2043: Boathouses and Houseboats

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Boathouses and Houseboats
The <x> that is held by <y> is also a <y><x>, so if you go to a food truck, the stuff you buy is truck food. A phone that's in your car is a carphone, and a car equipped with a phone is a phonecar. When you play a mobile racing game, you're in your phonecar using your carphone to drive a different phonecar. I'm still not sure about bananaphones.
Title text: The <x> that is held by <y> is also a <y><x>, so if you go to a food truck, the stuff you buy is truck food. A phone that's in your car is a carphone, and a car equipped with a phone is a phonecar. When you play a mobile racing game, you're in your phonecar using your carphone to drive a different phonecar. I'm still not sure about bananaphones.


Most English compound nouns can be constructed recursively. In many cases they are written open or spaced like "piano player" (a player of a piano.) But closed forms like "wallpaper" (paper for a wall) are not less common.

Randall is engaging in creative linguistics again. This time he is humorously suggesting to use a consistent naming scheme for things holding other things, the same way we call a boat holding a house a houseboat. He is extending this to all combinations boats, houses and cars. This would, however, be somewhat impractical, as these names do not include why one thing is on an other, and are also sometimes ambiguous: a carcar can be a tow truck as much as a car carrier, and a househouse can be either an apartment (house in a house) or an apartment building (house containing houses).

Additionally, he is somewhat inconsistent in some parts of the chart. While the chart is supposed to show examples of neologistic compound words <x><y> that refer to a <y> that holds an <x>, rather than a <y> in an <x>. However, Randall's examples sometimes are those of the latter example. He proposes to call lifeboats, which are boats held by other boats, "boatboat", instead of using that to refer to boats holding other boats, such as floating drydocks. Additionally, it is established naval practice to refer to a boat which is carried by another vessel as a "ship's boat", and call any vessel that carries a boat a "ship". In other words, according to usual naval terminology, a "boatboat" is a contradiction in terms; it is either a "boatship", synonymous with ship and hence redundant, or a "shipboat", the ship's boat. "Apartment" is a similar case: an apartment is a house in a house, while a house that holds a house is an apartment building or apartment complex. (However, in the title text, Randall points out an <x><y> could also refer to a <y> in an <x>, similar to the lifeboat and apartment examples. Nevertheless, "lifeboat" and "apartment" do not fit with the rest of the items of the chart and disobey the rule annotated in the corner.)

In the title text: "Truck food" is in some areas a common term for the meals offered by "food trucks". Car phones were a feature in automobiles throughout the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, serving as the predecessors to mobile phones, although they were permanently installed into a car and not removable. Bananaphone, a song by Raffi Cavoukian, is also mentioned.

Real term Actual definition Randall's definition Inaccuracies in Randall's definition Randall's term
Tow truck A truck that pulls or carries cars A Car that holds a Car Definitions are flexible. Tow trucks and cars are both automobiles, but "car" usually means an automobile dedicated to passengers, while "truck" is intended for hauling cargo (in the tow truck's case, other automobiles). Carcar
Garage A building for storing or repairing vehicles A House that holds a Car “Carhouse” actually does have Randall’s definition, but is far less popular than “garage.” It’s in the Oxford English Dictionary (using the spelling “car house”) and is used in To Kill a Mockingbird. Carhouse
Car ferry A boat that carries cars, especially across a river A Boat that holds a Car Most car ferries hold more than one car at a time Carboat
Mobile home A home that can be moved by a truck A Car that holds a House The term "mobile home" refers to the home that is moved by a separate vehicle, not to the vehicle that moves it. (If the home is self-propelled, then it is called an RV (recreational vehicle).) Housecar
Apartment A home within a building that has been divided into separate living units A House that holds a House The "apartment" is the individual home within the larger building, which is called an apartment building, possibly an apartment complex, but that usually refers to several apartment buildings on one property managed from the same office. Househouse
Houseboat A boat that is used as a house A Boat that holds a House A houseboat has a home that is part of the boat; it is not a separate home carried on a boat. However, a mobile home theoretically could be carried on a car ferry or a ship. Houseboat
Boat trailer A carrier that is towed behind a car or truck and holds a small boat A Car that holds a Boat The trailer is not the car; it is towed by the car. Boatcar
Boathouse A building for storing a boat A House that holds a Boat The word "house" typically refers to a residential building, but can refer to other buildings Boathouse
Lifeboat A small boat carried on a ship, meant to be used to evacuate the larger ship, especially if it starts to sink or catches fire A Boat that holds a Boat This breaks Randall's definition: the lifeboat is not the "boatboat" because the lifeboat is the one being carried. And in technical terms the larger vessel is usually a ship, not a boat. Boatboat


[A chart with three rows and three columns is shown, both with the same heading "car", "house", and "boat". On the top left a text with the word "this" two times embedded in a bubble and an arrow respectively pointing to the row and column heading reads:]
A this that holds this
[Most entries have the common word in black, but crossed out in red with another word below also in red. Two entries remain in green.]
A Car that holds a Car: Tow truck Carcar
A House that holds a Car: Garage Carhouse
A Boat that holds a Car: Car ferry Carboat
A Car that holds a House: Mobile home Housecar
A House that holds a House: Apartment Househouse
A Boat that holds a House: Houseboat (green text)
A Car that holds a Boat: Boat trailer Boatcar
A House that holds a Boat: Boathouse (green text)
A Boat that holds a Boat: Lifeboat Boatboat
[Caption below the frame:]
I really like the words for "boathouse" and "houseboat" and think we should apply that scheme more consistently.


