racist

  95. Courtesy of Wikipedia and my own editing:

    Departmentism is the belief that the ... factors which constitute academic departments are a primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that departmental differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular field of study.

    So... yes, he is.

  96. The new tag is awesome. Some comics that fit it: 755, 764, 435, possibly 519, probably 114.


    unrelated to this post, but something that you all should probably see/make fun of

  98. WTF? It may be seXKCD, but that hyperbondage one Randall did for that article is better than most of the stuff he's done for XKCD all year.

  99. Oh jeez, normally I'd try to refute your arguments but today I completely agree with you. It's just a shame you're completely off topic as well.

    "Now, it's true that I'm ignoring the majority of this comic, including its message, that physicists don't understand why things are complicated. Quite frankly, it's because I don't care. I'll let the rest of you folks tear that part to shreds; it simply doesn't speak to me." - Carl

    So you just spent an entire post outlining what is and is not part of a liberal arts degree? I'm sorry I thought you were meant to critique or at least criticise the comic rather than just act as Randal's fact checker. Granted he may need one but that's beside the point. The point is that Randal is lampooning the elitism of physicists when it comes to "softer" degrees. Now I don't know about you but I got what he meant by "liberal arts", did anyone aside from those who actually have a liberal arts degree think "Wait, Liberal arts do HAVE maths and stuff in them". Even if you did think that did it stop you from understanding the message? I doubt it. The message has been conveyed humorously, satire has been done.

    Sure, Randal should correct himself but so should you Carl. Everything you wrote here should've been condensed into a footnote at the end of a real post. Here I'll outline the structure of the post for you;

    Post: {} cuddlefish {} Oh by the way, Liberal Arts degrees actually do involve a lot of "hard" sciences. Check out the wiki page . Suck my Mollusc Randall you fool.

    You can't just say "Oh I know my post contains little in the way of relevant substance but since I'm acknowledging this you can't pull me up on it". Just like the argument "This movie wasn't meant to be good so you can't criticise it" doesn't hold water.

    Let me tell you, your nitpicking speaks to me. It's saying "Carl is out of ideas, he's holding himself to a strict deadline and is sacrificing quality in exchange for quantity." Here's what I recommend, how about you save your vitriol for comic strips that you actually have something to say about.

  100. Blech, blogspot garbled my meta language for post.

    Post: {< Rant >} cuddlefish {< Rant >} Oh by the way, Liberal Arts degrees actually do involve a lot of "hard" sciences. Check out the wiki page . Suck my Mollusc Randall you fool.

  101. "Carl is [...] holding himself to a strict deadline "

    ^funnier than any of the last 50 xkcds

  102. randall munroe's formula for success:

    1. frequently express disdain for liberal arts
    2. base a comic on a liberal arts-related observation that is beyond trivial -- not just for liberal arts students, but really for anyone who reads literature -- thereby advertising your own ignorance in such fields
    3. ????
    4. PROFIT!!!

  103. um Anon step 3 is obviously "sell t-shirts based on it" I mean seriously it's not that hard.

  104. i just realised randall probably wants his fans to actually adopt these as memes

    and they probably will

    and they don't even make sense in-comic

  105. R. - Nah, even the forumites are giving this one a "meh." I'd be pretty surprised if a large enough portion of them liked it well enough to turn it into a meme.

  106. "I used to work at NASA in Virginia. It was nothing glamorous; I was just tasked with making code compile for obscure projects, and I wasn’t very good at it."

    So now we know what he did at NASA. He made code compile(debugging, I suppose?). And he wasn't even good at it.


    Also, last cartoon-off: what? Animal and food, Randall! Animal and food! Is that complicated? If at least you "pulled a Palin" and drew something FUNNY...



  107. Nobody in particularSeptember 19, 2010 at 11:24 AM

    Holy crud did Farley Katz win that Cartoon-off.

    I actually laughed at the silliness of "1999 B.C", and the picture of the cow eating itself do you say...DRAWN WELL.

    Let's look at Randall's.
    Old people: I...what? Is that TV? Is the old man pointing his stick at a TV? If it was a computer SURELY he'd be sitting down or something. More importantly, what is he talking about? Was there a New Yorker Cartoon where a dog used a computer? Wait, hold up, is the guy actually surprised that there's a computer in his house? Dementia isn't funny, Randall. It is a toll on the family.


    1999: And that little boy grew up to draw pictures of vaginas and put them on his website.

    Animal and food: A duck eating a pizza. A rabbit eating a huge thing of ice cream. A Homo Sapien eating dog food. A hippogriff some magical beans or something.

    There, I just made four combinations of food/animals. It took me a minute. 0 points, please see me after class.

  108. Carl I think it would be honest of you not to read the comments of your previous post before writing about a new comic.

    Under the post about comic n, most of the comments deal with comic n+1, so that, if you read them, by the time you write the post about comic n+1, your judgement will be biased in a new kind of way, not covered in the cuddlefish bashing section of your blag.

    Carl, you're the best xkcd critic of us all. Don't let yourself be influenced by the petty uninteresting remarks of the comments. Your focusing on the definition of liberal arts made me ashamed of wearing a t shirt saying "How cool is Carl from xkcdsucks, seriously?"

    Also, there is an increasing proportion of ad hominem points in your posts. This is not the proper way to analyze the humour in a comic. You should consider the comic making abstraction of the person who wrote it, what kind of education he received etc. "This comic sucks because the author is an asshole" is not a valid point.

    Also the comic and the alt text are two different things. The comic is supposed to be self sufficient, so you should really criticize both separately.

    I'm sorry but I'm being hard on you because I admire the objective, honest webcomic critic you once were and, anyway, I don't really have another t-shirt to wear,



  109. The 1999 one wasn't bad. Randall lost only cause he pulled a Palin.

  110. The hyperbondage one was better than all of Farley Katz' combined. But that was 2008, and this is now.

  111. Yeah, the hyperbondage one was actually good- it was pretty clever. The "old people and the internet" one made no sense to me at all. The "1999" one was actually kinda amusing. But like someone else said, this was 2 years ago- he hadn't gone so far downhill back then.

  112. Just so that this is cleared up - the old people on the computer comic is referring to a famous New Yorker cartoon where a dog is on a computer and says to another dog, "On the internet, no one knows you're a dog." It is pretty famous, for some reason. That's what he's talking about.

  113. Stick a fork in this sad-sack Munroe. He's finished. Has been for a long time.

  114. Just like many people today (apart from Randall), people in the past have known what the liberal arts are.

    Isn't that hilarious?

    Right, it isn't.

  115. Astronomy is a hard science, not a liberal art. Sorry to break that to you, but it's not all pretty pictures and hokey awed voices in my field.

    Sam Patch

  116. Sam his whole point is that "liberal arts" is not antithetical to "science" and that Randall is dumb for thinking that it is and that "liberal arts" is a generic "hahah these guys don't know science" label. You have proven yourself as dumb as Randall. Good show.

  117. Thanks anon. Sam, my point is that no one seems to be able to define "liberal arts" except to mean "the academic pursuits I don't like". According to the traditional definition, Astronomy is a liberal art. It's also a science. That's fine! It can be both.

  118. Wow, this blog and everyone in it are pathetic. IF YOU DON'T LIKE IT DON'T READ IT. Some people like xkcd, some don't. De constructing it and commenting every article is just sad.