1932: The True Meaning of Christmas
|The True Meaning of Christmas|
Title text: They all made fun of Autometalogolex, but someday there will be a problem with Christmas that can only be solved if Santa somehow gets a serious headache, and then they'll see.
This is the first of two Christmas comics in a row. It is making fun of the common trope in popular media that the true meaning of Christmas is about family, friends, and sharing the Christmas Spirit. It subverts the trope by suggesting that once the stories of the "True Meaning of Christmas" become sufficiently common, the real true meaning becomes to spread those stories. Thus the search for the "True Meaning of Christmas" is itself the meaning of Christmas, in a sort of "the journey is the reward" discovery.
In the last panel and title text, "Autometalogolex" is a neologism of Randall's, which can be broken down to its various prefixes and the root:
- "Auto-" - Greek meaning "self."
- "Meta-" - Greek meaning "after," "beyond," or "in reference to."
- "Logo-" - Greek meaning "word" or "speech."
- "Lex" - "lexis" is another Greek word meaning "word"; but in this case it is more likely to be a shortening of "lexicon" (another word for dictionary), or perhaps a reference to the process of "lexing" (lexical analysis), part of the process of computer analysis of text.
Thus, "Autometalogolex" would literally mean "A word that refers to itself in the dictionary," or more precisely "the act of looking up the definition of autometalogolex", which leads to a recursion, as all meaning of Christmas stories do. Recursion and self-reference is a recurring theme in xkcd.
The term Autometalogolex might also refer to autological words, words that refer to a property of the word itself. ("noun" is a noun, "pentasyllabic" is pentasyllabic [has 5 syllables]). "Autometalogolex" is a 'meta' version of the looking up (lex) of an autological word.
Cueball finally states that Autometalogolex is his least favorite of Santa Claus's reindeer. This is not among the commonly quoted list of names: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder, and Blitzen. As the title text reveals this ninth reindeer could be a reference to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, who was not accepted by the others until Santa had problems and asked it to lead the other reindeer pulling the sleigh. The title text may also imply the only effective outcome of Autometalogolex (or the newly defined Christmas) is giving headaches, as with many self-referential concepts. As headaches generally are bad, Autometalogolex is not accepted, but - as in a typical Christmas story, here driven into the absurd realm - Santa needed a headache, and Autometalogolex was there to save the day.
- [Cueball is talking to a guy wearing a Santa hat.]
- Cueball: You’re looking festive.
- Santa Hat: I love Christmas!
- Cueball: Really? Doesn’t seem like your kind of thing.
- Santa Hat: It’s our most meta holiday!
- [Same setting.]
- Cueball: How so?
- Santa Hat: All our Christmas stories now are about discovering the “true meaning of Christmas.”
- [The same setting in a frame-less panel where Santa Hat shrugs.]
- Cueball: Huh, yeah. And then sharing it with others.
- Santa Hat: At some point, that quest itself became the true meaning.
- [Same setting with Santa Hat holding a hand to his chin.]
- Cueball: Like a word whose definition is “the act of looking up the definition of this word.”
- Santa Hat: “Autometalogolex”?
- Cueball: My least favorite of Santa’s reindeer.
- At the time this comic was released the expression Autometalogolex did not exist. But only a few hours later at Urban Dictionary this phrase got its first entries: Urbandictionary Autometalogolex.
- It appears that HopJacker Brewer makes a beer named Autometalogolex, presumably named after this comic. There are multiple references to it online, though it doesn't appear on HopJacker's own webpage, so it is possible that this beer doesn't exist and folks are just trolling beer drinkers to get them to autometalogolex.
- Some believe that the Santa Hat character is actually Black Hat, owing to the Santa hat in question being black (the character's behavior, and Cueball's comment that Santa Hat doesn't seem to be the type to enjoy Christmas match Black Hat's personality perfectly). However, the Santa hat may actually be meant to be red but rendered as black because the comic is in black-and-white (although it's worth nothing that in 361: Christmas Back Home and 838: Incident, Christmas clothing was shown as red, not black). Santa Hat's identity is therefore unclear. But that was of course Comics with color which is not the norm in xkcd, which is why there is a category for those. In black and white comics it makes no sense to discuss that a black Santa hat must be black.
- But already in the next comic where the "real" Santa is described his red Santa Hat is drawn black, thus proving that it is not a black hat because it is black in the comic.
- Since there are many comics with Multiple Cueballs, it could just as well be Cueball with a Santa Hat and another guy asking him about it.
- As there is no way to decide, then the best description of this comic is that Cueball is talking to a guy with a Santa Hat.
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