1625: Substitutions 2

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Substitutions 2
Within a few minutes, our roads will be full of uncontrollably-swerving cars and our skies full of Amazon delivery dogs.
Title text: Within a few minutes, our roads will be full of uncontrollably-swerving cars and our skies full of Amazon delivery dogs.


This is the second comic in the Substitution series where Randall has suggested substitutions that will make reading the news more fun. But there have been several comics using substitutions both before and after these ones.

The series as of 2016:

In this table, Randall suggests substituting several common phrases in generic news with similar or related phrases that mean something different for comical effect. Some of the replacements are synonyms, some are antonyms, and some are plain different concepts; and, even though they would (most of the time) make a grammatically correct sentence, the resulting idea would, however, often sound absurd or bizarre.

Some of the examples might, also, mock the fact that many news contradict the actual facts or obvious results of a situation. For example, "[influential person] vows to do good to the world" would be replaced with a more usual fact "[influential person] probably won't do good to the world" - see example below with North Korean leader.

The title text is an example of how the closing sentence of a given article or report might sound after using the substitutions in the comic.

Before substitutions: Within a few years, our roads will be full of self-driving cars and our skies full of Amazon delivery drones.
After substitutions: Within a few minutes, our roads will be full of uncontrollably-swerving cars and our skies full of Amazon delivery dogs.

The flying dogs could be a reference to 1614: Kites. Was the first of two in a row where Amazon is mentioned in the title text (next 1626: Judgment Day).

Table of substitutions[edit]

