1775: Things You Learn

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Revision as of 03:57, 5 November 2023 by (talk) (Explanation)
Jump to: navigation, search
Things You Learn
Guess who has two thumbs and spent the night in an ER after trying to rescue a kitten that ran under his car at a stoplight and climbed up into the engine compartment? And, thanks to antibiotics, will continue having two thumbs? THIS GUY. (P.S. kitten is safe!)
Title text: Guess who has two thumbs and spent the night in an ER after trying to rescue a kitten that ran under his car at a stoplight and climbed up into the engine compartment? And, thanks to antibiotics, will continue having two thumbs? THIS GUY. (P.S. kitten is safe!)


This graph shows various items of information plotted by two criteria: a horizontal "How Bad Is It If You Don't Know [THING]" axis and a vertical "How Easy It Is To Grow Up Without Learning [THING]" axis. Specifically, the vertical axis measures roughly how likely the average person is to remain ignorant of a particular item. The horizontal axis measures the likelihood and severity of bad consequences arising from such ignorance.

The title text describes an encounter Randall had where a cat climbed into the engine compartment of his car. It probably serves as an explanation for the seemingly out of place point on the graph about how serious cat bites are. The "two thumbs" is a reference to a well known type of jokes among English speakers. One of the most frequent forms is one person interrupting another mid-speech and asking "what has two thumbs and doesn't give a f*ck? THIS GUY!", before pointing to themselves with their thumbs. The idea is that you only direct the attention to your thumbs so that they can point back to you, though mentioning the thumbs was not actually required except as a topic change. Randall plays on an inversion of this joke as he (presumably) was bitten on the thumb might have lost a thumb or perhaps not have been able to make it at all without the intervention of the ER people. So here the "who has two thumbs", is not a deceiving distraction out of a boring conversation, and the thumbs are actually the focus of the phrase.

