53 Comments

  1. I’m a little lost. What’s the joke in the Myth Tickle?

    And what happened last night at the centaur’s bar? Presumably they don’t have karaoke every night?

  2. Powers, I’m only half-confident about that MythTickle. But Bastet is a cat god(dess), and the tavern owner Mews seems perhaps also feline. So when they talk about putting actual litter (random small rubbish) into a box for collection and disposal, and coin the name “litter box” for that, it takes on another (if related) sense for cats.

  3. What confuses me about Cornered is that the half-horse guy appears to be the bartender. Why is he even considering karaoke instead of serving drinks?

  4. Would the Cornered one have worked a bit better if he’d spelled ‘hoarse’ as ‘horse’, like Kilby’s example? I think it might have.

    As for him being a bartender, I’m with Mark M on that. I feel that a little more thought could have gone into this comic to make it a success.

  5. The centaur one reminds me of a mixer dance at a Wisconsin college, where the guy says “I really can’t dance, sorry, I’m a little stiff from Lacrosse” and the gal says “Well, I think you’re nice and I don’t care WHERE you’re from.”

  6. First of all, “The Litter Box” is a terrible name; second of all, the logic of “no catchy name, no customers,” aside from being spurious, was not even followed for the establishment they’re in (Mews Tavern), and yet they seem to have customers; finally, the “joke”, as it is, is that the bar tender did think of it.

  7. Well, there used to be a tavern in the town of Bath, NY, named The Bath Tub. I don’t think The Litter Box is any worse. And isn’t Mews Tavern a catchy name, if you know it’s owned by a cat, whether or not you know her name?

  8. Since a mews is a kind of street arrangement or buildings, there is a good chance of one somewhere having a tavern attached and named Mews Tavern.

  9. This earlier one is especially nice for using a second ambiguity, the senses of “little”. And it lets them draw that cute little horse.

  10. What was further confusing about “Litter Box” was that all Bastet did was say thanks and run off. She didn’t, “The Litter Box! That’s it!”

  11. Mews is herself a pun, since in the Mythtickle-verse she acts as a muse. Her appearances usually involve her giving someone inspiration as she does here.

  12. “I’m a bit hoarse” is just a little off, like “I came here by airplane and are my arms tired!”

  13. “If you’re American in the bedroom, what are you in the bathroom?”

    “European.”

    This has nothing to do with the discussion, but I like this pun and this is the Oy page after all, so get off of my back.

  14. @Stan: I prefer the setup to the punchline that goes: “If you’re Italian in the kitchen, and German in the office, and French in the bedroom, what are you in the bathroom?”

  15. Being more familiar with MythTickle might help, as it seems like Mews doesn’t recognize her own thoughts. Maybe that’s part of her established character. I don’t know, as I’ve never seen this strip before.

  16. Related to European:

    If a person who speaks two languages is bilingual, and a person who speaks three languages is trilingual, what do you call a person who speaks only one language?

    An American.

  17. Shrug: That one dates back to Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, and probably long before that. Ruth Buzzi asked Arte Johnson for a dance and he said “I’m a little stiff from bowling.” My mind’s eye can still see her replying “I don’t care where you’re from. Let’s dance.”

    Mews is actually a three-way pun: Her name, the cat noise, and the alley location.

    MiB: Too true. Everyone I met in Finland was at least trilingual. As one guy put it, if only five million people in the world speak your language, you have to know some others.

  18. “Everyone I met in Finland was at least trilingual.”

    True…EVERYONE!! I lived in Finland for a while and made an attempt to learn Finnish. However, every time I spoke to someone, they recognised my accent and immediately switched to English. One day, there was a farmers’ market in the town centre, and I figured this was my chance. Surely a farmer would be less fluent in another language and would appreciate my efforts.

    I walked up to the oldest, most weatherbeaten guy I could see, a man clearly straight from the field after a lifetime of ploughing and toil. I approached him full of confidence and said:

    “Haluaisin kaksi kiloa perunoita.”

    …to which he replied:

    “That will be 5 markka. Do you need a bag?”

    That event signalled the end of my Finnish lessons.

  19. If a person who speaks two languages is bilingual, and a person who speaks three languages is trilingual, what do you call a person who speaks only one language?

    An xxxxxxxxx Englishman.

