1216: Sticks and Stones

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Sticks and Stones
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can make me think I deserved it.
Title text: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can make me think I deserved it.


Sticks and Stones is a nursery rhyme, which goes as follows:

Sticks and stones may break my bones
But words will never hurt me.

The nursery rhyme often by parents and with some variation, to persuade an individual, usually a child, to ignore any name calling or mean taunts that were said by others in an attempt to hurt the individual's feelings.

The comic challenges this sentiment when the child responds that, although words can't harm you physically, they can change how you feel, and isn't that the most important thing of all? Cueball obviously sees the simple truth in this, but tries to deflect by claiming that the world really isn't that bad. The child refers again to the rhyme, observing that the physical world can be harsh enough, because there are things like sticks and stones that break your bones and presumably people who use them as weapons to do so. Or yet worse, that someone would think up such a gruesome saying in the first place. Upon reflection, Cueball agrees that this image is actually horrific.

The title text is rather dark, and is probably a reference to the currently active bullying and shaming culture. None of us deserves to be beaten or stoned, but words are powerful enough to make us think that we do.

In the long tradition of the science of the obvious, recent studies (for example: Social rejection shares somatosensory representations with physical pain) have shown that, in fact, the brain's reactions to physical pain and emotional rejection are somewhat similar and even feed into each other.


[A child, who looks like a miniature Cueball, is running with arms outstretched toward Cueball.]
Child: Did you hear what he said about me!?
Cueball: Well, remember: sticks and stones may break my bones, but words—
Child: —can make someone else feel happy or sad, which is literally the only thing that matters in this stupid world?
[Brief pause.]
Child: Right?
Cueball: The world isn't that bad.
Child: Explain the line about sticks and stones?
Cueball: ...OK, maybe it's kind of horrific.

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Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will hurt forever. --Buggz (talk) 06:04, 24 May 2013 (UTC)

Noone can appreciate the difference between broken bones and someone namecalling him without experience with the first. The things childs do to each other is basically the worst they ever experienced - because if those wouldn't, they would do worse. -- Hkmaly (talk) 09:31, 24 May 2013 (UTC)

No one write 'no one' as 'noone'. Beanie (talk) 13:32, 25 May 2021 (UTC)

Is it really a rhyme if it doesn't rhyme? --Dangerkeith3000 (talk) 15:02, 24 May 2013 (UTC)

The rhyming of "stones" and "bones" probably counts as the big feature, and then the 'uhr' sound of "words" and "hurt" echo this resonance, and I've never heard the "harm" version that wouldn't have this. Although it's certainly a non-standard rhyming scheme (if it's AABC) and scan (7+7 syllables, or (3+4)+(2+5) or however you want to split it). It's pithy, which probably trumps strict adherence to anything like iambic pentameter. Maybe there's an argument that it's more musical, with a rythm of 4 groups of 4 beats ("sticks" and "words" extending over two of them, each, the way I'd say it). But musical lyrics and spoken verse are easily interchangable, and as long as it isn't totally 'blank' verse I'd accept it as a rhyme. (Not an authority, though ->) 19:56, 24 May 2013 (UTC)
Assonance dominates, definitely, and an irregular pace to fit the beat. e.g. "stI¹cks... andstO²nes / wI¹llbreak mybO²nes // ...-bU³t wO⁴rdswI⁵ll / ne-vE³r hU⁴rtmE⁵". May depend upon diction/dialect as to how well this matches your rendition... 14:39, 4 April 2023 (UTC)

Citation: http://healthland.time.com/2012/02/27/in-the-brain-broken-hearts-hurt-like-broken-bones/ and http://www.pnas.org/content/108/15/6270.full?sid=758b38cc-b399-4d22-9c37-3c074cf321be Woliveirajr (talk) 16:58, 24 May 2013 (UTC)

My dear departed mother-in-law put it much more memorably - Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will break my heart. 17:46, 24 May 2013 (UTC)

I can easily disregard words. It's not as easy to disregard a broken bone. After my fourth day at my new job, my knees are killing me, and that's not even close. 01:16, 26 May 2013 (UTC)

So was this comic copied from here? http://thegentlemansarmchair.com/post/50907218931/sticks-and-stones-http-i-imgur-com-sowwlir-jpg Bryced (talk) 07:43, 27 May 2013 (UTC)

Nice find, looks similar but the child doesn't talk. That's the point here. --Dgbrt (talk) 20:18, 27 May 2013 (UTC)

I think the last panel isn't so much implying that Cueball thinks THE WORLD is horrific, but that the RHYME (and the fact that it's something regularly promoted to children) is horrific.-- 07:13, 10 August 2013 (UTC)

Definitely. The horrific part is that we have a children's rhyme about a bone-breaking beating with clubs or rocks. That kind of thing curdles my stomach a little when I even read it in the paper (sorry, internet), so yes it does seem out of place here! 19:21, 22 January 2014 (UTC)
I disagree. Cueball's first line in that panel is saying that the world is not bad. When asked to explain why the rhyme involves sticks and stones breaking bones, he concedes that (it) is horrific. If the it refers to the rhyme, then the child was naïvely asking for an explanation. If the it refers to the world, then the child was trying to press a point, as he did in the second panel. 03:58, 10 July 2014 (UTC)

Or lack of words. It can be disappointing when someone is upset with you and won't talk to you and you just want them to open up so you can facilitate communication again. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)