Badness of ignorance difficulty of ignorance Information Comments
not bad (very, very) easy 100 digits of pi Most people know pi to only a few digits (3.14 or 3.1415), if they know it at all. However, most people may never need to directly calculate anything involving pi. Those who do generally have access to tools (such as calculators and computers) that regurgitate/use more places of pi automatically. And, even in rare cases where someone needs to know it, memorizing a few digits is sufficient for most practical purposes. However, there are some nerds that do bother memorizing this.
not bad (very) easy Lyrics to "We Didn't Start the Fire" "We Didn't Start the Fire" is a 1989 hit song by Billy Joel. Its lyrics include brief, rapid-fire allusions to more than 100 headline events between 1949, the year of Joel's birth, and 1989. While the chorus is memorable, the verses of the song are just a list of people, events and random things from popular culture. The average person is somewhat more likely to know the lyrics to Billy Joel's 1989 hit song than 100 digits of pi, but not knowing them doesn't really have any serious consequences. This song was again the pun in the title text of 1794: Fire, which was a follow up to comic #4 in 821: Five-Minute Comics: Part 3.
(very) bad (very) easy That cat bites are really serious and if bitten you need to wash the bite and call a doctor immediately Most people assume that a cat bite is just a minor injury. In fact, it carries a fairly high risk of infection, which can be dangerous if not treated (by cleaning the bite to reduce the risk, and having a doctor examine the bite victim and apply additional treatments such as antibiotics if needed). At the same time, cat bites are quite rare, as cats default to their claws rather than their teeth when they need to attack something (not that cat claws are bacteria-free zones either, quite the opposite), so most people simply don't have to deal with many cat bites.
(very, very) bad (very) easy The red flags for an abusive relationship It is fairly easy for someone to fall into a pattern of accepting abuse without realizing it (particularly if the abuser is skilled at emotional manipulation). Failing to recognize signs of abuse, particularly in the early stages of a relationship, tend to make people more vulnerable to long-term abuse, with devastating consequences. In many cultures, patterns of abuse are not openly discussed or taught about, making it quite common for people to grow up without the ability to quickly identify abusive behavior.
(very, very) bad easy The signs of a stroke The symptoms of a stroke are somewhat variable, including facial drooping, arm weakness and slurred speech, depending on what areas of the brain are affected, and can be mistaken for other conditions, or brushed off as being minor and unimportant. Like most medical diagnoses, people who are not medical professionals aren't generally taught how to identify the symptoms. This can be a problem, because identifying a stroke quickly and seeking treatment can make the difference between life and death, or between full recovery and permanent impairment.
bad easy Cough into your elbow, not your hand Covering a cough with the inside of your elbow helps prevent spreading airborne germs and is generally recommended by medical organizations. Coughing into your hand deposits them onto your hand, where they are much more likely to be spread to another person (via handshake, food preparation, shared objects, etc). The consensus around coughing into your elbow is relatively recent, so it's easy to have grown up without hearing of it. However, people living post-COVID know this fact extremely well.
not (too) bad hard How to ride a bike Most children, especially in the United States[1], learn to ride a bike at a fairly young age. While this is a useful skill to know for both entertainment and transportation, most people live in places where other forms of transportation are available, and can functional well enough without ever riding a bike. In much of the US, using bicycles as a principle form of transport can be difficult, so their use is primarily for recreation.
not bad (at all) hard How to escape movie quicksand Quicksand in movies is a common trope, and while its physics often differ from real quicksand, escaping from it is commonly done using similar methods (e.g., not struggling, which increases the quicksand's viscosity). Knowing how to escape from quicksand is important if you sink into it, which is a situation most people are very unlikely to encounter in real life. It is much more likely for characters in movies and TV shows, especially in the 1960s, to encounter and become mired in quicksand than for a real individual to do so as real quicksand is a rare occurrence in most climates on Earth.
not bad (at all) (very) hard Lyrics to "12 Days of Christmas" The aforementioned song is a traditional holiday standard in the United States, meaning that most Americans grew up hearing it repeatedly played or sung every December, causing the lyrics to be picked up without conscious effort. However, the consequences of not learning them are minimal: at most, your friends might be a bit surprised and dismayed. It should be noted that, while the early lyrics to the song (up through the fifth to seventh days) are very well known, the later ones aren't remembered as much (even varying between versions), so failing to know all the lyrics isn't uncommon.
not bad (at all) (very, very) hard TV theme songs Most children in developed countries grow up watching at least some television. Traditionally, most TV shows (particularly those designed for children) opened with a catchy theme song, often with lyrics. If you regularly watched a given show, you'd hear the theme song repeatedly, and would likely remember it without conscious effort.
bad hard That you have to empty the dryer lint trap A clothes dryer uses a stream of heated air to rapidly dry laundry after it's been washed. Dryers are typically equipped with a "lint trap", which is a removable screen designed to prevent loose fibers from entering (and clogging) the exhaust line. Removing the fibers from this screen is a basic part of operating a dryer, most people learn from example, or from reading the dryer manual, making it mildly hard not to know about. Failing to do so will progressively restrict airflow through the dryer, making the drying process less effective and efficient. In theory, this could eventually start a fire, but such is rare enough that it's considered only mildly 'bad'.
(very) bad (very) hard Stop, drop and roll This is a technique to extinguish a fire on one's own clothing, and is frequently taught to children at an early age, and reinforced enough that most people know it. Not knowing it (or forgetting it in a panic when the situation arises) can result in severe burns that could have been avoided by following the recommendation.
(very) bad (very, very) hard That you have to pay taxes Most residents of most countries are legally obligated to pay taxes to their government. Penalties for not doing so often include large fines, and possibly prison sentences. While the process for filing taxes can be quite complex, the basic knowledge that taxes are required is commonplace and frequently referenced, making it difficult not to know about. In the US, employers are generally required to deduct taxes from paychecks before employees receive them, so most people will encounter the reality as soon as they start making money. In 1971: Personal Data, White Hat somehow didn't know about taxes.


