So it goes


Kilby sent this to me asking whether Tralfamadorian is mainstream enough to be used here (leading to my question of what a “Tralfamadorian year” is)

(By the way, this post was actually supposed to go live before B.A.‘s question — but that’s easier said than done when you’ve lost track of days of the week. Maybe we’re all on Tralfamadorian time now)

And that led to whether Calvin and Hobbes had any business using “Weltanschauung” some years back.

And likewise the Washington Post’s recent use of a long German word (redundant, I know), without italics, which apparently both he and I noticed at the time although neither of us remembers what the word was.



  1. ‘Tral-fa-ma-do-ri-an’ adj. Pertaining to an author whose name is recognized by many, but whose work has been read by few.

  2. The joke, of course, is that Nameless Child is unable to come up with a metaphor for class, but uses a metaphor in every sentence. Mostly they aren’t very good metaphors, although I like the grand canyon of nothing. Piece of cake is a set phrase rather than a metaphor created by Nameless Child, and buying rose-colored glasses from the dollar store is confusing.

    Tralfamadorian year has its own issues. I don’t have a problem with “Tralfamadorian” being used, but nobody knows what a Tralfamadorian year is, not even Tralfamadorians, since they exist in all times simultaneously. I guess Nameless Child meant that she thought she had an infinite amount of time, but it takes too long to work that out. Also, it isn’t immediately clear that this is Nameless Child’s metaphor, rather than the terms of the assignment. Maybe it would have worked better if she had said, “Mr. Burke’s assignment was to come up with a metaphor, and I thought I had a Tralfamadorian year to do it.”

  3. ‘Rose colored glasses from the dollar store’: Since anything bought at a dollar store is cheap , and not well-constructed. Sort of like that metaphor.

  4. Tralfamadorian year isn’t that well known and shouldn’t have been the *first* metaphor. It’s a bit of “Aw, I’m making a literary in reference” expression but I think it’s borderline and acceptable. It’s okay to have an obscure literary reference if its one the hearer can pick up on and learn and the wit can be shared. It’s a fine line between being a pretentious git, but I think this is colorful and interesting enough to warrent it.

    As to what a Tralfamadorian year is, as Tralfamadorians can experience all time simultaneously and are unstuck in time, a Tralfamadorian year would be a meaningless unending eternity.

  5. “And that led to whether Calvin and Hobbes had any business using “Weltanschauung” some years back.”

    If memory serves me right, Calvin and Hobbes made it clear in context what it meant and respected the reader enough to maybe know and maybe have opinions about it, or to learn and think for themselves if not. Frazz, on the other hand, uses these as challenges to prove to himself how clever he is. If the reader doesn’t know, Frazz can feel smugly superior. If the reader does know they are invited to be condescending and smug with him.

  6. “Good heavens! For more than forty years I have been speaking prose without knowing it!”

    Monsieur Jordain, in Moliere’s Le Bourgeois gentilhomme

  7. “a long German word (redundant, I know), without italics” – presumably you’re not thinking of schadenfreude, as I imagine that is widely accepted in unitalicised form these days. Or zeitgeist, because that’s not very long.

  8. When I was young, “gedankenexperiment” was much used before “thought experiment” eventually replaced it.

  9. Backpfeifengesicht? I love that word.

    This is really obscure but I guess the people who actually like this strip are happy with it because either: 1. they get the Tralfamadorian reference and feel smug about it or 2. They like that it sends them to the google. Problem is, I don’t think it pays off either the knowledge or the effort. I think Calvin and Hobbes does (even the name of the strip is a nudge-nudge).

  10. Kurt Vonnegut had a habit of using the same character name in different novels for very different characters.

    The Tralfamador of “The Sirens of Titan” is a very different planet from the Tralfamador of “Slaughterhouse Five”.

  11. I’d definitely have remembered Backpfeifengesicht, since it’s one of my favorite words.

  12. @ MiB – “…Tralfamador of “The Sirens of Titan” is…very different…
    Thanks very much for the reminder, I think that explains why I couldn’t connect with the first panel. I probably read “Sirens” back when I read a bunch of his earlier novels, but “Slaughterhouse 5” and (to a lesser extent) “Cat’s Cradle” are the only ones that I remember well. I even read “Schlachthof Fünf” (just once), but the book did not translate that well into German (this was long before Harry Rowohlt became Vonnegut’s favored translator).

  13. P.S. @ Brian – I really liked your definition (@1). Vonnegut can be thought-provoking, but the reason I quit reading his books was that the quality was uneven, and the gems were not enough compensation for the trash.

  14. P.P.S. If anyone is still reading this: the German word that Bill (recently) noticed in the paper (sans italics) is almost certainly not the same as mine, because my sighting was several decades ago, just after I returned from my first year in Germany. I vividly remember the surprise I felt, thinking “Hey! I know that word, but how can they expect people who can’t read German to understand it?” At the time I was unaware of the “erudite” terms that have been “borrowed” into English, such as “Zeitgeist”, “Schadenfreude”, “Gemütlichkeit”, and “Weltanschauung”.
    P.P.P.S. Not to mention “Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitänsmützenabzeichen”. 😉

  15. “P.P.P.P.S. Here’s how Watterson used “Weltanschauung”:”

    That’s perfect! It’s mocking Calvin for being a pretentious but actually shallow and not as smart as he thinks he is little git.

