Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Beret Guy and Cueball are walking. Beret Guy is making several remarks about the situation. The sky is blue or the air is cold, there is ice to walk on, and the birds are chirping in the trees. When making these observations, however, he does not use the conventional terms. Instead he uses word compounds, similar to "Up Goer Five". When Cueball brings up Beret Guy's odd vocabulary, he retorts by declaring that the name does not matter, as long as the things themselves are what they should be. This is the same concept that is communicated in the line from the Shakespearean play, "Romeo and Juliet": "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." The concept is similar to that discussed by Richard Feynman as the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.
In the title text Beret Guy continues to use playful language and offers affectionate encouragement: "stay warm, little flappers", demonstrating that his intentions are kind, not obfuscatory. Additionally, it is an indirect salutation from Randall Munroe to the readers, acknowledging the remarkably cold temperatures North America was experiencing at the time.
- The sky is cold: it's a clear, cold day
- floor water: puddle
- too hard to drink: frozen
- handcoats: mittens or gloves
- spacelight: sunlight
- flappy planes: birds
- beeping: chirping
- stick towers: trees
- little flappers: baby birds
- plant eggs: seeds, berries
Differences in communication styles between two people can feel isolating or cold. Pointing out the difference will not improve the relationship or change the circumstances. Use your senses, suspend judgment, and follow along.
- [Cueball and Beret Guy, Cueball in a winter hat and Beret Guy in a beret, are walking through snow and across a patch of ice.]
- Beret Guy: The sky is cold and the floor water is too hard to drink.
- [Beret Guy looks upwards.]
- Beret Guy: But I have my handcoats and the spacelight is warm.
- [Beret Guy and Cueball continue on through woods; there are musical notes coming from the trees.]
- Beret Guy: Listen—the flappy planes are beeping in the stick towers.
- [Cueball pauses.]
- Cueball: Those are all the wrong words for those things.
- [Beret Guy replies from off panel.]
- Beret Guy: Maybe—but the things themselves are all right. So who cares?
- [Cueball continues walking, with sunlight and musical notes above.]
- ↑ YouTube Video: R. P. Feynman on the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something
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There is a reason we have correct and precise words for just about every item. "Flappy planes" could refer to birds, or it could refer to the impractical early attempt at a flying machine known as an ornithopter; and in the same manner "stick towers" could also refer to telephone poles or the piers from an old-time wooden railroad trestle.188.8.131.52 17:41, 28 January 2014 (UTC)
- I think the main reason we like to have so many words is so we can belittle people that don't know as many as we do. The German way is more sensible, if less poetic. 184.108.40.206 02:27, 5 February 2014 (UTC)
I feel like he's referencing a song but I can't make the things fit anything. --220.127.116.11 06:05, 27 January 2014 (UTC)
- I thought this may be a shot at media's coverage of the "polar vortex"18.104.22.168 14:44, 27 January 2014 (UTC)
- Sounds a bit like Let it Snow to me 22.214.171.124 21:59, 2 June 2014 (UTC)
Amusingly, I feel, the German for gloves is "Handschuh" (plural "Handschuhe)" as in
hand shoe(s). 126.96.36.199 09:05, 27 January 2014 (UTC)
I still think that's whitehat, he is again making an argument that is getting beaten Halfhat (talk) 09:05, 27 January 2014 (UTC)
How does the title text build up on the romeo&juliet's rose idea? --188.8.131.52 12:59, 27 January 2014 (UTC)
- Maybe "build up" is the wrong phrase. It certainly continues on the same train of thought. Smperron (talk) 15:48, 27 January 2014 (UTC)
"Monosyllabic" doesn't quite seem like a fitting description of "water", "flappy", or "towers", especially in contrast to "pond", "birds", and "trees". --184.108.40.206 13:26, 27 January 2014 (UTC)
I've added [Birds chirping] to the transcript, but I can't really see what else is missing. I'm open to suggestions. Jarod997 (talk) 14:36, 27 January 2014 (UTC)
- This was something I was trying to grasp when I added the "Birds Chirping" - to what detail do we describe the events going on in any given panel? A transcript is supposed to be a written record of the spoken word and while some actions do bear significant meaning to the "record" of the strip as a whole, the question remains - to what detail? Jarod997 (talk) 20:55, 27 January 2014 (UTC)
- To the musical notes that appear in the upper right corner of the relevant panels. Sciepsilon (talk) 05:39, 28 January 2014 (UTC)