100% not bad: not bad at all . . . 100%>not-badness≥50%: not bad . . . 50%>not-badness≥0%: not too bad

100% very bad: very, very bad . . . 100%>very badness≥50%: very bad . . . 50%>very badness>0%: bad

100% hard: very, very hard . . . 100%>hardness≥50%: very hard . . . 50%>hardness>0%: hard

100% easy: very, very easy . . . 100%>easiness≥50%: very easy . . . 50%>easiness≥0%: easy


[A simple X and Y graph, with the X labeled "how bad it is if you don't know {thing}" and ranging from "not bad" to "very bad", and Y labeled "how easy it is to grow up without learning {thing}" and ranging from "easy" to "hard" from top to bottom.]
[Points on graph from top to bottom on the left side of the Y-axis:]
100 digits of pi
Lyrics to We Didn't Start the Fire
How to ride a bike
How to escape movie quicksand
Lyrics to 12 Days of Christmas
TV theme songs
[Points on graph from top to bottom on the right side of the Y-axis:]
That cat bites are really serious and if bitten you should wash the bite and call a doctor immediately
Red flags for an abusive relationship
Signs for a stroke
Cough into your elbow, not your hand
That you have to empty the dryer lint trap
Stop, drop, and roll
That you have to pay taxes

comment.png add a comment! ⋅ comment.png add a topic (use sparingly)! ⋅ Icons-mini-action refresh blue.gif refresh comments!


But if you don't clean the lint trap then you did start the fire.

Sorry, I'll get my coat. 16:20, 21 December 2016 (UTC)

Unfortunately, we put your coat in the dryer, and it was lost in the fire we didn't start. 17:05, 21 December 2016 (UTC)

This explains why my dryer keeps bursting into flames. And why no insurance agencies will even consider letting me get homeowner's. While most people have mass on Saturday, I have mine relative to my inertia (talk) 16:36, 21 December 2016 (UTC)

Minor objection with the comic, but in my experience, it's easier to grow up without knowing about taxes than stop, drop and roll. My 5 year old has learned stop, drop and roll in kindergarten, but nothing about taxes. I have a similar recollection of my childhood. It wasn't until my first job as a teenager that I paid any attention to it. 17:12, 21 December 2016 (UTC)

  • Your 5-year-old hasn't finished growing up, and arguably when you got your first job "as a teenager" you hadn't finished growing up either. The question is whether it's harder to reach adulthood without encountering the concept of "stop, drop and roll" or without encountering the concept that "you have to pay taxes". (Which would include sales taxes.) I could easily see people who are homeschooled not being exposed to "stop, drop and roll", but if they're not exposed to taxes, then after failing to file they'll learn! 22:06, 21 December 2016 (UTC)

"Most residents of most countries are legally obligated to pay, or at least file, their taxes annually"

This note is quite US centric, as I don't believe this is true of most countries. At the very least, this is certainly not the case in most of Europe - taxes are not filed manually if you're a standard employee and not the owner of your own business, in which case it would be perfectly possible to grow up without ever learning how to do this. 17:18, 21 December 2016 (UTC)

Indeed in countries that use such PAYE systems, it's not that harmful to not know either. You just get paid less than you might have thought if you just looked at the gross salary 18:59, 21 December 2016 (UTC)

More of an informational comment....I'm a veterinarian, and I know of at least two colleagues who have been exposed to rabies via litters of kittens, only a few weeks old. If you are bitten by a dog or cat which has not been vaccinated, then the standard around here (legal requirement) is that the critter be kept under quarantine at an animal hospital or government shelter with a vet on premises every day, for ten days, being examined for any sign of rabies at the start and end of the quarantine period. A dog or cat can be transmitting rabies before they show definite signs, but if they were infected at the time of the bite, they'll be showing signs by the end of the ten days. The only other way to be sure they weren't rabid is to microscopically examine their brain, and that can only be done if they're not using it any more (note that freezing makes it untestable). In other words, I'm very glad that the kitten is fine, and I really really hope that it continues to do fine for another ten days, and that the doc who saw Randall knew what needs to be done. CritterKeeper (talk) 19:58, 21 December 2016 (UTC)