  • In this table the difference between the original and the substituted word (and the change to the sentences) will be explained.
Original Substitution Explanation
Debate Dance-off A 'debate' is often used between political candidates, to give the voters a chance to decide who they will vote for. One of the candidates is often called the winner of such a debate by some degree or other of consensus. Randall is indicating that they could just as well have performed a 'dance-off' where they would dance until one of them danced better than the other, as adjudged by the viewing crowd or a panel of judges. Such a dance-off is often seen in TV-shows or films etc.
Self driving Uncontrollably swerving 'Self driving' cars were also mentioned in 1623: 2016 Conversation Guide, just two comics before this one where it was stated that they would come surprisingly soon (within a few minutes according to the substitutions suggested here). Self-driving cars were still in their adolescence when this comic was written, and Randall pokes fun with the mental image of self-driving cars running completely out of control and swerving dangerously out of their lanes. Self-driving cars is a recurring topic on xkcd.
Poll Psychic reading A 'poll', especially regarding political issues, refers to opinion or exit polls. These tend to ask a carefully selected sample (for either balance or an intended inbalance, depending on the poll's neutrality) their opinions in order to extrapolate the global consensus, e.g. the future result of an election. This substitution is Randall's way of saying that they could just as well have used a psychic person to predict the result. A true psychic (if that they are) would reveal an accurate result, whilst a false one (skilled at 'cold reading' an audience) would likely wish to provide the answer that pleases those asking the question (the actual purpose of some polls), or else attempt to provide their actual 'best guess' as to future outcomes in order to improve their own legend.
Candidate Airbender A 'candidate' usually refers to a political person who represents a certain political party in an election. He would then be that party's candidate, for instance for a presidential election. 'Airbender' refers to the show Avatar: The Last Airbender, where there are waterbenders, earthbenders, firebenders and airbenders.
Drone Dog Drones can be many things, for instance a male bee, but as used in the title text it refers to unmanned aerial vehicles. Amazon is about to use small drones to deliver parcels, and Randall has referred to these before (see 1523: Microdrones). However, until just before the recent trend of becoming popularised as a 'toy' or professional camera platform, the term became closely associated with military drones that have been used to observe (and, more recently, fire upon) enemy forces without risking any military personnel.
Vows to Probably won't Vowing to do something means that you really promise to do this. But when politicians vow something, for instance, it seems to often end up becoming a forgotten promise. Hence the antonym substitution which means the opposite. From really will to probably won't.
At large (or At-large) Very large A criminal that is on the run is said to be at large (no hyphen). At-large (with hyphen) is a political designation for members of a governing body who are elected or appointed to represent the whole membership of the body, rather than a subset of that membership. Neither of these have anything to do with the physical size or "largeness" of the subject.
Successfully Suddenly The two words have nothing much to do with each other except that they both begin with su.
Expands Physically expands 'Expands' often refers to a physical expansion, or inflation. But it is also possible to expand on an explanation, as is done for this comic. So that would become: This explanation is being physically expanded beyond all measures. It is worth noting that, if iterated, this substitution would result in an infinite string of of "physically"s prior to any "expand."
First /second /third-degree Friggin' awful First, second and third-degree can be used in many context. It is common to think about burns, which can range from first to fourth degree, where higher is worse. Also murder charges can range in from first to third degree in for instance the US. Here first degree murder is the worst. But it can be used for other things, like an undergraduate degree or postgraduate education for first and second degree respectively. But the substitution fits best with murder or burn, as Friggin(g) is a "softer" swear word than for instance other more commonly used four letter words. It often replaces fuck. Its original meaning was a coarse word for female masturbation (see frigging).
An unknown number Like hundreds In the news, an unknown number mostly means 'probably not zero.' It is often used in phrases like "an unknown number of assailants broke into a house in Munroe Heights," or "an unknown number of people are missing" after a calamity of some sort. "Like hundreds" does give a different flavor.
Front runner Blade Runner In American politics, a 'front-runner' is a leader in an electoral race. It can also mean the front-runner in athletic events (the namesake of the political concept). Here it is generally clear who the front-runner is, whilst the political front-runner is sometimes less clear or a more subjective viewpoint. A 'blade runner' is a person who retires (kills) rogue cyborgs in the movie Blade Runner, where Harrison Ford plays the lead Blade Runner.
Global Spherical Global comes from globe, but means so much more today. It is often used in contexts such as global warming or global warfare. But since a globe is spherical, this substitution makes more sense than most, although talking about the effect of spherical warming would probably not get Greenpeace into action. Might be confusing if an actual physical object affecting Earth were described as being sphere-like, rather than as occuring around the globe.
Years Minutes It will often make a sentence lose its meaning when changing the units drastically from years to minutes (there are 525600 minutes in the usual 365 days present in a year). For instance it would be unusual that a prisoner convicted for murder would get 20 minutes in jail, rather than 20 years.
Minutes Years Same as above but reversed. For instance a car might make a trip around a race track in just 7 years! One lesson at school lasted 45 years.
No indication Lots of signs Scientifically, the fact that there is 'no indication' that a theorem is correct does not positively prove the theorem wrong, it merely does not support it (assuming there are no actual counter-indications, which is often the case with the more esoteric ideas). This is often seized upon by those trying to promote a pseudoscience, in that their chosen idea "has not been proven to be wrong" (and yet, conversely, "it's just a theory" is incorrectly used to refute something that has valid scientific backing). Moreover, hearsay and bad experimental practices are often cited as 'proof'. A crackpot idea may thus be unsupported by valid science (there is 'no indication' of its truth) and yet its supporters insist upon there being 'lots of signs' that it is true, selectively using only ambiguous results that (to them, at least) lend credence to it being a fact. The substitution of 'no indication' with 'lots of signs' thus automatically converts the expected conservative and cautious stance on some disputed issue or other into the weasel-words phrasing that the issue's supporters may start using in their own propaganda.
Urgedrestraint by Drunkenly egged on If someone urges someone else to restrain themselves, then they are trying to make them exercise self-control, and discourage them from starting or continuing a possibly foolish act. In this substitution we have the exact opposite, as to egg someone on to do something is actively encourage an act to happen, or continue.
Horsepower Tons of horsemeat Cars power is measured in horsepower (hp), a typical family car having like hundred hp, being derived from the nominal amount of power that a suitably-harnessed horse could have provided. In cars, this has nothing to do with horse meat, of any quantity, but here a mechanical (or electrical) engine is envisaged as a literally horse-powered device.

Example of sentences[edit]

