Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Nomenclature can be defined as the devising or choosing of names for things. Here Randall connects three pop culture references that each contain one or more instances of ambiguous nomenclature based on pronouns: the "Who's on First?" skit, the "Doctor Who" television series, and in the title text also the novel "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle.
The comic references the famous "Who's on First?" skit by the American comedy duo Abbott and Costello in the 1930s. This video is one of the original performances. Costello is the shorter character, with a round brimmed hat and baseball bat, while Abbott is taller and wearing a baseball cap. This reflects the most common image associated with the skit. In the routine, Costello is confused by the nicknames the ball players go by. The man playing first base goes by the name "Who", the man on second base goes by "What", and the one on third calls himself "I Don't Know". Costello asks "Who's on first?", inquiring the name of the first-baseman, and Abbott replies "that's right", affirming that the first-baseman's name is Who. Both parties become confused within a matter of seconds.
The Doctor from the long-running British television series Doctor Who is often referred to as "Doctor Who" by people who think the series' name and his name are the same (although it should be noted that the name "Doctor Who" is not entirely incorrect; the character was referred to as such in the end credits for several seasons). In-universe, he often introduces himself as "The Doctor" which elicits the response "Doctor who?". His response to this question is "Just 'The Doctor'". Megan (or according to the original transcript, Mrs. Whatsit) appears to have interrupted the "Who's on First?" skit to clarify the confusion that the guy on first is not called "Who", but just "The Doctor".
The title text references the Madeleine L'Engle novel A Wrinkle in Time, which has characters with similarly ambiguous names. The book's Mrs. Whatsit appears to be on second base. "Aunt Beast" is a minor character in the novel from the planet of Ixchel.
And they are playing a real baseball game. "Aunt Beast" is the batter and hits a pop fly high in the air towards second base while "Mrs. Whatsit" (presumably playing second base, in place of "What") is being encouraged to dive to catch the ball before it hits the ground, to get the batter out. So both the players "Who" and "What" have been exchanged with other characters going under similar names.
- [Mrs. Whatsit, a woman drawn as Megan with her hand held out, is talking to Abbott, a tall guy with a baseball cap and Costello, a short guy with a round brimmed hat and baseball bat. The names comes from the original transcript.]
- Mrs. Whatsit: You're both confused.
- Mrs. Whatsit: He's just "The Doctor".
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I honestly thought this was a reference to The Batter from the game Off. He often looks like an XKCD character.
I thought the guy in the middle was Marty McFly from BACK TO THE FUTURE, referring to Doc Brown. 126.96.36.199 21:53, 4 December 2015 (UTC)
When I saw the obvious Doctor Who reference, I jumped on the Wiki hoping to be the first to post the Who's On First reference. I drastically underestimate xkcd fans. 188.8.131.52 04:44, 5 June 2013 (UTC)
I thought that the middle guy was Short Round from Temple of Doom, since he shouts "Doctor Jones, Doctor Jones!" but I suppose that doesn't really make sense.--184.108.40.206 10:05, 5 June 2013 (UTC)
I came here for an explanation of the comic and found none. So far there are only explanations of the references. Who are the three characters in the comic, and what is the situation they’re in? Which kind of confusion arised between them? (Though I got all the pop-cultural references mentioned I cannot make any sense of the comic so far.) --220.127.116.11 10:45, 5 June 2013 (UTC) Who is not in the comic. Who is on first. What is not in the situation of the characters of the comic; What is on second.
- Hypothetical answer: The tall and short baseball players are Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, respectively. Abbott is talking about the baseball team with the oddly-named players from the "Who's on First" routine, except that the Doctor from "Doctor Who" is playing first base. Abbott is attempting to tell Costello about his lineup in the usual "Who's on First" style, and Costello is completely confused by it as usual. However, Megan (someone more familiar with the Doctor Who franchise) interrupts to explain that the first baseman, who Abbott thinks is named "Dr. Who", is actually just "The Doctor" and does not have "Who" as part of his name. --18.104.22.168 13:42, 5 June 2013 (UTC) The Doctor is not on first. Who is on First. The Doctor is in right field.