The first version of the comic image used a different wording to indicate which word held the other. The column word holds the row. The original wording can be seen here.

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The state of California already believes that a house held by a car is a housecar:

Vehicle Code - VEH
DIVISION 1. WORDS AND PHRASES DEFINED [100 - 681] ( Division 1 enacted by Stats. 1959, Ch. 3. )
A “house car” is a motor vehicle originally designed, or permanently altered, and equipped for human habitation, or to which a camper has been permanently attached. A motor vehicle to which a camper has been temporarily attached is not a house car except that, for the purposes of Division 11 (commencing with Section 21000) and Division 12 (commencing with Section 24000), a motor vehicle equipped with a camper having an axle that is designed to support a portion of the weight of the camper unit shall be considered a three-axle house car regardless of the method of attachment or manner of registration. A house car shall not be deemed to be a motortruck.[1]

Bonus: "motortruck" does indeed refer to a truck that holds a motor. Jordan Brown (talk) 15:57, 7 September 2018 (UTC)

The State of California believes all sort of strange things Kev (talk) 18:20, 7 September 2018 (UTC)
Yes, but that's still not a "mobile home". It's a "motor home" in most states, e.g. Oregon. ORS 801.350 says "'Motor home' means a motor vehicle that: (1) Is reconstructed, permanently altered or originally designed to provide facilities for human habitation; or (2) Has a structure permanently attached to it that would be a camper if the structure was not permanently attached to the motor vehicle." I'm fine with Randall calling this a housecar, but he's wrong when he says the conventional name for it is mobile home. "Mobile home" is a colloquial term for a manufactured home that is delivered on wheels and then usually has its wheels removed, so it becomes stationary for the rest of its life. That's definitely not a housecar. 15:38, 10 September 2018 (UTC)

Randall did just correct the comic. The first version said "this [row] held by this [column]", which would have meant, that e.g. a towtruck is a car held by a car, which is just wrong. It has just be updated to the correct "a this [column] that holds a this [row]". I do not know how to change that here. Should be mentioned in Trivia Lupo (talk) 16:11, 7 September 2018 (UTC)

Thanks for your eagle eyes. I've uploaded the new version, please be patient until the cache is expired and you can see it. --Dgbrt (talk) 16:48, 7 September 2018 (UTC)
Just edited this Trivia section, as the change is more stylistic, rather than a change in meaning. Randall simply changes from the passive voice. "[Row] held by [Column]" is equivalent to "A [Column] that holds a [Row]". 14:35, 10 September 2018 (UTC)
It is not just a change of style, it also changes which one are right and which are wrong. A tow truck is something that holds something, while, an appartment is something held by something, so in either case some are wrong, and he just changed which ones. But most important: in the first version the example of boat house was wrong, as by his definition it was a boat held by a house, which is not true. --Lupo (talk) 18:52, 15 September 2018 (UTC)

Here in the UK mobile home can mean a large RV (small ones are called camper vans). By large, I mean small-medium in the USA. Nikkilocje (talk) 19:35, 12 September 2018 (UTC)

I like that the Wikipedia article Houseboat actually contains a "doghouseboat" 00:20, 20 May 2019 (UTC)

Boat boat

Shouldn't a boat that holds another boat be some sort of either carrier, or at-sea repair dock?

Sort of like a mothership, or a drydock? Or an oil rig (technically considered a ship by international law), etc?

For that matter, how about the distinction between a boat and a ship? Keybounce (talk) 16:34, 7 September 2018 (UTC)

well... with the original version it fits. a boat held by another boat is a lifeboat. But the new version it doesnt. a boat that holds another boat would be, as you say, carrier, mothership, etc. looks like randall didn't think this through to the end... Lupo (talk) 16:40, 7 September 2018 (UTC)
Floating Drydock? [2] -- OldCorps (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
As far as I can remember, a ship is a boat that can manage being away from shore for more than a day Kev (talk) 18:16, 7 September 2018 (UTC)
I've always heard that a ship is a boat that's big enough to carry other boats. If it carries a lifeboat, then it's a ship. Submarines do not have lifeboats, so they are called "boats" not ships. Inflatable rafts don't count. A sailboat that carries an inflatable raft is still a boat. And yes, there is such a thing as a ship that carries other ships. Google the Blue Marlin. 15:43, 10 September 2018 (UTC)
Similar failing: an apartment is the small entity—the "house" that is contained by the larger house. Apartment building (or apartment complex) would have been the term to be replaced. jameslucas (" " / +) 17:42, 7 September 2018 (UTC)
Agreed. His list of words contains elements that fall into either the 'x held by y' or 'x that holds y' definition, so neither definition can work for all the words! Only way to fix is to replace some of the words as suggested ('apartment building' instead of 'apartment'). 17:52, 7 September 2018 (UTC)