- Yes, I agree - the musical notes should be transcribed (or notated, lol). But should we be transcribing physical acts, such as characters walking on/off panel, setting up the scene, etc. It would seem that we're moving from Transcript to Script. In any case, I'm going to move this discussion to the Coordination page as I can't seem to find any real guideline on this.Jarod997 (talk) 13:52, 28 January 2014 (UTC)
It almost scans right for "These Are a Few of My Favorite Things" and a lot of the lines could be taken as references to that song. Djbrasier (talk) 17:09, 27 January 2014 (UTC)
- If you say so. 220.127.116.11 02:27, 5 February 2014 (UTC)
The stickman with the antennated headwool is right. STEN (talk) 21:49, 27 January 2014 (UTC)
Might "little flappers" refer to fruit bats, instead of birds, since flappy planes is already used for birds? Most of the replacements so far were logical, and since birds mainly generate lift using Bernoulli's Principle (like planes), wouldn't bats more more accurate when only refering to "flappers"? Athang (talk) 23:09, 27 January 2014 (UTC)
- No, I think "little flappers" is definately birds - specifically wrens, sparrows, warblers, etc - all of which are both small and commonly called "songbirds", hence the indication of musical birdsong. 18.104.22.168 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
It feels like there is some special significance to the last panel. Either the birds' chirping indicates offense at being called flappy planes, indicating that somebody does in fact care, or they are continuing to chirp happilly because they don't care. Or it could just be that Cueball/White Hat sees Beret Guy's point, as seems to be the consensus. Sciepsilon (talk) 05:39, 28 January 2014 (UTC)
- I'm pretty sure this isn't a comic about sentient birds. 22.214.171.124 02:27, 5 February 2014 (UTC)
Is "spacelight" meant to be "the illumination from space" i.e. "sunlight", or "the lamp in space" i.e. "sun"? I thought the latter. 126.96.36.199 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
- I don't think it matters that much, as long as white hat is warm enough. 188.8.131.52 19:41, 28 January 2014 (UTC)
- Do you get confused when people say "The sun is warm today" ? This is the same thing. 184.108.40.206
I have referenced Feynman's "Difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something" to the explanation as the reference would be obvious to someone like Munroe. Tardyon (talk) 22:25, 28 January 2014 (UTC)
"Floor water" was referenced in the latest What-If. 220.127.116.11 05:26, 29 January 2014 (UTC)
No baby birds in winter? Could they be crossbill's? 18.104.22.168 15:03, 1 February 2014 (UTC)
- He is only saying "little flappers" to create a certain tone in his statement. He simply means the songbirds. 22.214.171.124 02:27, 5 February 2014 (UTC)
I have always liked Feynman's parable about knowing something vs knowing the name of something. I especially like it in context of those students and intellectual wannabes that spew out names and jargon without actually knowing, understanding or appreciating the how (and perhaps why) behind what they are spouting off.
On the other hand, a shared nomenclature is absolutely essential to communication, especially effective and unambiguous communication, as the discussions herein (above) make clear.
For instance, although "beret guy" may have a deep understanding and appreciation of what he observes, he is failing to communicate this (if that indeed was his intention) to "cueball", and indeed it could be said to the readers. For instance the "little flappers" are birds to some, bats to others. "Lamp in space" is not very unambiguous as well.
People create names and words with specific meaning in order to shorten communication time, and to create a shared mental picture that helps further understanding. An argument could be made that "cueball" has a point about "wrong words for those things" in that if one really wants to communicate ones understanding or appreciation for something, one had better learn the nomenclature. Tardyon (talk) 15:34, 6 February 2014 (UTC)
I notice that some of the names Beret Guy is using imply that in the dialect of English he speaks, only manmade or highly technological things are known, and he has to describe his natural surroundings by reference to manmade ones: "floor" "tower" "planes" "light" "beeping". --126.96.36.199 00:43, 11 March 2015 (UTC)
And here I am in 2016, somehow having missed this comic. And I wonder if this was part of the impetus for Thing Explainer. Trlkly (talk) 01:16, 27 January 2016 (UTC)
So this could be off-base, but in terms of themes, images, and cadence, the comic (a four-part discussion of journey through the winter woods) seems to allude to the poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost, a four-part discussion of a journey through the winter woods. Especially because the second line of the final stanza of the poem starts with an abrupt "But I have..." and the second panel of the comic starts with an abrupt "But I have..." It's where my brain wants to go, and Frost is a topic that he seems to know well enough, at least the more famous poems (https://xkcd.com/312/). Thoughts, an avenue to consider? 188.8.131.52 22:07, 3 April 2016 (UTC)