1424: En Garde

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En Garde
'Touch!' 'Nope, I sighed and stared at you with resignation, so I regained emotional right-of-way.'
Title text: 'Touch!' 'Nope, I sighed and stared at you with resignation, so I regained emotional right-of-way.'


Two Cueball-like guys are preparing to fence. But only the left seems ready. He says "en garde!", hence the title, a fencing call literally meaning "be on your guard" (from French). The call is used to order the participants to take their position, in a similar way to the “on your mark” command in racing. The other two commands are “[tireurs, êtes-vous] prêts?” (“[combatants, are you] ready?”) and “allez” (“go”). The right participant takes this to mean being "guarded" emotionally.

"What are you thinking?" is a common question used to deepen a conversation, typically between close friends or lovers. The person being asked may take a moment to consider what they are thinking and whether or not it would be appropriate to share with the asker. If the person being asked is emotionally comfortable with the asker, they may answer immediately without fear of judgment or ridicule. Such a level of comfort between two people generally takes a long time to develop.

After the right fencer has explained why he is always "en garde", the left fencer asks if could be a little less so. But the answer is no since the right fencer acknowledges that he has been hurt before, and thus makes it even more difficult for him to let down his guards. Obviously the right fencer has had bad experience from previous relationships, maybe one where he was ridiculed after sharing his immediate thoughts.

The title text takes this further with the "touch" call, used to indicate to a participant that they have been "touched" by their opponent's blade, and therefore the attacker receives a point. The right participant counters this claim by saying his emotions have "priority" (or right-of-way), implying he was blocking out ("parrying") the touching feelings. Fencing right-of-way rules can make a move invalid when another move has priority, but generally refer to physical actions on the participant's part.

All in all it seems like the right fencer may be Black Hat.


[Two Cueball-like guys wearing fencing mask (with gray front over their faces and a strip around their neck) are standing facing each other. The left fencer holds one arm up behind him and the other with the rapier like sword pointing toward the right fencers mask, ready for fencing. The right fencer holds both arms, and thus also the sword, down.]
Left fencer: En Garde!
Right fencer: OK.
[In a large frame-less panel where they keep standing in the same position the right fencer talks at length.]
Right fencer: No matter how long we know each other, when you ask "What are you thinking,"
Right fencer: I will always pause before answering.
[Same as the first panel, although the left fencer has lowered the point of his sword so it points straight to the right.]
Left fencer: Maybe a little less guarded?
Right fencer: No way. I've been hurt before.

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So, what's up. I expected an explanation for this. WHERE IS IT? ‎ (talk) 04:50, 22 September 2014 (UTC) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Remember to sign your posts with four tildes (~).
The explanation will be up when it's up. 04:52, 22 September 2014 (UTC)
Someone, somewhere on Earth, has to be awake, see the comic, come to this page, and write something. Automatic explanations are a long way out of our technological reach. 05:21, 22 September 2014 (UTC)
For the record, the explainxkcd page for this comic was "Created by dgbrtBOT" with just boilerplate ([1]) at 04:02 22 September 2014 (UTC), and the first explanatory text was posted 1:15 later at 05:17. Nealmcb (talk) 13:16, 23 September 2014 (UTC)

This reminds me of Honest. Cheeselover724 (talk) 05:37, 22 September 2014 (UTC)

I've seen it. :)

For me it describes how in a relationship one person (Fencer 1) wants to engage ("What are you thinking?") but the other person (Fencer 2) sees it as an attack and is guarded and unwilling to engage (hence they never raise their foil). As Fencer 2 says 'No matter how long we know each other', I'd guess that this pattern of behaviour is often repeated and that they are destined to continue, because neither are willing to change their 'engagement' strategy; i.e. Fencer 2's defensiveness and Fencer 1's direct approach. Perhaps they should play chess? :)

The 'Touch!' is Fencer 1 saying "well, if you don't play, I've won!", but it is hollow and 'Nope, I sighed and stared...' reminds me of how some people use silence / brevity of response to avoid talking: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alogia (specifically "People can revert to alogia as a way of reverse psychology, or avoiding questions.").

It's a beautiful cartoon, so melancholic and kinda sad.

The4thv (talk) 06:36, 22 September 2014 (UTC)

Isn't it 'touché' rather than 'touch' in the title-text? 14:11, 22 September 2014 (UTC)

"Touché" is an acknowledgement by the person who has received a hit, not an assertion by his/her opponent. A literal translation of "touché" is "touched" rather than "touch" so perhaps the use of English "touch!" is purposeful, a suggestion that the pair stop fencing and use physical touch to re-establish an open relationship. In that sense, the second person declines to drop his/her defenses and "trumps" the call for intimacy with a passive-aggressive emotional gesture, and a meta-comment pointing out to the first person (and incidentally to us readers) that the gesture occurred and that it has "priority." Taibhse (talk) 16:04, 22 September 2014 (UTC)

To clarify, 'Touch' is the term used to indicate that a fencer has scored a valid hit on their opponent. 'Right-of-way' indicates who is awarded the point when both fencers score valid contact during the same unit of 'fencing time' (the length of time between a typical action or reaction in a match, determined by the individual tempo of a bout). I think that covers all of the jargon in this one. 18:32, 22 September 2014 (UTC)

Hmm, I don't see anything about the spoken term "touch!" here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glossary_of_fencing or here: http://www.wikihow.com/Understand-Basic-Fencing-Terminology or here: http://www.memphisfencers.org/about/docs/termsheet.pdf "Touché" is still an acknowledgement by the person who receives a touch, not a claim by his/her opponent. "Pas de touche" ("no touch") is a correction by the opponent that a "touché" spoken by the recipient was in error. Where can one find "touch!" as a spoken term in fencing? Taibhse (talk) 11:37, 23 September 2014 (UTC)

Looks like most of the fenching is explained, but the explanation is lacking a description of the dual conversation and most importantly; why is it funny? 06:16, 23 September 2014 (UTC)

Yes - this one deserves more attention. Of course XKCD doesn't always aim to be funny. This seems to be more on the insightful side, with a creative mashup of relational conversation and fencing engagement patterns, but I'm still looking for a fuller explanation of the situation. Nealmcb (talk) 13:16, 23 September 2014 (UTC)

This is such a good little observation. XKCD is like MASH (the TV show) used to be - sometimes funny, sometimes poignant. This one is the latter. I had a girlfriend like that - I'd always answer straight away but she'd always pause. She marvelled at how I'd immediately try to describe what was in my mind but she couldn't speak freely. In hindsight, she'd been hurt more than she could admit and I could sense. And like the cartoon, her sword generally wasn't raised but she was always en guard. 10:54, 25 September 2014 (UTC)

i doubt that the person on the right is Black Hat, they dont have the hat, and they just sound angsty rather than like they're trying to piss of the fencing partner. if it is Black Hat then the other person is likely danish, and this is an ploy to confuse other fencers, or make them reflect and feel awkward like the pair in this strip seem to be. 00:34, 20 December 2023 (UTC)