You're entirely correct on both counts. Lifeboats are carried by other boats, and ships that can carry other ships do exist. This comic also fails to distinguish between boats and ships, and cars, trucks, and trailers. While a Boathouse is indeed a house for boats, a boat trailer is usually a trailer and not a car- the name already follows Randell's suggested logic: it's a trailer (characterized by lacking it's own engine, steering, and driver's cabin) that holds one or more boats. In addition, both tow trucks and car carriers are large enough to be properly referred to as trucks (the smallest type of tow truck I know of is built on a pickup truck chassis) and are fully capable to towing or carrying other trucks as well as cars, making the term carcar inaccurate. Yes, I'm being pedantic, but this might be worth mentioning in explanation. 16:44, 7 September 2018 (UTC)Chris Long

Each of the compound words that Randall has made up here are still "correct" - but general. The failure to distinguish between multiple examples isn't a "bug" here; it's a feature of the productive nature of novel compounding in English. Each of 'apartment', 'tow truck' and 'lifeboat' should be treated as an example of 'househouse', 'carcar' and 'boatboat', respectively, but given the way English treats novel compounds, they can't be the only examples. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
He tries to get a logic in there, as in the difference between boathouse and houseboat, to show which supports which, but fails to do so. While your comment is in itself ok, the comic clearly tries to put in a logic and fails to do so.Lupo (talk) 20:41, 7 September 2018 (UTC)
I wouldn't read too much into it. This comic is, of course, lighthearted in nature, and I'm pretty sure Randall doesn't literally hold these views and call for the creation of a "carcar" or something. 04:35, 8 September 2018 (UTC)

To continue the convention, "boatboat", as a "life-boat" is a mistake. But i don't think Randall is much of a practical sailor. He lives inland, and probably isn't nearly as familiar with ships as he is with cars. more correct choices to repeat the convention used elsewhere in the comic, could easily be tugboat, carrier ship, or barge. sep 8, guest (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)


Is this a spoiler for the XKCD phone 2001? Will this phone be edible, yellow and be 10G-erine compatible? Kev (talk) 18:16, 7 September 2018 (UTC)

More like this banana phone172.68.34.16 20:12, 7 September 2018 (UTC)

I believe it references this song by Raffi.-- 09:28, 8 September 2018 (UTC)

Compounding nouns

As a native German speaker I've learned in school that compounding nouns in German like "Hausboot" are always written as "house boat" in English, the nouns do not form to a new single noun. And I'm still sure that "Hausbootbriefkasten" (Haus-boot-brief-kasten) still translates literally to something like "house boats letter box" in the original Oxford English domain, while "letterbox of a houseboat" is probably the much better translation. Nonetheless the order at the German looong noun is still correct: There's a box, for a letter, on a boat, which supports a house. And a record holder in German: Donaudampfschiffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft, even Germans are annoyed... --Dgbrt (talk) 20:31, 7 September 2018 (UTC)

We do obviously have closed compounds as well (and hyphenated ones), but most people aren't going to consider "house boat" annoyingly incorrect, but "snowski" would be jarring, so that is a good rule of thumb you were taught. And I would translate "Hausbootbriefkasten" as "houseboat's mailbox" (or letterbox where people call mailboxes letterboxes) as the X's Y form typically sounds more natural than Y of (the) X, even though they mean basically the same thing. Y of the X is more for archaic or stilted speech, except in a few phrases like "end of the line" and "root of the problem." We just usually stop closed compounds at 2 or maybe 3 parts in English. 20:51, 14 September 2018 (UTC)

If a boat that carries a boat is called a ship, should "ship" be in the boatboat square instead of "lifeboat"? 01:37, 8 September 2018 (UTC)

So....basically transform english to dutch ? We do this all the time. 07:20, 10 September 2018 (UTC)

1984, anyone?

I was just reading this explanation and when I read the sentence "Randall is engaging in creative linguistics again" I just thought: No, he's applying Newspeak. While - of course - the words here are not to be found in the novel 1984 (at least I'm not aware of them) they sound like something that would be created if Newspeak was lifted to the next level - reduce the number of individual words and try to express as much as possible with compounds of the remaining words. Thoughts? Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 07:18, 24 September 2018 (UTC)

A trailer is not a car, so a car that holds a boat is not a boat trailer. That would be something like a tow truck, but for boats. Also, "housecar" is what we call a car that holds a house in Swedish. Kapten-N (talk) 09:53, 22 February 2024 (UTC)