  • Here follows some real examples with links to the news/text:
    • Words from the list, and the replacement words are highlighted with bold font.
    • All words are included at least once, and the list is sort of sorted after the order the words appear in the comic, but most sentences have more than one word from the list, on purpose!
  • Original sentence: Fifth Republican debate: where each candidate excelled and faltered
Modified sentence: Fifth Republican dance-off: where each airbender excelled and faltered
  • Original sentence: 1,000-Horsepower Self-Driving Electric Faraday Future Concept Leaked?
Modified sentence: 1,000-Tons of Horsemeat Uncontrollably Swerving Electric Faraday Future Concept Leaked?
  • Original sentence: A new Morning Consult poll shows real estate mogul Donald Trump remains on top as the GOP frontrunner following Tuesday’s debate.
Modified sentence: A new Morning Consult psychic reading shows real estate mogul Donald Trump remains on top as the GOP blade runner following Tuesday’s dance-off.
Modified sentence: North Korea’s Kim probably won't raise living standards
  • Original sentence: Murderers and rapists among 1,153 criminals still at large after being recalled to prison over the last 30 years
Modified sentence: Murderers and rapists among 1,153 criminals still very large after being recalled to prison over the last 30 minutes
Modified sentence: Pakistan suddenly tests first indigenous armed dog
Modified sentence: Obama Physically Expands Gun Controls in Executive Moves
  • Original sentence: There was no indication of first degree familial relationships in the analyzed dataset.
Modified sentence: There was lots of signs of friggin' awful familial relationships in the analyzed dataset
  • Original sentence: …rescue crews continued to collect bodies and interview survivors, including an unknown number of wounded languishing in homes and hospitals with third degree burns
Modified sentence: …rescue crews continued to collect bodies and interview survivors, including like hundreds of wounded languishing in homes and hospitals with friggin' awful burns
Modified sentence: The Republican presidential blade runner faces a spherical firestorm
  • Original sentence: U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama on Friday urged restraint by both Russia and Georgia in the conflict over the breakaway region of South Ossetia in Georgia.
Modified sentence: U.S. presidential airbender Barack Obama on Friday drunkenly egged on both Russia and Georgia in the conflict over the breakaway region of South Ossetia in Georgia.
  • Original sentence: Video: 52-Horsepower Citroen AX Laps Nurburgring In Under 10 Minutes
Modified sentence: Video: 52-Tons of horsemeat Citroen AX Laps Nurburgring In Under 10 Years


[Caption above the panel:]
That make reading the news more fun
[A table of words/sentences on the left that change in to those on the left. Between each set of words there is a gray arrow pointing from right.]
Debate Dance-off
Self driving Uncontrollably swerving
Poll Psychic reading
Candidate Airbender
Drone Dog
Vows to Probably won't
At large Very large
Successfully Suddenly
Expands Physically expands
First/second/third-degree Friggin' awful
An unknown number Like hundreds
Front runner Blade runner
Global Spherical
Years Minutes
Minutes Years
No indication Lots of signs
Urged restraint by Drunkenly egged on
Horsepower Tons of horsemeat

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See previous discussion for browser plugins, scripts, bookmarklets etc. at 1288:_Substitutions [sven]

Can someone update the plugin for Chrome that does the word swaps? :3 Also swap it for upgoerfive-nounsInternational Space Station (talk) 15:11, 4 January 2016 (UTC)

The Title Text should read "...uncontrollably-swerving cars", not "...uncontrollably-swerving cats". But I don't have the heart to change it.

Neither do I... 16:14, 4 January 2016 (UTC)(Daniel)
Actually, if you applied the 1288 substitutions it would be uncontrollably-swerving CATS.

Ok, I just checked the log, and it was added here, "(cur | prev) 15:11, 4 January 2016‎ (Talk)‎ . . (+1,212)‎ . . (undo)" by the person who added the transcript, obviously I don't know if this was deliberate, though I suspect it was. Either way I think it is very funny and we should leave it. 16:14, 4 January 2016 (UTC)(Daniel)

How many of them can be used? "Like hundreds of civilians received friggin awful burns after a not very sudden dog attack Tuesday. After spherical outrage, the blade runner of presidential airbenders probably won't drunkedly egg it on the future." 16:20, 4 January 2016 (UTC)

huh...nothing for 'campaign' or 'voters'...also, the 'uncontrollably-swerving cats' is probably a victim of the first substitution filter that changes 'cars' to 'cats' 17:06, 4 January 2016 (UTC)

"The suspect is currently very large" -Pennpenn 22:45, 4 January 2016 (UTC)

after loading this into the browser plugin I noticed a loop caused "physically expands" to become "physically physically physically physically physically expands" and I began pondering whether the adding of extra physically-ies made the word intensify. Then I wondered why someone would need to intensify the acknowledgement of physicality. Then I looked at my hands, like REALLY looked at my hands. Beastachu (talk) 00:18, 5 January 2016 (UTC)

As a small note, "No indication ➜ Lots of signs" would actually create quite a few grammatically incorrect sentences. 01:19, 5 January 2016 (UTC)

This page looks interesting when you do the replacements on it http://i.imgur.com/dg0bzw9.png - Gradient (talk) 09:47, 5 January 2016 (UTC

The 'dog -> drone' relation could also be a referance to a Half-Life 2 robot called "Dog". This "drone" helps the protagonist, Dr. Freeman, with tasks that could otherwise not be completed by humans, much like todays drones. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

The substitution is one-way, for example "years" becomes "minutes", but in the example, the substitution is backwards. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

At large just means unconfined. It gets hyphenated when it gets made part of a noun. So you can have, for example, editor-at-large. It is not reserved solely for fugitives and politicians 13:05, 31 August 2019 (UTC)

Spherical firestorm sounds awesome172.70.230.157 23:47, 23 February 2023 (UTC)