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<   No. 1740   2007-11-01   >

Comic #1740

1 Haken: Let us look at this book. Give it here. Schnell! {Prof. Jones hands over the book}
2 Haken: Ach! It is in Latin!
3 Ginny: {walking over from the Joneses' side to Haken's side of the confrontation} I can translate it for you.
3 Haken: Why should we trust you? You keep switching sides!
4 Ginny: It's a woman's prerogative to change her mind.
4 Erwin: <sigh> Ja.

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I originally wrote this strip with the following punchline:

3 Haken: Why should we trust you? You keep switching sides!
4 Ginny: Would you rather trust a turncoat who doesn't switch sides?
I liked the idea of the puzzle posed by the question: How do you trust a turncoat or double agent?

If you're working with such a person, you know, by the very definition of what they're doing, that they are prone to disloyalty, treachery, and deception as to where their true loyalty (if any) lies. Naturally, this makes it difficult to fully trust such a person.

But the other side of the dilemma is that neither can you trust a turncoat who doesn't really switch sides, since that would imply that they are still loyal to the other side, while only pretending to turn traitor and assist you.

On top of all this is the simple head-exploding semantic parsing of the very concept of a turncoat who doesn't switch sides.

In all, I was quite pleased with this line, as it was thought-provoking on multiple levels. The only problem was that when I re-read it as I was constructing the strip, I didn't think it was quite funny enough.

I mentioned this to someone, and they suggested the alternative you see in the comic, which made me laugh as soon as I saw it. So I sacrificed clever for funny, and put the clever down here in the annotation.

As for the traditional "woman's prerogative"...

Boy, this one is a potential minefield. For anyone who may not be aware of this piece of cultural baggage from what I presume must be the Victorian or Regency era or thereabouts, the tradition states that it is "a woman's prerogative to change her mind". The issue comes up in the somewhat arcane civil tort of breach of promise, but was also applied across other contexts. The basic idea is that a gentleman should abide by his word, and keep all promises he makes, whereas a woman retains the privilege of changing her mind and breaking a promise without loss of honour or status.

I was going to comment here simply that I always thought this custom to be patently ridiculous. The standard of personal honour and integrity that a person should be expected to live up to should be uniform, not differentiated by one's sex*. If a person has a good cause to break a promise, then that cause should suffice for anyone, man or woman, in the same situation.

However, a quick Google brought up several hits on modern science journals, containing research papers on neurophysiological distinctions between male and female humans caused by their anatomical differences. Some of these papers conclude that it is indeed more likely for female humans to change their minds on things than males, because of differences in hormonal activity between the sexes.

Many of you can no doubt see the minefield rapidly approaching. It's not my intention to start any arguments or offend anyone's sensibilities, so I simply hope you will take the information imparted here on board and integrate it into your own knowledge. Whether or not any of those research papers have reached a valid conclusion, and what any ramifications beyond the realm of physiology and into the sphere of social custom might be, is not for me to say.

At any rate, the usage of this line in the strip is intended solely for comic value, and not to present or encourage any particular value judgement on the concept's validity or invalidity. I hereby disclaim any responsibility whatsoever for any inference or conclusion you may draw from it.

I really don't want any hate mail over this. Okay?

* Yes, sex. "Gender" is a bowdleristic euphemism for what already has a perfectly good noun to describe it. Gender refers to linguistic properties of words, not anatomical properties of people**. The modern co-optive usage of "gender" to refer to "social sex-role identification" as opposed to anatomical sex is a recent development that does not enter into this discussion, as I am referring solely to anatomy.

** And yes, I realise the irony*** in this statement, given my past comments about the evolution of language, and the primacy of description over prescription.

*** Oh god****, let's just not go into that one again.

**** I'm using "god" here as a genericised pseudo-expletive, not a reference to a supreme being or deity*****, hence the lack of capitalisation.

***** Don't I have enough disclaimers here already??


2018-06-18 Rerun commentary: ****** Although I stand by my intended meanings in what I wrote here, I probably would have phrased things slightly differently today. In particular, even putting aside gender identity, the apparent dichotomy of strictly anatomical sex isn't really as clear cut as two completely separate classes either. I trust that people understand my writings in the context of someone willing to make mistakes and learn.

Of course Haken doesn't understand Latin, because he speaks a Germanic language, rather than a Romance language descended from Latin.

Having said that, the Internet seems to generally agree that even a modern day Italian speaker would seriously struggle to understand any Latin. Unlike Spanish and Italian, where knowing one language means you can understand a fair bit of the other, an Italian speaker confronted with Latin would be a bit like a modern English speaker confronted with this:

Hwæt! We Gar-Dena in gear-dagum
þeod-cyninga, þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon!
Oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum
monegum mægþum meodo-setla ofteah;
egsode eorl[as] syððan ærest wearð
feasceaft funden; he þæs frofre gebad,
weox under wolcnum, weorð-myndum þah,
oðæt him æghwylc þara ymb-sittendra
ofer hron-rade hyran scolde,
gomban gyldan. Þæt wæs god cyning!


Reader Alec Cawley writes:

Just a note about Breach of Promise, and ladies changing their minds. Implicit in the engagement, the Promise which was Breached, was that once a couple were engaged, nookie might commence, or at least be suspected of having commenced. Indeed, in some circles, the marriage would not occur until the woman was pregnant, thereby having shown her reproductive fitness.

Therefore the woman dumped by a man was "spoiled goods" by the standards of the times, if indeed she was not already pregnant. If the man broke off the engagement, she needed to be compensated for that. On the other hand, if she broke off the engagement, the man was under no such shadow. Hence she was free to change her mind but he wasn't.

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