1238: Enlightenment

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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But the rules of writing are like magic spells. If you never acquire them, then not using them says nothing.
Title text: But the rules of writing are like magic spells. If you never acquire them, then not using them says nothing.


This comic is a reference to a scene one might imagine in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace in which Yoda expresses doubt in a young Anakin's potential to join the Jedi order. Yoda delivers a speech similar to the one that Ponytail gives here, except that the end of the sequence he presents is "the dark side" instead of "being an asshole". Yoda is ultimately correct; Anakin's fears lead him to join the dark side so that he may keep his loved ones from dying; this is at the expense of the stability of the galaxy, however, and his actions are in vain, as his wife dies nonetheless. The circle on the ground is also taken from the Star Wars scene, and Cueball is presumably in the Mace Windu role.

Here, Randall compares Anakin's decision to join the dark side to the propensity of many Internet commenters to correct others on their spelling and grammar, and to the extreme prevalence of criticism over commendation or confirmation. Randall's point is that correcting people, like joining the dark side, ultimately stems from insecurity.

Ponytail and Cueball challenge Megan to type the sentence "I heard you're idea's and their definately good", which contains four common misspellings (you're instead of your, idea's instead of ideas [see greengrocers' apostrophe], their instead of they're, and definately instead of definitely) and a misapplied verb ("heard" instead of "read"). Regarding the content, this sentence is one that is highly unlikely to be ever read in an internet argument, as almost every time people still have things they claim to know better about. Megan thus can't bring herself to type this sentence, having spent so much time judging others for their trivial errors, even when they're saying helpful things like the sentence in question. Instead, it is strongly implied that she smashes the computer and runs away — demonstrating the sort of anger that "Grammar Nazis" and internet wiseacres like her can feel about punctuation and spelling errors, and about content-related errors respectively. Cueball and Ponytail remark on this, both failing to use apostrophes.

The title text refers to Terry Pratchett's novel Equal Rites, in which the characters discover that the most powerful magic is not using magic — with the distinction that not using magic because you don't know how is not the same as choosing to refrain from using magic when you do know how. Randall is comparing this with use or misuse of the rules of Standard English: not even knowing the rules is not admirable, whereas knowing the rules but choosing to disregard them is. There is also a double meaning - not writing anything at all is in fact "saying nothing".


[The two Internet Bodhisattvas Ponytail and Cueball lecture Megan encircled by a wheel placed upon the ground.]
Ponytail: To achieve internet enlightenment, you must free yourself from insecurity.
Megan: But insecurity keeps me humble!
[Ponytail continues talking.]
Ponytail: No. Insecurity leads to conceit. Conceit leads to judgment.
Ponytail: Judgment leads to being an asshole.
[A laptop is placed on a stand in front of Megan.]
Megan: I'm ready. How do I begin?
Ponytail: Type this sentence.
[White text on black background.]
I heard you're idea's and their definately good.
[The laptop has been smashed to the floor. Megan is no longer in the circle.]
Ponytail: She wasnt ready.
Cueball: Its a difficult road.

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I can't help but feel he toadaly missed out on "herd"! Should this make me feel icky? Please help! Monteletourneau Monteletourneau (talk) 05:13, 1 August 2013 (UTC)

Did anyone else notice the (most likely intentional) typos in that sentence they told her to type? "... and THEIR DEFINATELY good" (they're definitely) ‎ (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

http://imgur.com/3Gpey 13:21, 6 April 2016 (UTC)~
Title text: But the rules of writing are like magic spells. If you never acquire them, then not using them says nothing Donthaveusername (talk) 19:30, 9 October 2020 (UTC)

Didn't you notice "you're" and "idea's" as well. I would assume it is highly improbable that these were not intentional. 04:51, 15 July 2013 (UTC)GusGold

Of course those were intentional. That was the joke. The exercise for INTERNET enlightenment and getting rid of insecurities is to make typos and grammatical errors freely. You may also notice them saying on the last panel "wasnt" and "its", instead of "wasn't" and "it's". Megan just wasn't able to do this task of making intentional mistakes, which would result in people online thinking she's dumb (insecurities), so she broke the laptop and left. 05:20, 15 July 2013 (UTC)