    Do Americans do the thing where they think if they speak slowly and loudly in English to a foreigner that they will understand?

  20. Honestly, I find it extremely rude when someone unilaterally switches languages on you: when you start in a particular language, especially if it is the dominant language in the area, it breaks all the rules of etiquette to unilaterally disregard the initiator’s choice, and to make assumptions about the initiator and switch languages. If I come up to someone in a market and ask about the price of their goods, how rude would it be if the person I asked instead replied about the weather? Or politics?

    If you can’t speak the language the interlocutor started with, you still have to make a good faith effort and negotiate a switch of languages, asking if it’s all right to speak a different one. To do otherwise is just rude. (Yes, English speakers do this all the time, and it IS extremely rude! It’s also rude to commence without comment in a non-dominant language for the area, which English speakers do all the time. And yes, just because a lot of these very rude English speakers appreciate when the locals immediately switch to English upon their poor attempts at the local language, this still doesn’t make this not rude!)

    I get extremely offended in Germany when I’m talking English with a bunch of friends at a cafe, say, and then we all order in German, and yet the waiter responds in English! We all are perfectly capable of speaking German, and in fact, it is the expected language to use in the cafe; the fact that we were privately speaking English is none of the waiter’s business, and shows a shocking lack of discretion that the waiter blithely acknowledges that he was eavesdropping. I don’t know how many conversations I’ve had in German where I’ve had to stubbornly insist on speaking German, two, three turns into the conversation — you rudely think you speak better English than I do German, which is rude all in and of itself, but in this case you are also mistaken, I speak much better German than you do English, and I don’t have the time nor inclination to work through the inevitable miscommunication your poor command of English will lead to, which is why I’m speaking German to begin with! As to the excuse that you just want to practice your English, and you thought you were being friendly — you’re not: it’s rude to presume I will help you practice your English, especially in a transactional encounter! I have been at times in my life a paid professional for this, why do you think I’ll happily give you a free English lesson here when I just want to buy a newspaper and get on with my business?

    (I of course am way over-sensitive on this issue, and I’ve run into the problem that the worker is actually not a native German speaker, and is employing English as a lingua franca, and not because they have presumed I’m just an ignorant American, and I have to temper my reaction; in fact, it was the dawning awareness of English as a non-stigma lingua franca that finally made me, late in my life, accept that it’s OK if I speak English to the locals in Iceland, or even Italy — it’s not that I’m a rude, ignorant American, it’s that I am a cosmopolitan, polilingual individual who happens to not speak your language, but does speak a lingua franca (albeit natively, but it’s still not my fault that I speak the lingua franca better than you, and I’m not being rude by using it, even if it’s to my advantage), and this actually allowed me to realize that despite having grown up mostly in the US, I am still German, I do have a legitimate claim for close ties to Germany and I suffer disadvantage for not having US citizenship (both requirements if you want to petition the German government to grant you permission to keep your German citizenship while taking on another citizenship), so I was finally able to overcome my mental hurdle and apply for the exemption that for the last 15 years or so that it’s been available I couldn’t believe would apply to me… But I digress.)

    It’s also rude if I’ve made the effort to try and learn the local language (as in Stan’s example), to not humor or at least honor my attempts. Yes, you could trot out the free-langauge-lessons-in-a-transactional-exchange argument, but since we’re talking about the expected and dominant language, you just come off as rude if you insist on efficiency in the transaction above all else. If it were common, for example, to first exchange some pleasantries about the weather before getting down to business, it would be rude to ignore the query about the weather and get right to business, even if it would be more efficient. If I employ usable sentences in the local language, it’s still just rude to switch languages, and also deprives me of the chance to improve my language skills, and ultimately hurts the whole language speaking group by diminishing the use of the local language. There is a small minimum amount that everyone does have to give free language lessons, for the benefit to the society as a whole. You have to speak to children, and you should also allow foreigners to practice, or else your language will die out.

