Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
This comic is a take on the common stereotype that men who drive large, expensive, and/or ostentatious cars (such as sports cars, highly modified cars, and lifted pick-up trucks), do so in order to compensate for insecurity about their manhood. Typically this is summarized as saying they are compensating for having small penises.
Cyan is a greenish-blue color that is not a basic color term in most languages. It is the complementary color to red in the CMYK (subtractive) or RGB (additive) color models.
Megan, upon seeing Hairy drive past in a red convertible, tells Cueball that Hairy must be compensating for his cyan colored penis.
This comic thus generalizes the original stereotype to an assumption that men drive cars that compensate for problems/properties with their penis (e.g. large car for small penis). Under this principle, a red car would complement (be the opposite of) a cyan penis. This is of course ridiculous, as red cars are quite common and cyan penises either extremely rare or nonexistent; but maybe Megan doesn't realize this.
There may also be a reference to the Doppler shift, where an object moving away (such as a galaxy) appears slightly redder than its true color. On the contrary, objects moving closer shift blue or cyan. However, cars cannot go nearly as fast to create a change in the perceived color.
In the title text another pair of opposites are mentioned: acid and alkaline. Acidity is an extremely odd property to try to compensate for with one's choice of car. Additionally, most penises share the same basic chemical composition and therefore the same acidity. If your penis can be described as "highly acidic", you probably have a major medical problem and should not be buying cars. Again this could be Megan's lack of understanding, and since some models of cars are called basic cars (instead of a special red convertible) she could make the (wrong) assumption that they drive a basic car to compensating for their acidic penises.
Thus, this comic is referring to the actual definition of "compensation", which means to balance something out by adding another. If an image has too much red value on the RGB scale, one could shift it more towards neutral by adding to the blue value. And a solution with a low (acidic) pH can be neutralized by mixing it with an alkaline solution to bring its pH to a neutral value. (Whereas a big car will not balance out a small penis!)
An alternative interpretation to this just being about opposites is that of a more specific big vs small compensation. In each case the car represents something larger than Hairy's penis: in the comic - red has a "bigger" (longer) wavelength than cyan. Similarly in the title text, alkali has a "bigger" (higher) ph than acid. Of course against this alternative is that red has a smaller energy/frequency than cyan and that you would often talk about stronger acids, making a low ph count as strong, not small! Finally the joke loses some value if it is still just a matter of big/small rather than actual properties of the penis that are being compensated for.
- [Megan and Cueball are standing next to an intersection as Hairy drives by in a red convertible.]
- Megan: I bet he just drives that car to overcompensate for his cyan penis.
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Penises: They're about this red. Now can we please, as a culture, move on? 184.108.40.206 08:40, 11 December 2015 (UTC)
I would also like to point out that if your penis is any kind of blue color, you are probably having a medical emergency, in which case you should be taking much more serious steps than purchasing a particular kind of car to compensate. 220.127.116.11 21:55, 11 December 2015 (UTC)
Is this the first time, color is used in the comics? --Robert (talk) 09:43, 11 December 2015 (UTC)
- No, there are a lot more comics with color Forrest (talk)09:56, 11 December 2015 (UTC)
I think the joke is that red has a longer wavelength than cyan (nanometers of difference). Not anything to do with colour theory. 18.104.22.168 10:06, 11 December 2015 (UTC)
- I'll have you know that a few nanometres make all the difference, for some people. Click here for the miracle pill you must have!
- (Seriously, as stated elsewhere, it's opposites. Big car, small equipment; RGB(100%,0%,0%) car, RGB(0%,100%,100%) equipment; pH>7 car, pH<7 equipment. Perhaps an annotated colour-wheel picture in the explanation, as a visual guide?) 22.214.171.124 12:10, 11 December 2015 (UTC)
- It seems to me it could also be a reference Anaglyph 3D red-cyan glasses. Bigger color difference makes things look closer to the viewer and thus larger. Wikipedia 126.96.36.199 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
- sorry, I am calling this for 188.8.131.52. Big wavelength vs small wavelength. Big ph number (alkali) vs small ph number(acid). Its consistent. This is fundamentally a big vs small penis joke. In fact, think i am gonna make an edit ... Plm-qaz snr (talk) 12:53, 13 December 2015 (UTC)
- Although a low pH indicates a high concentration of H+ ions. In that sense, acidic is high and alkaline is low. MGK (talk) 23:12, 13 December 2015 (UTC)
- Yes and cyan colour has higher frequency and thus energy that Red, so that just doesn't make as much sence as red opposite of cyan, as small opposite of big and alkaline opposite of acidic. I'm for the opposite solution, without taking numbers into account. Else it is not even funny in my opinion, as it would still just be small vs big, instead of, what to me seems to be the funny part, which is that Megan takes it to just mean that the car always compensate for different properties of a guys penis. --Kynde (talk) 12:20, 14 December 2015 (UTC)
