2372: Dialect Quiz
Title text: Do you make a distinction between shallots, scallops, and scallions? If you use all three words, do they all have different meanings, all the same, or are two the same and one different?
This comic is a parody of online quizzes that offer to compare the user's dialect of American English with others around the country. These quizzes generally contain questions about word usage, names for certain objects, and pronunciations that vary between different regions of the US. There are also quizzes about broader English dialects, but this comic focuses on commonly cited differences between American dialects.
The earliest quiz of this type to be widely disseminated online was the Harvard Dialect Survey, conducted in the early 2000s by Bert Vaux and Scott Golder. The survey created maps of the distribution of various word usage (such as pop/soda/coke for a fizzy softdrink) and was a relatively early example of widely shared Internet "viral" content. In 2013, Josh Katz of the New York Times created a new version based on the Harvard survey, which became the Times' most popular content of 2013 and spread the idea to many more people. Many of the questions in this comic directly derive from entries in those surveys.
Randall's previous two comics have been about election predictions, leading up to the 2020 US General Presidential Election. A prominent predictor of the election results is Nate Silver, who runs the FiveThirtyEight website. @NateSilver538 posted his results of taking the New York Times version of the survey on October 11, 2020... just three days before this comic was posted. 2371: Election Screen Time specifically suggests that Randall may be spending too much time obsessing over new posts and content from the election predictors. It's coincidental, but likely, that Nate Silver's tweet inspired Randall's post: he was reminded of the 2013 feature from the Times.
|1||How do you address a group of two or more people?||
||Reference to the first question of the Times quiz: "How would you address a group of two or more people?" (with options including "you all", "you guys", "y'all", etc.). Option C may reference the significant decrease in human interaction and social contact during the COVID-19 pandemic. Alternatively, it may suggest that some xkcd readers are particularly introverted.|
|2||How do you pronounce "Penelope"?||
|| Both the options for this are wrong, making it the first of many quiz questions to be impossible to answer correctly.
Neither Option A's "PEN-e-lohp" /ˈpɛːnəˌloʊp/ (possibly "PEEN-e-lohp" /ˈpiːnɪˌloʊp/) nor Option B's "pe-NELL-up" /pɪˈnɛləp/ are a typical pronunciation of this name (beyond mispronunciations). In English, the only correct way to pronounce this name is "pe-NELL-o-pee" /pəˈnɛləpi/, which is not listed. (A) is the answer Juan from Club Dread (2004) would have given, and the way video game parody band "Random Encounters" pronounces their second cat's name. In Questionable Content, this is also the way Faye pronounces Penelope's name in comic 725. Whether this is a coincidence or deliberate is unknown.
|3||What do you call the scientific field that studies the stars?||
||The actual answer is astronomy, which is not listed, though several answers are listed that sound similar to fields that study stars. Astrology is the pseudo-scientific "study" of the influence of the stars and planets on our lives, including horoscopes, agronomy is scientific but instead studies agriculture, and cosmetology is the study of cosmetics and makeup (with a name close to cosmology, a branch of astronomy, and comet, an astronomical object). The last may also be referring to the occasionally makeup-heavy faces of movie and television "stars".|
|4||How do you pronounce "genre"?||
|| Reference to a question found on some quizzes: "How do you pronounce genre? ZHAHN-ruh, or JAHN-ruh?"
A majority of (American) English speakers pronounce "genre" as either "ZHAHN-ruh" /ˈʒɔnrə/ (beginning with the "zh" sound found in "treasure") or "JAHN-ruh" /ˈdʒɔnrə/ (beginning with the "j" sound in "justice"). Neither of these are listed, and none of the quiz's pronunciation options are common. However, they are close to other words: GONE-ra /ˈgɔnrə/ sounds like gonorrhea /ˌgɔnəˈriə/, juh-NEER /dʒəˈnɪər/ is the way the second and third syllables of engineer are pronounced, and JEN-er-uh /ˈdʒɛnərə/ is close to how genera /dʒɛˈnirə/ (the plural of genus) is pronounced.
