1860: Communicating

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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You're saying that the responsibility for avoiding miscommunication lies entirely with the listener, not the speaker, which explains why you haven't been able to convince anyone to help you down from that wall.
Title text: You're saying that the responsibility for avoiding miscommunication lies entirely with the listener, not the speaker, which explains why you haven't been able to convince anyone to help you down from that wall.


There's glory for you.

In Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There", Alice meets Humpty Dumpty (the egg-shaped character from the children's verse). Humpty Dumpty is a Looking Glass creature, and the Looking Glass creatures all feature some form of inversion. For Humpty Dumpty the inversion is in meanings. When they first meet, Humpty Dumpty berates Alice for having a name that doesn't mean anything (contrasted with his name which means his shape).

But later, Humpty declares to Alice "There's glory for you". Alice doesn't understand what Humpty means by "glory". Humpty explains that he can make words mean whatever he chooses to mean. By "glory" he meant "a nice knock-down argument". And he adds: "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean. Neither more nor less." ([1])

In the comic Humpty is explaining to "Alice" (portrayed by Jill) that he can choose meanings for his words. Alice points out the obvious problem by pretending to wonder what meaning should be given to that utterance, and decides it means "Please take all my belongings". Humpty realizes he has been caught in a trap, but now Alice is choosing meanings, and even his protests are taken to mean "take my car along with my belongings".

While it seems that Alice chooses these specific meanings of words to educate Humpty Dumpty about the mistake in his way of thinking, she could as well inform him about planned theft with random, meaningless words or not at all. After all, she got "permission". Also, even though Humpty Dumpty decides about the meanings of words by himself, he "accidentally" chooses the normal meanings of all of Alice's words, because otherwise he wouldn't be informed about the planned theft and wouldn't be able to react to this with "What!? No!".

Humpty Dumpty is known from the nursery rhyme or riddle:

Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall,
Humpy Dumpty had a great fall.
All the King's horses and all the King's men,
Couldn't put Humpty together again.

Carroll's Humpty Dumpty is a parody of people who use technical language without defining their terms and expect others to understand. The title text continues this. By Humpty insisting that he is not responsible for others understanding him he is unable to get help getting down from the wall, which will lead to his inevitable demise. This two-sided nature of communication is also shown in the title text of 1028: Communication, as well as in later comics like 1984: Misinterpretation (with a list of other comics about communication).


[Egg-shaped character Humpty Dumpty, drawn with an angry face, is sitting on a brick wall, and facing Alice, depicted as Jill.]
Humpty Dumpty: When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean. Neither more nor less.
Alice: I wonder what all those words you just said meant. Maybe you're telling me I can have all your stuff!
Humpty Dumpty: What!? No!
Alice: Your car, too? Gosh, thanks!

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Joke's on Alice, Humpty Dumpty doesn't have any stuff! 12:01, 10 July 2017 (UTC)

I took this to be a critique of deconstruction https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deconstruction and other similarly ridiculous approaches to hermeneutics/semiotics. 00:15, 10 July 2017 (UTC)

Isn't this Science Girl, and not necessarily "Alice"? Although they could be one and the same, in this comic and all comics? JohnHawkinson (talk) 16:45, 7 July 2017 (UTC)

  • I agree that this is Science Girl, but she could be playing the role of Alice, or alternatively she could be merely visiting the Looking Glass world as Alice also did. -- 17:13, 7 July 2017 (UTC)

I've heard that the nursery rhyme never makes explicit that Humpty is an egg. 18:36, 7 July 2017 (UTC)

It’s my understanding that the original nursery rhyme was a riddle where the question was “What is Humpty Dumpty?” and the answer is “an Egg.” Rylon (talk) 21:51, 7 July 2017 (UTC)
If that is the case, then the riddle is nearly as bad as "Words that end in -gry." OriginalName (talk) 04:08, 8 July 2017 (UTC)


I took this to mean politicians stating false things then equivocating by saying the words they used mean something different from what the traditional meaning the listeners assumed they meant were. Maybe I just watch too much late night TV tho. Djbrasier (talk) 19:44, 7 July 2017 (UTC)