I see it as an homage to Abbot & Costello's "Who's on first" routine, but with actual characters from literature and the media. The joke is that when the "Who's on first" routine first came out everyone thought the names were just implausible, made-up characters. We were wrong, but I don't know (Third Base). Galois (talk) 11:05, 5 June 2013 (UTC)
I went a bit verbose on expanding the exposition, only to get edit-sniped right as I was posting. I think the other version is better, but FYI here is what I'd ended up with, in case any of it is still useful...
- The Doctor from the long-running British television series Doctor Who has been incorrectly referred to as "Who", "Doctor Who" or "Dr. Who" by fans and commentators (not helped by the series name, itself, and how the character was credited in various earlier episodes' and some spin-off works). When not using a pseudonym or playing along with some form of mistaken identity, however, he overwhelmingly tends to introduce himself as "The Doctor". If not unquestionably accepted (perhaps due to natural Time Lord 'glamour'/confidence or some TARDIS effect) this tends to elicit the response "Doctor who?". His response to this question is often "Just 'The Doctor'."
(...which, I originally pointed out but edited away, often tends to settle things. Really, between the TARDIS translation field/etc, his recent use of psychic paper and of course his own long-practiced assertive air of self-confidence, he has avoided a lot of 'First Contact'-type problems. Not infallably so, of course, but that's Plot for you.) 22.214.171.124 13:05, 5 June 2013 (UTC) Similarly, some people may think that Mrs. Whatsit's name is Whatsit, but her name is What. Whatsit is actually the name of her husband. [Not the Doctor's husband, the husband of the second baseman.]
Interestingly, it appears that his name is both "Doctor Who" and "The Doctor". All living pre-2005 actors who played the role, as well as Doctor Who Magazine itself, refer to him as Doctor Who. It's only since the reboot of the series in 2005 that people, mostly those referred to as "NuWhos", insist his one and only name is "The Doctor".
How is it that no one has mentioned the Robot Chicken take on this? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNIdqvMUhrE
What does "Aunt Beast" in the title text refer to? 126.96.36.199 16:13, 5 June 2013 (UTC) "Aunt Beast" is another example of an honorific, and refers to a player on the batting team.
- On the issue of "NuWhos" being the pedantic ones, I'm an avowed traditionalist Whovian from way back when (4th Doctor era, technically, although I actually relate more to Five's era), and we were always being joyfully sniffy about those (including 'official media', and episode credits themselves) that used to name any given incarnation as "Doctor Who". (Apart from Peter Cushing, who is a doctor named Who... and is also entirely human.)
- We noticed with disgust when new-era Who perpetuated the error. The end-credits for Nine/Eccleston said "Doctor Who" for his entire season. It became only became "The Doctor" for The Christmas Invasion, the inter-season special that was Ten's first full episode. Probably due to a load of us fans berating TPTB about the error. (My recordings of the '96 TV movie and what I have of the older seasons aren't at hand, though, to double check their credits, and I know it varied. The IMDB listing for McGann's production suggests "The Doctor" was correct for him, though.)
