33: Self-reference

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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I think about self-reference a lot.  Example: this comment.
Title text: I think about self-reference a lot. Example: this comment.


Self-reference is a situation where something (a comic, a drawing, a musical work, a novel, a mathematical theorem) refers to itself in some manner. This can be a powerful technique in art, music, mathematics and computer science (it is the basis of recursion).

In this comic, Cueball promises not to use self-reference for humor, and then realizes after a beat panel that, since this comic is referring to the series of comics he is part of, he is using self-reference, thus breaking his promise.

Without the last panel, this comic wouldn't be funny, and therefore wouldn't break the promise about using self-reference for humor. But with it, and his realization that he is breaking his promise, it does break that promise.


[Guy standing alone] Guy: I promise to never again squeeze humor out of self-reference.
[Guy standing alone]
[Guy standing alone] Guy: God dammit.


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  • This comic is not exactly clear to me. What is the self-reference, or what is the humour? TheHYPO (talk) 14:29, 21 August 2012 (UTC)
    • I added a bit. Does that help clarify? Of course, one of the hallmarks of self-reference is that clarity tends to be lost. Blaisepascal (talk) 14:44, 21 August 2012 (UTC)

What if I don't find this humorous, then he's not squeezing humor! -- 00:09, 2 March 2015 (UTC)

But wouldn't it still be squeezing if he tried? That would mean that whenever he tries, he succeeds. Fabian42 (talk) 08:08, 25 August 2017 (UTC)

But the most famous use of self reference is, of course, the sentence (this) where explainxkcd explained the sentence where explainxkcd explained xkcd's self reference of its own self reference.--TheTimeBandit (talk) 21:54, 27 October 2017 (UTC)