Why do we think she broke the laptop and left? What's the circle on the ground for? (Looks like a StarTrek Transporter pad. And the pedestal just appeared as needed, must be virtual. Rather, I think she got UN-enlightened and zapped away into nothing-ness. 16:41, 16 July 2013 (UTC) Zake

There's a huge difference between accepting others' misspellings and repeating them yourself...not commenting on someone typing "definately" is completely different than being told to spell it that way yourself. Wotpsycho (talk)

I read you're explanation's and their definately helpful! -- 09:07, 15 July 2013 (UTC)

Having your ideas "approved" by someone who can't even spell might feel much worse than having them simply shot down. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Does anyone else think Ponytail appears to be levitating? --DanB (talk) 16:07, 15 July 2013 (UTC)

Someone deleted my edit, so I'm bringing it up here on the discussion page. The sentence contains more than just common misspellings; it also contains a common grammatical error. "I read your ideas and they're definitely good" is a run-on sentence. Joining two independent clauses requires BOTH a comma and a coordinating conjunction ("I read your ideas, and they're definitely good"). The sentence omits the comma. While certain style guides allow the comma to be left out when the two clauses are short enough, Megan's obstinate grammar-nazism is the entire point of the comic. It is unlikely she would let it slide. 16:49, 15 July 2013 (UTC)

"they're" refers to "ideas", the sentences are not independent.--Dgbrt (talk) 17:59, 15 July 2013 (UTC)
That's not what an independent clause means. Can they be separated into two sentences? "I read your ideas. They're definitely good." Yes - it still makes sense as two sentences, thus the two clauses are independent. (An example of a dependent clause would be "I read your ideas while I was driving home." "While I was driving home" cannot stand on its own as a sentence, so it is not an independent clause.) 18:17, 15 July 2013 (UTC)
I'm not a native English speaker, and I have learned only British English at school. But your statement makes sense. My first sentence is correct?--Dgbrt (talk) 18:59, 15 July 2013 (UTC)
Yep, your first sentence is fine. I'm going to add the note about run-on sentences back into the Explanation; I hope nobody has any more objections. 19:35, 15 July 2013 (UTC)
"...whilst I was driving home"? ;) (And bear in mind as well that "while" can more commonly mean "until", instead of "during", in certain English-speaking dialects. Ok, I'm being picky, now.) 05:40, 16 July 2013 (UTC)
Gr8 example of Internet forum tangental one-upmanship! 16:41, 16 July 2013 (UTC) Zake
This explanation makes a lot of sense. It helped me to stop being angry at the sentence they wanted her to type, and to pay attention to the bigger picture, especially when combined with the alt-text. Randall, I heard you're idea's and their definately good. (Also, I'm assuming that Internet Enlightenment allows me to be disgusted with myself for writing that, as long as I was willing to do so.) 04:49, 16 July 2013 (UTC)
It is perfectly correct to join two independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction and no comma. In fact it is often considered bad style (if not actually incorrect) to include both a comma and a conjunction when joining only two clauses. 17:50, 16 July 2013 (UTC)
I'm not native English, as I explained before, but please give some more background information and not only a statement of your mind. And consider: This is American English, there are some odd commas. I'm still not sure what's correct.--Dgbrt (talk) 19:24, 16 July 2013 (UTC)
I'm not native either. What I've found on several sites [1], [2] is two independent clauses connected by "and" or "but" are separated by a comma—basically, because you would make a little pause at that point when used in speech. Contradicting this on simple:Run-on sentence I currently see "I looked over the hill and I saw the bear." is a complete sentence. (not two independent clauses—although grammatically possible), so simple-wikipedia could be wrong, or there is some tolerance, when two clauses are actually connected. In the end, I'd say this comma is not really worth that discussion, and I would suggest making some kind of neutral statement, e.g. and there might be a comma missing. --Chtz (talk) 22:52, 16 July 2013 (UTC)
It is not perfectly correct to omit the comma. Chtz cited two sources above, here are a few more: [3], [4], [5]. There is a little leeway for stylistic reasons, but as I mentioned above, the entire point of the comic is that Megan does not give leeway when it comes to grammar nazism. The corrected sentence in the explanation should be actually correct, not mostly-correct-but-given-a-little-stylistic-leeway. 18:37, 17 July 2013 (UTC)
I (poster from above) have looked into things more and stand corrected. I heard all you're ideas, and their definately good. 13:04, 19 July 2013 (UTC)

