856: Trochee Fixation

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Trochee Fixation
If you Huffman-coded all the 'random' things everyone on the internet has said over the years, you'd wind up with, like, 30 or 40 bytes *tops*.
Title text: If you Huffman-coded all the 'random' things everyone on the internet has said over the years, you'd wind up with, like, 30 or 40 bytes *tops*.


A trochee is a type of metric foot. A foot is a measure in poetry, it consists of stressed beats and unstressed beats. A trochee is a foot which consists of one stressed beat followed by unstressed beat: "trochee" itself is an example of this as you stress the first syllable and don't stress the second syllable ("TROH-kee".) In the comic, a young girl develops a fixation with words that are trochees, such as robot ("ROH-bot",) raptor ("RAP-tor",) and Jesus ("JEE-zus".) Megan explains her behaviour. She proposes a "radical trocheeotomy." Cueball misinterprets Megan's intent as a "tracheotomy", but agreeing with the idea.

There are references to "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and "Power Rangers", both of which are examples of actual, trochaic TV show titles. Additionally, there is a reference to sci/fi author Neal Stephenson who has written Snow Crash, Anathem and many other books.

Huffman coding is a lossless data compression algorithm that works by recording a specific string and then only recording that the string is repeated a certain number of characters later on until eventually it only contains a "dictionary" of unique substrings and then mentions of where those substrings repeat. In highly repetitive data this can cut down the file size immensely, which is what Randall is implying by saying you would only end up with 30–40 bytes. Most of the "random" stuff said on the Internet has been said before.


Girl: Robot ninja! Pirate doctor laser monkey! Narwhal zombie badger hobo bacon kitty captain penguin raptor Jesus!
Megan: We'd been seeing this brain damage for years, but only recently did our linguists identify the pattern behind it.
Megan: The patients fixate on animals and types of people whose names are trochees (two syllables, with the accent on the first).
The malfunction causes a rush of dopamine whenever these trochees are heard or spoken.
[Chart shows "internet" and "brain," with arrows marked "trochees" traveling both ways between them. An arrow marked "dopamine" loops from the brain back to the brain.]
The warning signs appear in childhood:
[Child sits in front of TV.]
Child: Yeah! Mighty teenage morphin' ninja power mutant turtle rangers!
Social reinforcement focuses the fixation on a few dozen words.
Cueball (off-panel): Is there a cure?
[Girl is reclining under a big machine pointed at her face.]
Megan: We're about to try a radical trocheeotomy.
Cueball: Rip out her vocal chords? I'm in favor.
Megan: No, we're modifying her vocabulary* to erase the words she's fixated on.
  • Digitoneurolinguistic hacking! It's totally real! Ask Neal Stephenson.
Megan: Either the gap will be filled by normal words, or she'll just generate a new set of trochees.
Megan: Here goes.
[She pulls the lever on a large panel.]
kachunk bzzzZZZZZZ
[Girl is waking up.]
Girl: ... GzZhRmPh ...
Girl ... banjo turtle!
Girl: Jetpack ferret pizza lawyer! Dentist hamster wombat plumber turkey jester hindu cowboy hooker bobcat scrapple!
Megan (off-panel): Sigh.
Megan: Time for plan B.
Megan: Someone get a brick.

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Bad advice mallard would like a word with you. Davidy²²[talk] 07:08, 17 April 2013 (UTC)

"Cowboy" but no "Bebop"? (Also a real cartoon show, albeit an adult anime -- NOT FOR KIDS.) I'm disappointed. --BigMal27 // 11:55, 18 June 2014 (UTC)

Why... why does the little girl say "hooker" at the end of the comic? 13:16, 18 June 2014 (UTC)

Why not? Perhaps she's seen some television cop shows which use the term. Or perhaps she likes rugby (it's the name of one of the playing positions). Grutness (talk) 01:56, 26 July 2015 (UTC)

In particular I think the Neil Stephenson reference is to Snowcrash, where hackers are able to transmit a linguistic virus that disrupts speech patterns into what appears to be intense aphasia or glossolalia. According to the science* of the book, a similair technique could be used to manipulate the brain in a variety of ways, including a 'trocheeotomy.' (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

The current explanation mentions a reversal of the stress pattern at the end, but that doesn't happen. As discussed in the comic, the girl has simply come up with a new list of trochees. 22:54, 18 June 2014 (UTC)

Trochee is autological. 11:22, 30 May 2015 (UTC)

I feel like the two words "raptor Jesus" could be a reference to the meme. 02:05, 4 November 2015 (UTC)

"cranially-applied brick" 02:39, 10 November 2017 (UTC)

But what if you're fixated on three-syllable words? -- 23:01, 28 November 2015 (UTC)

So trochees make her happy. So what? Why do we care SO MUCH that she stop saying those words and stop being happy? She likes it, why can't we deal with it? Would you want someone to surgically remove whatever makes you happy from YOUR brain? Leave her alone! (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

True: "hooker" but no "bismuth"? 14:51, 12 January 2018 (UTC)

We owe a major classic of American literature to the scourge of TF. It started in 19th-century Finland when Elias Lönnrot compiled the Kalevala, whose trochaic meter is a very good fit for Finnish prosody, because of the consistent stress on the first syllable in every Finnish word, e.g. "Sukuvirttä suoltamahan, lajivirttä laulamahan." Next Henry Wadsworth Longfellow read that and caught the trochee bug. Longfellow couldn't stop scratching that itch until he'd written the epic Song of Hiawatha in the same trochaic meter from the Kalevala. I guess TF really is a thing, if Longfellow is any indication. Johanna-Hypatia (talk) 02:14, 30 July 2016 (UTC)