- And I can't subscribe to the authority of 'mere' actors or even official spin-off literature if the producers themselves can be shown to be utterly wrong... ;) 188.8.131.52 19:21, 5 June 2013 (UTC)
- I don't think fan complaints had anything to do with the change. RTD clearly enjoys trolling the hardcore fans sometimes (remember when he claimed not to know anything about the novels, even though we all remember that he actually wrote one of them?). But David Tennanf is one of the people who complained, and I suspect Davies just found it too exhausting to argue with Tennant. 184.108.40.206 10:21, 21 September 2015 (UTC)
I slightly disagree with the current state of the explanation. First, I think the Doctor is the first baseman, not Mrs. Who (why else is the Doctor even being mentioned by the duo in the comic?). Second, the "on first" or "on second" is little bit ambiguous. If you say "X is on first" that could mean that X is a member of the batting team and has made it to first base, or it could mean that X is a member of the fielding team and is the first baseman. Now, the Abbot and Costello routine removes the ambiguity because it is said at the start of the skit that the team's lineup is being given, which means any references to "on first", "on second", etc. have to be to the defensive positions. But in this explanation I think it would be better to say that the Doctor is the first baseman (or is playing first) and Mrs. Whatsit is the second baseman. 16:54 5 June 2013 (UTC)
- That's actually what's funny about this comic. Costello is confused about the name of the player playing first base. Megan is adding to the confusion because she misinterprets the "Who" in a new, different way than either Abbott or Costello. --DanB (talk) 17:42, 5 June 2013 (UTC)
I think we do need more explain on the title text. While we still have this confusion about names there is someone (the captain?) shouting to the field. So this must be a real baseball game. Aunt Beast is the batter and hitting the ball for Mrs Whatsit to reach the second base. --Dgbrt (talk) 19:02, 5 June 2013 (UTC)
The title text refers to "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle. 220.127.116.11 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
"Nomenclature" could use a definition, since it ties the joke together. 18.104.22.168 03:41, 6 June 2013 (UTC)
- So write one. --DanB (talk) 14:17, 6 June 2013 (UTC)
- The explanation looks like it needs to be rewritten since it looks so patchy from pieces of explanations just getting added on a whim. I don't want to add to that problem since I'm not a writer. But I appreciate your faith in me. 22.214.171.124 16:55, 6 June 2013 (UTC)
- Tell us more, there are writers here who will adopt.--Dgbrt (talk) 18:49, 6 June 2013 (UTC)
- I planned to go into more detail when I got off of work, but the IP that cleaned it up already did an amazing job. 126.96.36.199 21:39, 7 June 2013 (UTC)
- Mrs Whatsit is not running for the second base but catching the ball against the runner (who? - not the Doctor) ??? I'm still sure she is running to that base. Help me to understand if I am wrong.--Dgbrt (talk) 22:08, 7 June 2013 (UTC)
In this comic, Randall demonstrates two sources of ambiguous nomenclature based on honorifics: What, playing second base, is married to Mister Whatsit. What is Mrs. Whatsit. The players in the comic are confused by the name of one of the players from the fielding team, the Doctor. Doctor Who? No. Who is on first. The Doctor is in right field. One justification for bringing the Doctor into the Abbot and Costello's team of players is that cast of characters in one of their video performances shows the right field position is held by "?". This symbol has been associated with the Doctor and has been seen embroidered on his clothing. [Perhaps the appearance of a question mark is a coincidence of the type that causes people to think that Superman's "S" is the initial letter of the word "Superman".] Note: In the Abbot and Costello routine, honorifics were not used, as the players were named familiarly, as one would use nicknames, and no honorifics, such as "Mr. Who" were used. Only in this comic are honorifics "Mrs." and "Dr." and "Aunt" used, which is a main reason for the title being called "nomenclature." (But it may be that "Aunt" may be Ms. Beast's first name...) -- Comet (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
Perhaps also worth mentioning for posterity is that this comic appeared three weeks after the 2013 Dr Who season finale called "The Name Of The Doctor".
188.8.131.52 19:23, 19 June 2013 (UTC)
Note that, according to the official transcript, "Megan" is "Mrs. Whatsit" here. Mark Hurd (talk) 15:41, 12 July 2013 (UTC)
What I find implausible here is the idea that the Doctor would play baseball. I could maybe see Eleven putting on Five's old outfit and going onto the diamond to try to play cricket and not understanding why everyone kept telling him he was doing it wrong. But that's about as close as I can imagine any incarnation getting to baseball. 184.108.40.206 10:26, 21 September 2015 (UTC)
This was also the topic of a recent sketch on the late show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8gHN3L0djw 220.127.116.11 03:22, 29 April 2016 (UTC)