Some, but by no means all, veterinarians get the preventative rabies vaccines for exactly the reason you give, along with animal control people, bat researchers, etc. It isn't used for the general public because human rabies is so rare in the developed world (and pretty rare almost everywhere). Nitpicking (talk) 12:50, 1 March 2022 (UTC)

Could we have some info on cat bites. The fear seemed dubious to me, but I'm no expert. UK's NHS [seems] to imply a misinterpretation of facts -- 23:36, 21 December 2016 (UTC)

I'd like to point out that I'm 32 and I STILL don't know the words to The Twelve Days of Christmas because IT'S DIFFERENT EVERY TIME I HEAR THEM FROM A DIFFERENT PERSON! - 08:34, 22 December 2016 (UTC)

Twelve drummers drumming
Eleven pipers piping
Ten lords a leaping
Nine ladies dancing
Eight maids a milking
Seven swans a swimming
Six geese a laying
Four calling birds
Three french hens
Two turtle doves
And a partriiidge in a peear treeeee
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Twelve_Days_of_Christmas_(song) NotLock (talk) 04:47, 24 December 2016 (UTC)

Stop, Drop, Roll might be a US thing - grown up in the UK and I've never heard that until today. Do kids tend to catch fire a lot over there? I have to say, barring Claudia Winkleman's daughter, I can't remember much press ever about children getting burnt, and even then the issues always seem to have focused around the quality of the fabric and regulating the fire-retardant properties of children's clothes (e.g. BS 5722 for nightwear)? Has there been some historic media hysteria on this subject in the US? (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Was thinking the same. Never heard of "Stop, Drop and Roll" either (growing up in Germany). Never had been taught to "Duck and Cover", either. 12:35, 22 December 2016 (UTC)
America is safety conscious in the weirdest ways. E. G., we teach stop drop and roll, but not a more practical explanation of how to really prevent home fires (the only fire prevention stuff I can remember as a kid is how to prevent forest fires). I work in a school, and parents threw a hiss fit when the front doors weren't locked and thus they worried about their child's safety. The doors are glass.

What I'm essentially trying to say is America makes no sense. While most people have mass on Saturday, I have mine relative to my inertia (talk) 12:55, 22 December 2016 (UTC)

It's from a series of PSAs they did back in the late 80s, early 90s I think, but has gotten to be a sort-of easy thing to teach to little kids in general. <Teacher> 'What do you do if your clothes catch on fire?' <Class> 'Stop, Drop, and Roll!' -Graptor 16:32, 24 December 2016 (UTC)

I'm surprised that hiding under your school desk if there is an atomic bomb attack wasn't included somewhere. These Are Not The Comments You Are Looking For (talk)

They don't teach that anymore. 04:42, 29 December 2016 (UTC)

12 Days of Christmas is wrong, nobody remembers the nine ladies dancing [citation needed] 14:00, 4 January 2017 (UTC)

So wait, does the comic refer to how difficult it is to grow up while avoiding something (as in it's basically everywhere and you'd have to be *really* ignorant to not notice it), or how difficult it is to live a normal life without knowing a required skill (as in you're just screwed)? Or something. 23:55, 11 September 2017 (UTC)

  • Both. "How bad it is if you don't know" is the second, and "how easy it is to grow up without knowing" is the first. 01:33, 5 December 2021 (UTC)

As of 2021, most people now know that it is better to cough into your elbow.

Interesting that 'cough into your elbow' is now outdated. (/\that comment isn't mine). Beanie (talk) 10:17, 9 March 2021 (UTC)

Really? My family didn't use the dryer often, so I never learned there was a lint trap in the first place. 01:33, 5 December 2021 (UTC)