  16. That’s right, Kilby did say his sighting was decades ago. Mine was a couple of years ago.

    Doesn’t rule out them being the same word, of course, of course, since neither of us remembers what they were.

  17. @ CIDU Bill – For some reason the “Recent Comments” list shows three comments from you in this thread, but I can see only two. Did you moderate yourself?

  18. “Of course, you have to wonder how Hobbes knew Calvin misspelled Weltanschauung.”

    Hobbes is a better speller than Calvin. Worse at math, but a better speller.

  19. I assume that Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitänsmützenabzeichen was a previous, pre-composer, job of Johann Gambolputty de von Ausfern- schplenden- schlitter- crasscrenbon- fried- digger- dingle- dangle- dongle- dungle- burstein- von- knacker- thrasher- apple- banger- horowitz- ticolensic- grander- knotty- spelltinkle- grandlich- grumblemeyer- spelterwasser- kurstlich- himbleeisen- bahnwagen- gutenabend- bitte- ein- nürnburger- bratwustle- gerspurten- mitz- weimache- luber- hundsfut- gumberaber- shönedanker- kalbsfleisch- mittler- aucher von Hautkopft of Ulm.

  20. Okay, Hobbes is a worse speller and Calvin *didn’t* misspell “Weltanschauung”….

    It’s a meta-joke…..

  21. @ Shrug – Actually, that massive composite term (“Donau…abzeichen“) is not a Pythonesque joke, it’s directly comparable to the English word “antidisestablishmentarianism”, both in terms of the quest for the “longest word” in each language, as well as in its utter uselessness for purposes of actual communication.

  22. Many years ago, a German company bought out the A&P supermarket chain, and the joke went around that it would be renamed — you will understand this if you remember what A&P’s original name was — Die Grosse Atlantische Und Pazifik Teegesellschaft.

  23. I recall my dad teaching me to say and even spell antidisestablishmentarianism and even to understand it by parts. Unfortunately he had one part of the division wrong, and I grew up thinking the official established Church of England was called the Aryan church.

  24. The company that bought A&P was the parent of the “Kaiser’s” supermarket chain, which went bankrupt a few years ago. Before that, I thought it was amusing (or at least a little nostalgic) to find A&P brand products in a German supermarket.
    P.S. Even before Corona hit, the German supermarket market was consolidating at a rapid pace. Now that “Metro” has offloaded their “Real” chain to a Russian investor group, in about a year there will only be two regular supermarket chains, and three or four cheap discount chains for the whole country.

  25. Yes, Brian, I know what the name of the company was The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company. But I don’t think that’s funny. Charmingly quaint, really and reflecting history. And if its German masters wanted to change it, well, that sort of thing happens after acquisitions so the suggestion that the name would be changed is not inherently funny. And, being Germans, no word/name is too long for them, so it’s not funny that way. Maybe the joke is they were going to remove all the spaces so it would just be one big lump of a word?

  26. What about “gesundheit” ? Has that been used with Italics? Or is that not long enough? 🙂

  27. The name just sounds so much funnier in German. “Teegesellschaft” is a funny word. The next time I get a cat I think I’ll name it Teegesellschaft.

  28. When I was taking Georgian, I had a little cat we named Პატარა კატა , that is,’ara k’at’a or for most purposes just Patara. Which just means “small cat”.

  29. mitch4: Why were you learning Georgian? Where do you even go to take classes in Georgia? (Other than the country of Georgia.)

  30. The Linguistics grad program at Chicago had a requirement of I think 6 quarters of studying a “funny language” – basically meaning non-IE. (And not one that you already grew up speaking!). Many opted for Greenlandic, taught by several faculty but mostly the charming and influential Jerry [Jerrold] Sadock. But I was also doing “Structuralist” [i.e. pre-Chomsky] syntax and morphology with Howie Aronson, so I took his Georgian classes.

  31. Why were you learning Georgian? Where do you even go to take classes in Georgia? (Other than the country of Georgia.)

    Oh, that was my problem. I went to Atlanta.

  32. I originally wrote “Other than Georgia,” but edited to specify “country of,” because I knew otherwise someone would be a smart-aleck about it. I can see I shouldn’t have bothered. 🙂

    Mitch4, it’s funny to think of CJK as “funny languages.”

  33. Okay – A& P bought out Waldbaums some time ago and Pathmark more recently, but still years ago. Then A&P went into bankruptcy – Chapter 11 – in 2015. The stores it owned here on Long Island have mostly been sold to it’s (former) competitors.

    So is it the German company which bought it which went bankrupt or just their A&P part?

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