|5||You pronounce "Google" with a high-pitched yelp on the...||
||"Google" is not generally pronounced with a high-pitched yelp on either syllable. On the other hand, Yahoo!, a competitor of Google, has advertised its services with a high-pitched yodeling jingle, with the high-pitched yelp on the second syllable (as opposed to Goofy's iconic holler, with the high yelp on the first syllable).|
|6||What do you call the thing on the wall at school that you drink water from?||
||Reference to a quiz question in the Harvard and Times quizzes, "What do you call the thing from which you might drink water in a school?" Answers included "drinking fountain", "water fountain", and "bubbler". However, the question in this comic implies that school children (or at least the quiz maker) drink out of gutter pipes or drain pipes, which are used to collect rainwater and/or should absolutely not be drunk from.|
|7||How do you pronounce the name for a short silent video file?||
|| Reference to the "Gif" pronunciation debate, with people split between pronouncing it "gif" (with the hard-G sound in "graphics") or "jif" (with the soft-G sound in "giraffe"). Both options presented in this quiz use the hard-G sound, but neither option uses the standard pronunciation for the ending of the word, “if”.
The original authors of the standard clarified they intended it to be said as if "jif". Maybe it is entirely appropriate that their product, which lacks any audio stream, was made known to most of its end-users without a sound-guide and left everyone to spontaneously derive their own way of voicing its name.
|8||What do you call the baseball-sized garden bugs that, when poked, glow brightly and emit a warbling scream?||
|| There are many different varieties of common insects with distinctive traits and behaviors, some of which even have multiple names; the creatures described "lawn buddies" combine three of these traits into one peculiar and somewhat frightening bug. The fact that no known creature like this exists forms the humor of the two answers: the first is reasonably confused, and the second is alarmingly familiar.
1. The Harvard and Times quizzes actually include the question: "What do you call the small gray bug that curls up into a ball when it’s touched?" (options include "roly-poly," "pill-bug", "potato bug", "doodle bug", etc.).
It is also worth mentioning that "potato bug" itself can refer to three completely different kinds of insect; besides the aforementioned "small gray bug," it can also refer to the Colorado potato beetle or to the Jerusalem cricket. A dialect quiz such as this one might ask the quiz-taker to identify what kind of insect they associate the term with.
2. The Lampyridae family of insects do glow (although not exactly "brightly"). These insects emit their light spontaneously, as a mating signal, though they often do emit light when shaken or presumably poked. These are variously called "fireflies," "glowworms," or "lightning bugs;" a dialect quiz might reasonably ask the quiz-taker's preferred term.
3. Cicadas and cockroaches can be large for insects, though nothing approaching the size of a baseball, and can make very loud noises indeed, although it would be a bit of a stretch to describe any of their associated sounds as a "warbling scream."
|9||What do you call the misleading lines painted by disgruntled highway workers to trick cars into driving off the road?||
|| Reference to the fact that some quiz questions ask about road features, such as "verge/berm/parking strip/curb strip" and "roundabout/traffic circle/rotary". However, these particular road lines, if they have ever been made, aren't common enough to warrant different names, unless the creator of the Quiz is referring to painted lines that haven't fully faded out of existence. The Delaware Line was a formation within the Continental Army. Devil's Marks may be a takeoff of Devil's Strip.
Misleading lines on the road were also mentioned in 1958: Self-Driving Issues.
|10||What do you call the blue-green planet in the outer Solar System?||
||This question references the fact that Uranus and Neptune are quite similar in appearance, as well as the two common pronunciations of Uranus: "YURR-ə-nəss" and "yoo-RAY-nəss" (which sounds like the phrase "your anus", a favorite joke of little kids). The original pronunciation is "oo-ra-nos", but this is not a common pronunciation among the general public. It also references the fact that Uranus and Neptune are both blue-ish colored planets in the outer solar system and are often confused by people who don't know much about them. Uranus is closer to being the correct answer - it could plausibly be described as cyan, a color intermediate between blue and green - while Neptune is a deep, unambiguous blue.|
|11||What do you call this tool?||
|| The only name most people would ever call this tool is a "hammer".
The last two options reference options in many quiz questions along the lines of "I'm familiar with this but have no specific word for it" and "I am not familiar with this" (such as on the pill-bug/roly-poly question on the real quiz). These may appear as options to questions that ask about something that might not exist everywhere, or something which many may not have a word for (for example, some areas of the United States have a name for "sunshowers," while most don't). However, it's a bit absurd for these options to be present for this question (and this question alone), as virtually all users in an English dialect test would be expected to know what a hammer is. This also serves as a bit of reverse perspective on the saying, "When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."
|12||What do you call a long sandwich with meats and lettuce and stuff?||
|| Reference to a common dialect quiz question: "What do you call a long sandwich?" with options typically including "sub", "hoagie", "hero", etc.
