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Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Revision as of 19:09, 27 February 2013

Welcome to the explain xkcd wiki!

We have collaboratively explained 5 xkcd comics, and only 1605 (32100%) remain. Add yours while there's a chance!

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Go to this comic explanation

Fire Ants
Here in the entomology department, we have a simple two-step formula for answering any question: (1) ants are cool, and (2) we forgot the question because we were thinking about ants.
Title text: Here in the entomology department, we have a simple two-step formula for answering any question: (1) ants are cool, and (2) we forgot the question because we were thinking about ants.


Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: More details needed.

A university student (Cueball) goes to his advisor (Hair Bun Girl) because he is uncertain about his choices for grad school. However she doesn't advise him about academic matters, but instead talks about ants, specifically the ability of fire ants to join together to form floating rafts in case of flooding. This is of course pretty cool, but not helpful. So Cueball asks what he lesson he should learn from this. The advisor just states that Ants are so cool. Correctly Cueball states that she is not big on metaphors, as there was none hidden in her first statement. She continues to tell him what she is big on: Ants.

This humor relies on a tendency to use a particular phasing to incite corresponding modes of thought. An example of the phrase 'consider the' can be found in Monty Python's Life of Brian, or in the Biblical reference on which that sketch was based. While some uses of the phrase 'consider the' indicate simple taking notice, such as 'consider the source', the phrasing 'consider the noun' as a sentence typically indicates deeper contemplation of the metaphor being offered. When Hair Bun Girl says "Consider the fire ant." as a sentence, it appears to be phrasing to invite metaphorical interpretation but by the end of the comic Cueball has realized it was not an invitation to analyze a metaphor.

In the title text we learn that the advisor belongs to the entomology department (making her an entomologist - i.e. someone who studies insects). In that department they have a two-step formula to answer any questions. It won't help you much because all you will learn is that ants are cool and then they have forgotten anything else you told them while thinking of ants.

Or perhaps entomology is a red herring: Somebody noticed that fire ants is an anagram of fine arts.


[Cueball is talking to Hair Bun Girl, an advisor, who is sitting behind a desk.]
Cueball: I'm having second thoughts about grad school and could use some advice.
[Same setting as before. The animated advisor talks while gesticulating with her hands.]
Advisor: Consider the fire ant.
Advisor: When there's a flood, fire ants survive by joining together into giant floating rafts.
[Cueball is just standing there in the next beat-panel]
[Back to the first setting but in a larger frame.]
Cueball: Wait, what lesson am I supposed to take from that?
Advisor: Ants are so cool!
Cueball: ...You're not big on metaphors, are you.
Advisor: I am big on ants.

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