    (When I worked at the English language school at a university I’ve mentioned, even though I was at the front desk and administrative, part of the whole immersive experience was for the students to have to interact with us, and for us to be as helpful and patient as possible with them — “free” English lessons! It so happened that the department for foreign graduate students shared the same building with the our school, we were the ground floor, the graduate dept. was upstairs, and once in a while there would be a context failure, and I would treat a foreign grad who showed up by mistake at our front desk as if they were one of our English students, and I’d regrettably insult them by trying to give them a free English lesson. When you show up at a front desk and ask for something, it is incredibly rude for that front desk person to instead harp on an English mistake and try to get you to say it correctly — extremely rude! Except of course when you are an English school and these interactions are all part of the practice. But I still cringe about the unwanted impromptu English lessons I tried to impart upon the occasional foreign graduate student…)

  21. @ Mike P – Definitely yes, that infraction was one of the classic hallmarks of the “ugly American” tourist in the decades right after WWII(‡), and I’ve heard my Dad commit it on a number of occasions. However, the funniest experience I ever had with this sort of thing was in Germany (near the end of my first year here). I was discussing a complicated technical issue (in German) with a senior draftsman (one of only two people in the company who spoke no English). After a few minutes I mentioned that he didn’t need to speak so loudly and slowly: I could understand his German perfectly. He replied that he wasn’t speaking loudly and slowly on my account; but rather that it was the only way that he could make sure that he was speaking “standard” German, otherwise he would fall back into his customary local accent (probably the third most difficult German dialect for foreign speakers to understand).

    P.S. (‡) – In 1958, Walt Kelly and a bunch of other cartoonists collaborated on an illustrated booklet (“You don’t see these sights on the regular tours“), urging travellers to improve their behavior. A number of the cartoons were reproduced near the end of “The Best of Pogo“.

  22. larK’s long comment lightly edited for legibility — added newlines between paragraphs.

  23. We have a wonderful children’s book about “El Chupacabra” (literally: “The Goat-Sucker“), in which the sentences are a mixture of Spanish and English, and repeated with a “mirrored” translation. The editing isn’t perfectly consistent, but it’s still a charming idea.

  24. Lark – I see your points entirely, but I don’t think the Finns were being rude. They know their language is very difficult for foreigners to learn due to its grammatical complexity (one of the top ten most difficult languages on any list you care to look at) and as Boise Ed mentions, not many people speak it. They are trying to be helpful as they have the ability to speak English fluently, so for ease of communication all around, they switch. It was a bit frustrating, as you point out, but I had the feeling that it was done out of kindness.

    One of my friends had a very similar attitude to yours, but he was Finnish himself. He was hassling us one night at the pub as none of us expats could speak the language although we’d been there for a while. When we told him why, he didn’t believe us. So we all stumbled out into the night to get a grillimakkara (mmmmm!) and we showed him. We ordered in Finnish and sure enough, the rest of the transaction was conducted in English instigated by the vendor. Our friend was incensed that this had happened.

  25. I was made aware fairly recently, I can’t recall by whom, of a nuance to the Golden Rule: really, you shouldn’t treat others as you would want to be treated, you should treat others as they would want to be treated. It’s a subtle but powerful distinction. I think this should apply to your Finnish experiences.

  26. Someone told me that people will usually respond well to some version of, “I am learning your language and conversing in it with native speakers helps me.”

  27. Stan (MARCH 21, 2022 AT 2:42 AM): Great story, and I’m not at all surprised.

    Mike P (MARCH 21, 2022 AT 3:53 AM): “If a person who speaks two languages is bilingual, … Do Americans do the thing …” I’m afraid that some do, yes.

    I have varying familiarity with several languages, and I’ve had times when I tried to use one and failed to be understood adequately. I was embarrassed, yes, but still glad when the other person switched to English so we could actually communicate. Almost always, the other person has understood and appreciated that I tried.

    Stan’s tale reminded me of once, in Moskva (Moscow), when I walked up to a street vendor and, before I could open my mouth, he addressed me in English.

  28. I am one of those who do not well with learning other languages. I know a smattering of German (junior high German club), Spanish (high school 3 years), Yiddish (growing up), Italian (husband’s family), Pennsylvania Dutch (trips to Lancaster over the decades as well as Robert is reading books online which are written for PA Dutch ladies to read and somehow are online also, and, of course New York and “Lawn Guyland”, as well as 18 century English.

    When a girl friend and I went to Mexico while in college I tried to use my Spanish and managed to be understood most of the time.

    But other than my native New Yawk English, PA and VA more normal English and more recently 18th century English I have never picked up much proficiency in the rest of the languages – beyond greetings.

