1010: Etymology-Man

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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I can't believe I'm saying this, but I wish Aquaman were here instead--HE'D be able to help.
Title text: I can't believe I'm saying this, but I wish Aquaman were here instead--HE'D be able to help.


This became the first comic in a two comic series about the Etymology-Man. The second following two comics later in 1012: Wrong Superhero.

This comic is a take on the traditional appearance of a super hero when a disaster strikes. In this case, Etymology-Man arrives, who apparently has the power of Etymology — the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time. As Etymology-Man is explaining the history of the words "tsunami" and "tidal wave", at one point referencing the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and 2011 Tōhoku tsunami, the water starts rising around them. As the waters continue to rise, he continues to only explain the words, rather than attempting to save them as a superhero should. This, intentionally or unintentionally, is a dig at academics who prefer to talk about issues when taking action is more appropriate.

Also, the title text is a play on how useless Aquaman is (perceived to be) compared to other superheroes, as his powers — breathing underwater, speed swimming, and communicating with sea life — are very difficult for writers to make relevant. Indeed, in the case of a flood, Aquaman and his aquatic allies would be able to assist with evacuations.

The irony of the situation comes from the fact that Etymology-Man also has the power of flight and could in fact save Cueball and Ponytail if he was not so busy talking about the origin of the word "tidal wave".

Inexplicable is the fact that Cueball and Ponytail both know exactly who this "superhero" is, and ergo presumably realize that what he is telling them is useless, but they don't even attempt to get to safety. There are few possible explanations for this: perhaps they are simply accepting their fate instead of trying to escape, or even that learning cool word facts takes precendence over saving their own lives, or they have been distracted by Etymology-Man's lecture and were caught by surprise by the fast tidal wave.


[Cueball and Ponytail are facing each other, with wavy lines around them to indicate they are experiencing the shaking of an earthquake.]
Cueball: Earthquake!
Ponytail: We should get to a higher ground - There could be a tidal wave.
[A frame-less panel with Cueball and Ponytail, with Cueball taking a pedantic pose and raising a finger.]
Cueball: You mean a tsunami. "Tidal wave" means a wave caused by tides.
[A crash is heard, followed by Etymology-Man flying in while wearing a cape.]
Etymology-man: You know, that doesn't add up.
Cueball and Ponytail: Etymology-man!
[Etymology-man takes a pedantic pose.]
Etymology-man: What does "tidal wave" mean? There are waves caused by tides, but they're "tidal bores", and they're not cataclysmic.
It can refer to the daily tide cycle, but that's obviously not what people mean when they say "a tidal wave hit".
It's been obvious for centuries that these waves come from quakes. So why "tidal"?
[Panel zooms in on Etymology-man.]
Etymology-man: Remember that until 2004, there weren't any clear photos or videos of tsunamis. Some modern writers even described them rearing up and breaking like surfing waves [sic]
Of course, in 2004 and 2011, it was made clear to everyone that a tsunami is more like a rapid, turbulent, inrushing tide - exactly what historical accounts describe.
[Water begins to rush in. Etymology-man keeps his pedantic pose.]
Etymology-man: Maybe those writing about Lisbon in 1755 used "tidal wave" not out of scientific confusion, but because it described the wave's form — a description lost in our rush to expunge "tidal wave" from English.
[The water is now waist-deep. Etymology-man continues to drone on, but the others start to panic.]
Etymology-man: "Tsunami" is now the standard, and I'm not trying to change that. But let's be a tad less giddy about correcting "tidal wave" - especially when "tsunami" just means "harbor wave", which is hardly...

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That water isn't coming in nearly fast enough to be a tidal wave. Probably just a flood. A really fast flood. Davidy22[talk] 13:15, 18 February 2013 (UTC)

Maybe Etymology-Man talks really really fast. 03:20, 15 February 2014 (UTC)
Maybe Etymology-Man also has the power to slow incoming danger by sheer force of knowledge 08:57, 27 September 2014 (UTC)
We need Etymology-Man in this discussion section to describe the term "Flash flood."
Minor characters

Shouldn't etymology man be in the list of minor characters? E^ipi (talk) 12:24, 20 December 2016 (UTC)

The title text should've wished for King Canute instead :P -- The Cat Lady (talk) 15:32, 25 August 2021 (UTC)

Another super-power Etymology-Man doesn't bother using to help anyone: he can break the fourth wall and crash dramatically through the panel frame! Nitpicking (talk) 12:54, 28 December 2021 (UTC)

I disagree. That would be indicated by the comic-frame border being 'broken', which is something Randall has done in the past (or the 'paper' broken through in at least one memorable example). This just looks like an off-frame crash (into the space inhabited by the two tsunami victims, out of some structure he maybe did his Clark Kenting in or perhaps just through a wall/fence that was 'in the way').
Whichever, it was from the direction of the incoming water, and whether his damage of some barrier (albeit the main inpact high above the ground) is useful or just lets the water flow in faster is a question we probably don't want the answer for... 13:45, 28 December 2021 (UTC)

If Etymology-Man's powers included "causing listeners to be enthralled by whatever explanation he gives at the expense of their own health and safety", then cueball and ponytail wouldn't be concerned about the rising water in the last panel. -- IJustWantToEditStuff (talk) 17:06, 22 March 2023 (please sign your comments with ~~~~)