The first answer directly repeats the phrasing of the prompt, painting the person who would answer that way as either very literal-minded or bearing a snarky side. The hot dog answer could refer to the common online discussion: "Is a hot dog a sandwich?, and bears resemblance to jokes playing on synonyms to discredit their need for unique names, i.e. "Beef jerky is just a meat raisin." In this case, the argument would be "A sub sandwich is just a salad hot dog."
|13||What do you call the scaly many-legged animal often found in attics?||
|| Another reference to the frequent appearance of quiz questions asking what users call various creepy crawlies.
Millipedes best fit the description. They have many legs, though rarely if ever a thousand of them, as their name (from the Latin word for "thousand feet") suggests. The hard rings that separate an individual's body into segments give the animal a scaly appearance. And of the thousands of species, only a few have common names, hence "no special name for them". The reference to "lightbulb eater" is obscure, but may refer to the tendency of millipedes to congregate in large numbers in dark crevices, or perhaps Randall is simply conjuring more frightening creatures. Perhaps Randall found some in empty (no bulb) light fixtures in his attic, though it is possible this refers to another unknown frightening creature that nobody has a word for.
Normally, questions about uncommon things would include an "I've never seen one" option, like option E in the hammer question. Instead, this question has "I've never looked in my attic" as an option, implying that these creatures are present in all attics, and anyone who doesn't know them would have to have never checked their attic at all, or that they are too afraid of this creature possibly dwelling in their own attic to go look.
|14||What do you say when someone around you sneezes?||
|| Reference to a question on some quizzes about which of several words/phrases you say in response to a sneeze, with usual answers including "bless you", "God bless you", and "Gesundheit" (from the German word for 'health').
This question may also be referencing the COVID-19 pandemic in answer C (and possibly answer B). Sneezing isn't a primary symptom of COVID-19, but most people are hyper-aware of possibly contracting the disease from the people around them so sneezes are treated with suspicion and it's seen as rude to sneeze openly.
It is also possible that a person who has been able to catch a sneeze-producing condition has also caught COVID-19 and, while the sneeze itself isn't caused by it, the air and various airway fluids so forcefully projected are a possible infective vector with that little extra frisson of concern, given the current situation.
|Title Text||Do you make a distinction between shallots, scallops, and scallions? If you use all three words, do they all have different meanings, all the same, or are two the same and one different?|| Phrased similarly to questions like one on the Times quiz, "How do you pronounce the words Mary, merry, and marry?" Options included "all three are pronounced the same", "all three are pronounced differently," or all three combinations of two being the same and one different. Also refers to the naming confusion around scallions and shallots - also known as 'eschalots' - but with the unrelated but similar-sounding scallops substituted in the middle.
'Shallots', 'scallions' and 'eschalots' are names used in different dialects, for various species and cultivars of onion used in cooking, either as a small bulb (especially Allium cepa var. Aggregatum) or as a long green leaf (especially Allium fistulosum). In many dialects, the green leaf type is called a 'scallion' and the bulb a 'shallot'. In at least one dialect (NSW Australia) the green leaf type is called a 'shallot' and the bulb an 'eschalot'. This causes confusion in recipes posted online. The word 'shallot' is also pronounced with emphasis on either the first or second syllable, as referred to in question 5. Despite the answer options offered, there is no evidence of dialects which use all three terms, or where 'shallot' and 'scallion' are interchangeable. Many people in the US call scallions "green onions", as was joked about in Stan Frieberg's Christmas Dragnet parody.
Scallops are invertebrate marine animals similar to oysters and clams, frequently harvested for food. In some regions of the UK and Australia potato fritters are also called 'scallops'. The word 'scallop' itself can be pronounced either as /ˈskɒləp/ or /ˈskæləp/, and its spelling has varied over time in a similar way to that of 'shallot'. However, these are difficult to confuse with shallots or scallions.
[Box with title at the top]
- Dialect Quiz
[Smaller subtitle underneath]
- Compare answers with your friends!
