1339: When You Assume

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When You Assume
You know what happens when you assert--you make an ass out of the emergency response team.
Title text: You know what happens when you assert--you make an ass out of the emergency response team.


Prior to the events in this comic, Cueball has evidently told Megan that he made an assumption about something. Megan starts to respond with a takeoff on the modern proverb: "When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me." This proverb plays on the fact that the word "assume" may be broken down into the letters "ass", "u", and "me", and is intended to suggest that one should not make assumptions because they may turn out to be wrong and make those involved appear foolish.

However, when Megan evokes the proverb in the modified form "You know what happens when you assume", Cueball astutely points out that her phrasing itself is hypocritical in that it makes the assumption that he knows what happens when you assume. Megan stops to ponder Cueball's point, to which Cueball responds "Check and Mate": a common phrase originating from chess — suggesting triumph or having successfully countered another person's argument to which there can be no retort. However, this would not make sense unless Cueball knows that assuming is bad, and he states in the comic that he does not know what happens when someone assumes. While Megan's tone of voice implies that when someone assumes, something bad happens, she does not state this explicitly, so Cueball would have had to assume that Megan was referring to something bad. However, Megan does not point this out, likely because she is too distracted by her own shame to notice that Cueball was also making an assumption.

Cueball's response demonstrates that, in life, we make assumptions almost every time we speak. This only tends to be problematic in the few instances where the assumption is wrong.

The title text is a play on the original "assume" pun, breaking down the word "assert", into "ass" and "ert", with "ERT" being an acronym for "Emergency Response Team".

This comic follows a pattern similar to 1657: Insanity.


[Megan, standing left holding a hand up with the palm up while facing Cueball to the right.]
Megan: You assumed?
Megan: You know what happens when you assume-
Cueball: I don't. Yet you're confidently asserting that I do.
Megan: ...Oh. Hm.
Cueball: Check and mate.

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This explanation is most certainly correct. A quick google search will prove as much. ImVeryAngryItsNotButter (talk) 15:19, 8 March 2014 (UTC)

The explanation may sound better if the "assert" in Cueball response is also stressed. In fact, we may suppose that Megan IS the emergency response team, from the starting of the dialog, and the history of the comics. Cueball just did some stupid thing because he assumed something, and the specialist came to fix it. 04:14, 31 August 2015 (UTC)

Tesshavon (talk) 09:11, 7 March 2014 (UTC) this is a direct reference to the popular saying 'When you ASSUME, you make an ASS out of U and ME'.

My donkey is behind a donkey, I am behind my donkey, my entire country is behind me! 05:20, 9 March 2014 (UTC)

I'm not a native English speaker, and I'm just curious. Is there any popular saying about ass-ass-inating someone? 10:25, 7 March 2014 (UTC)

To the best of my knowledge, there is no such saying, but I'm sure it's a spelling mnemonic used by many. jameslucas (" " / +) 14:18, 7 March 2014 (UTC)
I have read of badly programed profanity filters that change "assassin" to "buttbuttin". It's a clbuttic mistake. 13:22, 8 March 2014 (UTC)
My profanity filter that I wrote turns "class " to "clbut", but keeps "asshole"as is. :facepalm:
Funny that such profanity filters are the ones who gave me the idea of asking. I first heard about them in This Is True (search for "How Embarrbutting" in that page), who took it from The London Telegraph. 15:24, 10 March 2014 (UTC)

Assert is also used in programming (c and such) 13:35, 7 March 2014 (UTC)

And Python, which I was hacking in yesterday, so that came to my mind. But Randall isn't distracting us with any assert + throw unhandled exception jokes today. — tbc (talk) 15:31, 8 March 2014 (UTC)

Thank goodness for the 'ERT' explanation; I had terrible notions of a portmanteau involving 'insert'. jameslucas (" " / +) 14:16, 7 March 2014 (UTC)

If Megan was going to phrase it like "You know what happens when you assume something? You make an ass out of you and me.", then she wouldn't be assuming anything. Of course, in spoken English, you could determine which one it is through inflection. Maybe Randall could start making voice-overs for the comics. 18:33, 7 March 2014 (UTC)

Strictly speaking, Megan is asking a rhetorical question; one that she intends to answer herself. However, I once had a dickhead manager try this one on me, so I fully support this comic. 20:32, 7 March 2014 (UTC)

This comic explain needs some enhancements!!!

xkcd is a webcomic "A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language." There is definitively no ASS here, or ERT... That could be mentioned at trivia, not more. This is all about language — assuming vs. asserting — not more or less. Everything more interpretations are like hearing a message by playing a song backwards. This explain isn't incomplete — it's incorrect! --Dgbrt (talk) 21:21, 7 March 2014 (UTC)

Um, the explanation is fine. The cheesy "ass" + "u" + "me" pun is well-known, and the comic is quite specifically riffing on it. No pareidolia here. 23:20, 7 March 2014 (UTC)

I saw it as that Megan was on an ERT and that Cueball's assumption was about the emergency (e.g. "The building must be safe by now,") hence the comment about an ERT (although I now also see and agree with the explanation of the play on words). Z (talk) 23:32, 7 March 2014 (UTC)

WOW: Neil Armstrong was just a movie star (I will not talk about 911) or what??? Look at the picture, look at the comic; I'm pretty sure Randall is giggle about all the comments here. I'm pretty sure you can find a ERT at the bible many times; but this isn't that Randall talks about!!!--Dgbrt (talk) 00:36, 8 March 2014 (UTC)
Dgbrt, are you rejecting the simple ass-u-me explanation? — tbc (talk) 15:31, 8 March 2014 (UTC)
And this explain is still bad because: 1) A hint to use Google as a help is not a proper way. 2) There is also a real language issue on that both different words "assume" and "assert". The joke is about mixing this language issues and all that memes.--Dgbrt (talk) 23:00, 8 March 2014 (UTC)
I know I didn't user Google to search anything, but I knew the "ass out of u and me" joke immediately, same thing with the assert one. That's the comic's joke. 17:36, 12 March 2014 (UTC)

See now, this is the type of classic exchange that’s been tidied up. Rereading xkcd (talk) 10:26, 12 April 2020 (UTC)

So... nobody else is going to mention that the proper phrase is, "When you assume, you make an ass IN FRONT OF 'u' and 'me'"? Not only is the "ass" in front of those two letters, but if somebody assumes, they're only making an ass out of theirself, not "you and me". Therefore, YOU are making an ass IN FRONT OF yourself and me. Though... are you truly doing so in front of yourself? Either way, more accurate than the innocent bystander being made an ass out of. Ferretwilliams (talk) 05:34, 13 March 2014 (UTC)

I'm not a native English speaker but you seem to be correct and it should be fixed. Other than that, I first read the explanation as it is right now and it's perfect. 04:21, 27 February 2015 (UTC)
I don't know if one can argue that a joke is correct or incorrect, but the popular origin of this joke was as stated: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Belson#Career.

I always like to respond with "... Or you make A SUM out of M and E" just to be different.