How a usage dispute snuck into a Simpsons comic

March 3, 2017

Reporting on a grammar debate in a crime novel by Michael Connelly, I remarked that the politics of English usage can show up anywhere. Sure enough, I just came across a great example in Simpsons Comics Royale, a comic book from Matt Groening and colleagues published by HarperCollins in 2001.

The issue this time is sneaked vs. snuck. It features centrally in a story about Radioactive Man called ‘Planet of the Strange-O’s’, which begins with our eponymous superhero dashing into what he thinks is a portable toilet (‘This is the nicest porta-potty I’ve ever been in!’). But the structure is not a porta-potty but a portal-potty, and by flushing it Radioactive Man ends up (FLUSHOOOOOM!) in another dimension.

Here he is soon surrounded by an army of near-Doppelgangers on a mission. You can recognise them below by their pale, cracked lower faces; Radioactive Man’s, by contrast, is yellow and smooth. The Strange-O’s pressure him to join them, but he resists. That’s when, shibboleth style, a dispute over usage (and semantics) breaks out:

[click images to embiggen]


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Introducing the apostrophantom

September 17, 2009

In previous posts I have mentioned the apostrofly, described in the Guardian style book as “an insect that lands at random on the printed page, depositing an apostrophe wherever it lands”. It looks like this. What then do we make of an entity that absconds from the printed page, leaving only a ghostly trace of the apostrophe it once was?

Here is an image from Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns:

Stan Carey - apostrophantom in Batman - The Dark Knight Returns

Close examination of the word its in the first thought bubble will show you what I mean: there is visible, if only just, a faint smudge in a space that formerly accommodated an errant apostrophe. Someone spotted this apostrophe and dealt with it, presumably with a ruthless efficiency of the sort Batman employs to put evildoers out of action.

That apostrophe, once spotted, never stood a chance, but in its wake there remains an indelible mark testifying to its former corporeality. It is no longer an apostrophe, but it is evidently not nothing; I call this mark the apostrophantom.

This blend describes what it denotes, and also serves to honour the much-maligned genre (superhero comics) that inspired it. Compared with the apostrofly, the apostrophantom is an elusive creature, a rare typographical spectre. And now we have evidence of its existence.

(By the way, if Batman’s internal monologue disturbs you, you wouldn’t be the only one. But his relationship with Robin (aka Carrie) was chaste, and the writer knew what he was doing.)


An apostrophantom in the wild, from Lynne Murphy: