2146: Waiting for the But

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Waiting for the But
Listen, I'm not a fan of the Spanish Inquisition OR predatory multi-level marketing schemes...
Title text: Listen, I'm not a fan of the Spanish Inquisition OR predatory multi-level marketing schemes...


Often arguments are made in the form of "I think X, but Y", where Y is almost but not quite contradictory to X. More specifically, the argument would go "I am not [something generally considered distasteful], but [a more specific statement most people consider part of that general statement]". The first part of such a statement can sometimes be viewed as an apology or an excuse because the person talking knows that the second part might upset people. A common example would be "I'm not a racist, but I don't think we should let refugees from Africa into Europe." The idea of denying help to people from Africa will be seen as racist by many people, so the speaker tries to preempt that opinion of themself.

In this comic, Cueball is having a conversation with Ponytail, who lists several seemingly unrelated but agreeable positions, such as reducing car accidents, treating arson as a serious crime, and approving of "No Animals were Harmed" disclaimers in modern media, with Cueball wondering when the "but.." of the statement will come, and conjuring increasingly outrageous images of what Ponytail could have in mind that involves violating all of them, for example some sort of reckless fiery car stunt involving animals.

Notably, the "and" normally serves as an earlier indicator that a list is coming to the end, as it always comes right before the final entry. Perhaps, Cueball seems to have missed this, hence the continued apprehension. But being immediately proceeded by a comma indicates either it is a coordinating sub-clause or, perhaps, an Oxford comma. (Although it seems unlikely that it is the latter, as it is most often applied to a string of more than three items being grouped, and is often considered more confusing than the situation it is supposed to grammatically clarify.)

The title text gives another example of a sentence that will probably be followed by a "but". Multi-level marketing schemes and the Spanish Inquisition are both considered bad in very different ways, so the implication that if the speaker has to apologize in advance for sounding like defending both of them, they must have a remarkably troubling idea in mind, involving somehow using a version of the Spanish Inquisition as an MLM scheme.

Another possible explanation would be that when people hear a sentence that starts with "Listen, I'm" they tend to wait for the "but", and the longer it takes the more tension it may cause them, while the speaker may never intend to say "but". Similar ideas were used for 365: Slides, 559: No Pun Intended and 2032: Word Puzzles.


[Ponytail is talking to Cueball, while holding her hands up with both palms up. Cueball is thinking as shown with a thought bubble.]
Ponytail: Listen, I'm all in favor of reducing car accidents, I think arson is a serious crime, and I'm a big fan of those "No Animals Were Harmed" disclaimers at the end of movies...
Cueball (thinking): Uh-oh.
[Caption below the panel:]
The longer you have to wait for the "but", the worse whatever comes after it is going to be.

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Added a basic backbone for explanation, but needs to be worked on more, definitely. Suggest all comments to use a but somewhere in them - 11:28, 6 May 2019 (UTC)

Done the transcript - please check as this is my first edit(s!) - 11:33, 6 May 2019 (UTC)

It was basically fine. I added a bit more description (no need for no wiki around a single [ ] brackets of those types... And some formatting details. Great work. I now completed it. --Kynde (talk) 12:45, 6 May 2019 (UTC)
"It was basically fine [but] I added a bit more description." 15:19, 6 May 2019 (UTC)

Expanded the explanation a bit. I'm new here and not trying to complain, but how many edits (or other criteria) do I have to meet before I can edit without solving the captcha each time? Or does that never go away?Bischoff (talk) 11:56, 6 May 2019 (UTC)

It will go away, but I have no idea when. I think it was not here when I began, and having made top 3 with most edits its been a while... ;-) We had some problems with bots posting I think... --Kynde (talk) 12:45, 6 May 2019 (UTC)
I think I never needed to fill the captcha since I created an account, so it must've changed since. Hmmmm ... did you tried confirming your email address? -- Hkmaly (talk) 22:09, 6 May 2019 (UTC)

Everything after "but" is horseshit. (Someone in GoT). -- Jkrstrt (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

It's "everything before but is horseshit" and Eddard Stark said it according to John Snow. Bischoff (talk) 14:03, 6 May 2019 (UTC)

Look, whenever a comment starts with "Listen," I know that no matter how long the disclaimer, what follows the "but" is going to be bad. (the same applies to comments starting with "Look," ;^) 13:20, 6 May 2019 (UTC)

Ponytail:"... but using Phoenix as flying cars could be cool." 15:38, 6 May 2019 (UTC)

"...but movie companies that add anything to the credits aside from actual credits should be tied to the middle of a highway and have their houses burned down." --Youforgotthisthing (talk) 00:11, 7 May 2019 (UTC)

Finally got around to making an edit for something here on the wiki for once! lol --JayRulesXKCD what's up? 10:58, 7 May 2019 (UTC)

(cartoon) but....Wouldn't it be cool to see a horde of elephants roasted to death in a horrific freeway accident where their truck is lit on fire by an arsonist that saves a town from starvation? Seebert (talk) 15:20, 7 May 2019 (UTC)

(tagline) but...we really need Amway salesmen to start pushing and enforcing scriptures against witchcraft.Seebert (talk) 15:20, 7 May 2019 (UTC)

Is it really smart to use a current sensitive political topic as example for "I don't wanna be racist, buuuut....." ? How about something along the lines of "I'm not saying you're stupid, but that was really dumb" or something more innocent like that ? There actually are some valid arguments against this migration wave, like overpopulation in europe or clashing cultures, and there are no easy answers here. 06:50, 8 May 2019 (UTC)

That's actually why I chose it. The "I'm not XXX" part can and is being used both by people trying to hide their bad ideas (like racism) as well as people actually making sure they're not mistaken as racists. Which of these scenarios applies to the scenario I chose depends on the reasoning behind not providing help. I'm sorry if that wasn't clear enough. Obviously I don't intend to use this platform for political discussions.Bischoff (talk) 07:37, 8 May 2019 (UTC)

To "No one expects..." in the current explanation: I get where the "No one expects the Spanish inquistion"-part comes from, BUT ( ;) ) can someoney explain the predatory multi-level part? I think I vaguely remember a connection to The Crimson Permanent Assurance. Might be mistaken, though... Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 12:14, 8 May 2019 (UTC)

You might want to watch this [1], if I did that link right. If I didn't, just go to youtube and search "Dragnet Pyramid Scheme". I personally think it should be REQUIRED for all high school students in America. But I think that rain is wet, so what do I know?Seebert (talk) 16:14, 8 May 2019 (UTC)
Thanks! So it wasn't a pop culture reference? (I know what pyramid schemes are, I just wondered if there was a reference I missed) :) Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 07:26, 9 May 2019 (UTC)
Since the reference has been removed, someone has to say it, so... "But I didn't expect a pyramid scheme." "NOBODY expects a pyramid scheme." Observer of the Absurd (talk) 04:51, 16 May 2019 (UTC)

Anybody reckon that the “but” won’t ever appear and that Cueball is waiting for nothing? 42.book.addict (talk) 20:58, 5 February 2024 (UTC)