I wonder if there's an additional level of meaning here. To me, the most striking thing about the sentence Megan won't type is not the bad spelling, but the fact that it involves agreeing with someone. On the Internet, people are always arguing with other (as in, for example, http://xkcd.com/386/). Maybe what Megan had to do to become "enlightened" was not just to ignore the rules of spelling, but actually to agree with someone for a change? (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Well, that's why I wrote the third paragraph, about how important agreement can be. Do you have any suggestions as to how we could emphasize this point more? PinkAmpersand (talk) 22:03, 16 July 2013 (UTC)

Be associated with bad grammar, Yoda would not. Alcatraz ii (talk) 08:22, 17 July 2013 (UTC)

Incomplete or not?

I did add the tag again because there are too many edits at this page and also the discussion is still not clear. I would like to see the grammar issue solved by more explain, even when it's not easy.--Dgbrt (talk) 22:16, 16 July 2013 (UTC)

I'm not sure if it's worth mentioning any more comparisons, but I'd put it don't here at least: It reminds me of Schindler's List when Schindler tries to convince Amon Goeth, a commander of a Nazi concentration camp, that true power is when you have the power (and justification) to kill someone, but you spare them. This is an attempt to change the behaviour of Amon, who has a habit of killing random camp internees (and _believes_ he has the right to do so). Svend (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Hey, you compared something to the Nazis! I invoke Godwin's Law! http://xkcd.com/261/ (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Note I have removed a misguided rant from Dgbrt regarding Svend's thoughtful post. 09:06, 27 December 2013 (UTC)

This xkcd is all about how hard it is not to be a grammar nazi. -- 02:12, 24 July 2013 (UTC)

Ah! So sweet and succinct! That line should be in the explanation. Perhaps with the words "for some people" added, but yeah. 05:29, 25 April 2015 (UTC)

I strongly disagree with Randall and this comic, that making grammar errors and appearing uneducated is OK, and anyone who doesn't want to make themselves sound stupid is insecure (no, I want to communicate clearly and present ideas using proper and consistent language conventions). Jimbo1qaz (talk) 08:50, 28 February 2018 (UTC)

I had a completely different reaction to this comic. I interpreted the circle as a trap door. I interpreted it as Megan failed to notice the typos in the sentence, and typed it out exactly as shown. The test was to see if she would type it correctly. She failed the test and fell through the trap door, knocking over the laptop on the way down. (talk) 16:06, 9 September 2020 (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

If they spoke in person (or via anything involving voice) about these ideas, they could have heard the other person's ideas. 05:27, 9 June 2024 (UTC)


Not 2 happy with There is also a double meaning - not writing anything at all is in fact "saying nothing".
While "good enough" Zen, this reading is a bit beyond the obvious' of the rest.
BTW, I would hold that, to subvert the comic, we need to keep the discussion going and correct each other in a most pedantic but loving way. Moreso, I intend to use this comic widely as I go around correcting the internet. Yamaplos (talk) 14:19, 1 July 2020 (UTC)

In order to pass the Turing test[citation needed], even some robots began to intentionally misspell words. ConscriptGlossary (talk) 12:11, 26 June 2024 (UTC)

Hey, what are you doing? Splitting infinitives? Don't do that again. The "to" is like the head. The infinitives will get angry and split you in the neck. 12:20, 26 June 2024 (UTC)
Split infinitives do not violate grammar rules, yet it had left bad impression. ChristmasGospel (talk) 20:07, 3 July 2024 (UTC)