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Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Lumpers and Splitters
Anna Karenina is a happy family lumper and unhappy family splitter.
Title text: Anna Karenina is a happy family lumper and unhappy family splitter.

Explanation

Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Created by a CATEGORIZATION META-PEDANT NAMED ANNA- Please change this comment when editing this page. Do NOT delete this tag too soon.

It is common to categorize groups of people into certain categories. "Lumpers" group what might at first seem to be many distinct things into a small number of categories, while "Splitters" do the opposite: split what seems to be a cohesive group of things into many smaller categories.

The comic points out the meta-ness of categorizing people based on how they categorize. It labels Megan and Cueball as those two types of categorizers. Megan, the lumper, describes herself and Cueball as both being "categorization pedants", lumping the two distinct categories "lumpers" and "splitters" into one. Cueball, the splitter, subcategorizes Megan into a more specific type of lumper: a "meta-lumper"—since the things Megan was lumping includes lumpers themselves—thereby splitting off lumpers from meta-lumpers. If Cueball further categorized himself he would be a meta-splitter.

The title text references the opening line of the novel Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy which reads (as translated into English), “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Randall is drawing a parallel between this line and the lumper/splitter distinction because the line lumps one group of things together (happy families) while splitting another group (unhappy families).

Additionally, this may be a reference to "Lingthusiasm - Episode 60: That's the kind of episode it's - clitics", which was published a few days before the comic, wherein discussing the subject, the hosts separate people into clitic lumper and splitters.

Transcript

[Megan and Cueball are standing looking at each other. There are boxes beneath each of them with a label.]
Megan: Really, we're both just categorization pedants.
Label: Lumper
Cueball: Ahh, so you're a meta-lumper.
Label: Splitter


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