The mouse over text makes it fairly clear that it's a joke about opposites. If anything could be added to the explanation as it stands, I might clarify that red and cyan are specifically colors of light. When shone on a single area (and therefor mixed) these two colors will create white light. When these colors of light are represented on a color wheel, they are placed opposite each other. So cyan and red in this sense fit as opposites, like big and small, alkaline and acidic. 184.108.40.206 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
For some reason, this made me laugh extremely hard. I've been up all night and maybe it's sleep deprivation, as it makes me do weird things, like bingewatch on several ISS videos simultaneously. International Space Station (talk) 10:56, 11 December 2015 (UTC)
There is also a common stereotype that a car's color reveals something about its owner's psychology (e.g. here). So, I think Megan is not only generalizing one stereotype but rather mixing two stereotypes, as in other comics. Zetfr 11:41, 11 December 2015 (UTC)
Is this the shortest complete explanation on this site? -- B0xertw1n (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
- 3: Island (sketch) and 28: Elefino are shorter. 220.127.116.11 12:53, 11 December 2015 (UTC)
Litmus anyone? --18.104.22.168 13:40, 11 December 2015 (UTC)
Alternative interpretation of the alt-text: the alkaline car could additionally refer to an electric car powered by an alkaline battery 22.214.171.124 22:55, 11 December 2015 (UTC)
- Yeah I also felt that there had to be some more to the alt-text than just another random opposite. Maybe that's it. Or some wordplay that I don't see? -- 126.96.36.199 01:40, 12 December 2015 (UTC)
- I agree, electric makes more sense. No one would be proud of a "basic" car, but people do take pride in their electric "eco-friendly" rides. Also, Randall likes to use technology in his jokes, which makes the electric explanation fit better. Lastly, people talk about having electric cars; when was the last time someone talked about having a "basic" car?188.8.131.52 21:58, 14 December 2015 (UTC)
A hydrogen powered car would then have a low pH due to high amounts of hydrogen... and thus be highly acidic? Swordsmith (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
I think that the contributor two items up has the right idea about the title text. Litmus is an indicator of an acidic or alkaline solution. An acidic solution turns litmus paper red, an alkaline solution turns it blue.
The current explanation of the title text " An alkaline solutions is a basic solution. Thus, men that drive basic cars are compensating for their acidic penises." Does not make any sense to me. (Paw 42 (talk) 18:48, 12 December 2015 (UTC))
- Litmus doesn't makes sense as an explanation because the red/blue difference isn't the emphasis of the comic. Randall is making a point about the idea of people interpreting cars to be symbols of pride for their owner to compensate for their supposedly-unimpressive junk. A litmus explanation pays too much attention to the details of the first joke and misses the forest for the trees.184.108.40.206 22:02, 14 December 2015 (UTC)
I vote to delete the alternate big/small interpretation, as I do not see it makes any sense or even make the joke funny. See both mine and others comments above as to why this is so. I will though not delete it my self yet. But have changed to indicate in the explanation why the alternate explanation has many flaws. --Kynde (talk) 12:41, 14 December 2015 (UTC)
I want to visit the current description in the article that "Cyan is a greenish-blue"... It is literally green-blue. No '-ish' about it. #0FF in an #RGB triple-nibble hex format. If talking about it by visual impression, rather than by components, cyan doesn't look green at all. It just looks like light-blue. At least to your current author. Whilst I'm not diagnosed as colour-blind, I know that (for example) even normal male and female perceptions of colour can have different resolutions and impressions of various hues.
And now some even more confusing datam-points, of an otherwise unrelated nature: in the default pallette my copy of OpenOffice uses (the handiest thing to check, outside of direct HTML encoding) the colour I could enumerate as #0FF (by sight alone... not having bothered to 'pipette' sample a screen grab of it in a graphics editor, to get exact values) is called "light cyan". I can't find non-light "cyan", but it'd probably be around #088 (that might be the value the one labelled "turqoise" has, which does seem to have a green-ish component, so might be more like #097ish), as #00F (pure blue, by my own assessment) is called "light blue" and the colour labelled "blue" (but that I'd call dark blue) looks roughly #008-ish. 220.127.116.11 00:24, 15 December 2015 (UTC)
I'm tempted to edit out all mention of 'base' or 'basic.' The comic and title text both only mention 'alkaline,' and what began as an unnecessary mention of that ~synonym now goes on to 'basic cars' v. special ones, none of which is in the comic nor needed to fully explain it. Miamiclay (talk) 01:35, 16 December 2015 (UTC)
Isn't the joke just because adding the red to the cyan gives you white, the default colour for the comic? 18.104.22.168 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
- I don't think that's the reasoning behind it. Red+Cyan=White because Red is the bits of white that aren't Cyan, i.e. the opposite, which is the joke, SFAICT... 22.214.171.124 23:35, 21 December 2015 (UTC) (PS, sign your post by adding ~~~~ to the end. Or nearly the end, as in this case.) 126.96.36.199 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
I'm not sure why the comment about acidity only being applicable about liquids is in there, but it's neither true (see https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/anie.201000252), nor relevant to the explanation of the comment. I'm going to edit it out. 188.8.131.52 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)