    While in a store in Mexico with my friend she decided to buy a pack of Mexican cigarettes for her dad who was a cigarette smoker. Friend had learned French in school so I was in charge of translating. I pointed at the cigarettes and said “su padre” pointing at friend “fuma tres in un dia”. I knew I had gotten through when the woman put her hands on her head and repeated “tres in und dia?”, hit her chest and started coughing.

  29. Forgot the limited Hebrew I learned in Hebrew school and while a member of Junior Hadassah back in high school.

  30. “you shouldn’t treat others as you would want to be treated, you should treat others as they would want to be treated.”

    Fair enough, but misplaced kindness is still kindness. I bear them no grudge.

  31. Stan: oh, yeah, absolutely! I was just taking it to the next level, that sometimes, even with the best intentions, the actual act is less than kind. My wife is extrovert, I am introvert; when I’m feeling down, her ideas to cheer me up involve going out among lots of people, whereas I’d like nothing less — and vice versa, where my instincts are all wrong for cheering her up, trying to make things as quiet and solitary as possible. That’s why this nuance on the Golden Rule made such an impression on me.

  32. @ Boise Ed – “…before I could open my mouth, he addressed me in English…”
    I had a similar experience in France, driving up to a winery. The owner was just leaving in his car: we both rolled down our windows, and before I could even say “Bonjour!“, he spoke to us in excellent English. He probably noticed that our car had German license plates, and figured that his English was better than our French (which was definitely true). On the other hand, his 20-something daughter in the winery’s shop spoke zero English, and we had to make do with our dictionary.

    @ Meryl A – Even though I’ve forgotten most of my school Spanish(†), it was incredibly useful when I was learning German: NOT because of any similarities between the languages (there aren’t any), but just because the experience of learning a foreign language had taught me the kind of questions I needed to ask, as well as the fact that I should expect the rules to be completely different from English. It also led me to make a few unfortunate mistakes.(‡)

    P.S. † – My remaining Spanish was somewhat helpful in Mexico, absolutely useless in Portugal (despite proximity, nobody there was willing to admit to understand the enemy’s tongue, so all I got were nasty glares), but the best experience by far was on the island of Mallorca. The native language there is not Spanish (which was imposed there by Franco), but a a Catalan dialect called “Mallorquin“. Nevertheless, attempting to speak Spanish was univerally greeted with enthusiastic appreciation (possibly because the majority of German and English tourists never bother to try).

    P.P.S. ‡ – One difference that I did not notice until it was too late and the damage had already been done was that Spanish is extremely uniform in terms of gender, whereas the gender of a noun in German is often impossible to predict, and must be learned by rote along with the word itself.

  33. I have had the Spansih/Portuguese experience from the other way, to the same result. I have since learned that European Portuguese is rather unique among Romance languages in being stress-timed as opposed to syllable-timed (English (and German) are stress-timed, so it is possible to stick a-couple-extra-syllables-into-a-line, whereas syllable-timed languages you give equ-a-wal weight to ev-ehry sing-uhle syll-ah-ble — Welsh English is syllable timed, that helped me a lot understanding the difference, imagining sentences spok-en in a Welsh ac-cent; Indian English too). Anyway, this makes for a huge difference in the melody of the language as opposed to Spanish, which is syllable timed, and even as opposed to Brazilian Portuguese, which is also syllable timed. So I am more sympathetic to the mutual non-understanding of each other between Spanish and Portuguese. What I am still not quite ready to forgive is the one-way non-understanding between Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese: Brazilians have little problem understanding most Spanish, but Spanish speakers seemingly refuse to understand (Brazilian) Portuguese (though I will acknowledge Brazilian Portuguese has undergone a few consonant shifts…). I was in Toledo, Spain, around lunch time (that the restaurant was serving lunch when I was hungry for lunch already shows that they were accommodating tourists), and we managed to order our entrees, and then the waiter turned to me and asked in Spanish something along the lines of “¿e para beber?”, which I understood perfectly as “and to drink?”, to which I replied, in Brazilian Portuguese, “uma cerveja” and he blinked at me and went, “¿Que?”, and I repeated, more slowly, emphasizing each syllable, “oo-mah sehr-veh-zha”, and he again went, “¿QUE?”, and I finally had to go, “”beer? Bier?”, and he then went, “Ah! Una Ther-veh-tha!” and I’m like, “really? you couldn’t get there from what I said? Same number of syllables, same vowels, same melody, only I didn’t lisp. And the fact that it’s lunch time, and how many possible things could I be asking for as a beverage? And we weren’t even crossing a beer-word border