[Quiz is divided into two columns. Answers to questions are indicated by a letter followed by a closed parentheses, such as A). These letters are greyed out]
How do you address a group of two or more people?
- A) You
- B) Y'all
- C) I have not been around two or more people for so long that I can't remember
How do you pronounce "Penelope"?
- A) Rhymes with "Antelope"
- B) Rhymes with "Develop"
What do you call the scientific field that studies the stars?
- A) Astrology
- B) Agronomy
- C) Cosmetology
How do you pronounce "genre"?
- A) Gone-ra
- B) Juh-neer
- C) Jen-er-uh
You pronounce "Google" with a high-pitched yelp on the...
- A) First syllable
- B) Second syllable
What do you call the thing on the wall at school that you drink water from?
- A) Gutter pipe
- B) Drainpipe
How do you pronounce the name for a short silent video file?
- A) Animated give
- B) Animated gift
What do you call the baseball-sized garden bugs that, when poked, glow brightly and emit a warbling scream?
- A) What?
- B) Lawn buddies
What do you call the misleading lines painted by disgruntled highway workers to trick cars into driving off the road?
- A) Prank lines
- B) Devil's Marks
- C) Fool-me lines
- D) Fauxguides
- E) Delaware lines
What do you call the blue-green planet in the outer Solar System?
- A) Uranus
- B) Neptune
What do you call this tool?
[Image of a claw hammer]
- A) Banger
- B) Nail axe
- C) Wood mage wand
- D) I'm familiar with this tool but have no specific word for it
- E) I have never seen it before
What do you call a long sandwich with meats and lettuce and stuff?
- A) A long sandwich with meats and lettuce and stuff
- B) A longwich
- C) A salad hot dog
What do you call the scaly many-legged animal often found in attics?
- A) Lightbulb eater
- B) I have no special name for them
- C) I've never looked in my attic
What do you say when someone around you sneezes?
- A) "What was that?"
- B) "Oh, wow."
- C) [Quietly] "Yikes."
- The xkcd Twitter account posted a series of Twitter polls asking the questions in this comic.
- How do you address a group of two or more people?
- You (31.2%)
- Y'all (33.5%)
- Can’t remember anymore (35.3%)
- How do you pronounce “Penelope”?
- Rhymes with “antelope” (58.6%)
- Rhymes with “develop” (41.4%)
- What do you call the scientific field that studies the stars?
- Astrology (34.5%)
- Agronomy (18.5%)
- Cosmetology (47%)
- How do you pronounce "genre"?
- Gone-ra (24.7%)
- Juh-neer (18.8%)
- Jen-er-uh (56.5%)
- Do you pronounce "Google" with a high-pitched yelp on the...
- First syllable (63.6%)
- Second syllable (36.4%)
- What do you call the thing on the wall at school that you drink water from?
- Gutter pipe (32.9%)
- Drainpipe (67.1%)
- How do you pronounce the name for a short silent video file?
- Animated give (29.6%)
- Animated gift (70.4%)
- What do you call the baseball-sized garden bugs that, when poked, glow brightly and emit a warbling scream?
- What? (48.6%)
- Lawn buddies (51.4%)
- What do you call the misleading lines painted by disgruntled highway workers to trick cars into driving off the road?
- Prank/fool-me lines (14.8%)
- Devil's marks (22%)
- Fauxguides (22.5%)
- Delaware lines (40.6%)
- What do you call the blue-green planet in the outer solar system?
- Uranus (51.7%)
- Neptune (48.3%)
- What do you call this tool? 🔨
- Banger (29.7%)
- Nail axe (22%)
- Wood mage wand (29.1%)
- Don't know/not familiar (19.2%)
- What do you call a long sandwich with meats and lettuce and stuff?
- That description verbatim (43.1%)
- A longwich (33.2%)
- A salad hot dog (23.7%)
- What do you call the scaly many-legged animal often found in attics?
- Lightbulb eater (29.5%)
- Don't have a name for it (19%)
- Never looked in my attic (51.5%)
- What do you say when someone around you sneezes?
- "What was that?" (8.6%)
- "Oh, wow." (17.1%)
- [quietly] "Yikes." (74.3%)
- How do you address a group of two or more people?
- Shallots, scallops, and scallions ran against each other in 1529: Bracket
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