Can't you children discuss in a nonpartisan matter instead of turning literally everything into politics? Maybe you should have voted instead of gathering in mass pro-illegal-immigrant protests. -- 23:42, 9 July 2017 (UTC)
The comic's subject matter is applicable to many things, but that doesn't mean it's about those things. 04:33, 8 July 2017 (UTC)
Djbrasier's comment was nonpartisan. ~ Quackslikeaduck (talk) 11:37, 10 July 2017 (UTC)
The comic is not meant to be nonpartisan (see #1756). The political context IS what surrounds Trump. Many Trump supporters agree with his claim that various establishment voices (NYT, CNN, certain US Courts) are "fake." I agree it's very hard to write an explanation about this that is neutral enough to not devolve into a political debate - which it should not be. But the explanation is incomplete if it doesn't mention the very pervasive political topic right now where the veracity of basic facts and words are called into question in a way that was not happening until the 2016 election. 21:30, 10 July 2017 (UTC)

I agree - this reminded me of how politicians especially Trump claim their meaning after people react.

True, it is something Trump and right wing does a lot at the moment, but this isn't a Trumpism though. Bill Clinton did the same when he redefined "having sex with".
You've provided a good example of how the political debate right now is, where historical events are re-defined and re-examined. In the late 1990s it was universally agreed that Clinton tried to redefine a word "sex" and in doing so was being deceptive. That is not the same situation now. Right now Trump redefines words and many see that as deceptive but a large number agree with his redefinition and instead question basic facts from the NYT, CNN or other formerly not very controversial news sources. This comic is very much about the Trump era. However it doesn't take a specific side and pro- and anti- trump debaters could claim their own side in this comic. I think we need to put this political context into the explanation. But someone more neutral than me should do it because I'm not able to write the pro-trump view in any neutral kind of way because I just can't wrap my brain around it. 21:37, 10 July 2017 (UTC)

I think this might be the first time I've seen Randall draw a facial expression in one of his comics. Surely this can't be the only one, right? -- 18:03, 8 July 2017 (UTC)

I wasn't able to finish, I got up to 1516. Here's a list of comics which include expressions by humans. 1, 9, 11, 12, 15, 16, 18, 23, 24, 38, 39, 46, 53, 57, 67, 68, 78, 93, 109, 110, 119, 130, 133, 135, 142, 143, 160, 380, 463, 824, 902. Also 778 if a detailed skull is a facial expression, 1004 if that's Joker's face and not make up, 1256, 1393, if the ghostly afterlife is just a phase of being human and if ghosts have faces. I also have comics that include animals, didn't think that was in the spirit of the question but most of the animals in xkcd have faces.
Time for a new list of comics with facial expressions! 12:36, 9 July 2017 (UTC)

This reminds me of Samantha Bee's "Semantic Vortex" on the June 21 episode of Full Frontal. 18:02, 9 July 2017 (UTC)

This is exactly the topic of this comic. Comedy relies on context. This comic is topical. While the Lewis Caroll angle is great literary context to add, the "post-truth" meme is more well known as an internet meme that this comic addresses. If we do not add that context it will be hard to understand this comic in a few years when people don't remember the political landscape right now. So, some mention of Trump needs to be added here. Though xkcd is generally not very political Comic #1756 makes it pretty clear that the context of the comics is not totally devoid of contemporary political context. 21:23, 10 July 2017 (UTC)

Awwww.... I'm unfamiliar with Carroll's take on Humpty Dumpty, so I took this as Science Girl searching for hidden meaning where there is none, which people keep doing to me, LOL! I really identified with it, until I read here that Humpty is messing around and aggressively trying to be misunderstood. *sigh* NiceGuy1 (talk) 03:54, 11 July 2017 (UTC)

I got a strong, but unspecific political vibe out of this. Like there's something going on in the news that I hadn't heard about yet. -- 13:23, 14 July 2017 (UTC)

Well, I WAS strongly reminded of the whole "alternative facts" thing, at least once I knew about Carroll's take on Humpty Dumpty. :) NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:07, 1 August 2017 (UTC)

As someone who got really annoyed at Humpty Dumpty in this story when I was younger, this is very vindicating for me172.69.248.147 15:58, 27 August 2021 (UTC)