  34. larK says: (English (and German) are stress-timed, so it is possible to stick a-couple-extra-syllables-into-a-line,

    There is a young man from Japan
    Whose Limericks never do scan
    [can’t remember the 3 and 4 lines]
    But he always crams as many words into the last line as he possibly can

    A version I found in an Internet search just now:

    There once was a man from the wood
    Whose limericks weren’t so good
    ‘Cause try as he may
    The rhymes were okay
    But he always tried to shove as many syllables into the last line as he possibly could

  35. @ larK – Re: non-understanding waiters – About fifteen years ago we took a vacation in southern France. Our fears about language troubles proved to be unfounded: armed with advice from my French uncle to start every encounter with “Bonjour!“, we (almost) never ran into anyone who did not do their best to understand us, using whatever scraps of language either side could muster. The one exception was a young (slightly snooty) waitress in a medium-priced restaurant, who was not “able” to understand English, and insisted that we should read the French words from the menu (in whatever horrible pronunciation we could manage). However, she was the odd one out, everyone else did a stellar job, even when they really couldn’t understand or speak a word of English.

    P.S. “…beer-word border…” – There is a similar map taken from an “Atlas of the German Language” that is printed in the German “dialect” versions of the “Asterix” albums, showing the geographic divisions between various dialects and specific terms (such as dialect “appel” vs. standard “Apfel“). I really wish they had printed the map in better resolution, or offered a current online source, because the four-color halftone separation renders most of the terms nearly illegible.

    P.P.S. @ Mitch – I think that larK was quoting “…a-couple-extra-syllables-into-a-line…” from Tom Lehrer’s “Folk Song Army“.

  36. A gas meter reader named Peter
    While hunting around for the meter
    To a leak held a light
    And was blown out of sight
    And by the way I forgot to tell you he completely ruined the meter.

  37. I’ve been told that the number of lines and syllables is hardly the essence of a haiku. Yes, they have a set number of lines and syllables, but it’s supposed to be a poem about nature: leaves falling into a pond, a path in the woods, a bird flying, a frog jumping, etc. None of the haiku I have ever written would qualify, particularly not the one I passed in in tenth grade:

    Three lines, seventeen
    Syllables. Not enough time
    To say anything.

  38. @Kilby – a different perspective of a French waiter experience.

    Some years ago Mrs P and I visited a Michelin starred restaurant in Montpellier. Good and up-to-the-minute cooking, but a clashing old fashioned ambience – she summarised it very well saying it felt like visiting a strict aunt for Sunday afternoon tea.

    Our waiter, whenever he spoke to us in English, did so sotto voce (yeah, I know), casting his eyes about for Madame owner, who forbade them to speak anything but Fench.

    Madame took our orders for dessert, and Mrs P ordered gâteau feuillantine. Madame corrected my wife’s pronounciation and made her repeat it.

    Three times.

  39. And a useful tip for anybody ordering a beer in a gendered language, and wishing to avoid the faux pas of getting un vs une, un vs una, etc wrong.

    Order two beers.

  40. Mike P: David Sedaris lived in Paris for a while and says that he never could remember the gender of nouns. Little kids find it hilarious when somebody gets the genders wrong. He discovered your solution and always buys two of everything. “I hope Hugh likes the pair of DVD players I bought him for his birthday.”

  41. Mike, I love that solution. I once knew a bar that insisted on serving Guinness too cold, as if it were Coors or some such. I’d order two beers first off, a lighter one and a Guinness. By the time I had finished the first one, the Guinness was up to a more drinkable temperature.

  42. And talking about other languages – I am guessing I could no longer write a program in Fortran II or Basic – it has been too many decades, though when clearing out the family home I did find my manual for the IBM main frame we were working with in high school – kept it of course.

  43. I couldn’t write a program in Fortran off the cuff, but with a reference guide I’d have one going shortly. Same as when I have to do new PHP, although that’s complicated by the language changing so often.

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