1405: Meteor

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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No, only LAVA is called 'magma' while underground. Any other object underground is called 'lava'.
Title text: No, only LAVA is called 'magma' while underground. Any other object underground is called 'lava'.


This is one of Randall's comics on the topic of My Hobby. In this comic the author makes semantically incorrect statements to frustrate nerds who know the correct word, and confuse people who don't know the precise word so they can go on to frustrate more nerds.

Cueball tells a witness (a fictional stand-in for the author Randall) that he found a piece of a meteor. Randall corrects Cueball, telling him that what he found is called magma, and that that the phrase "a piece of a meteor" would be correct if the object was in the air, once it hits the ground it called magma. In doing so Randall attempts to confuse or annoy Cueball. In truth, meteorite is the expression for a piece of a meteor that has landed just as lava is the expression for magma that has reached the surface.

The word "pedantic" means being overly concerned with being precise. It is usually a pejorative term used to refer to someone who is overly fussy and corrects someone's word choice even when the more ambiguous or slightly incorrect term they used was fine for informal communication.

The title text expands on the joke, as if the conversation had continued with a confused Cueball responding that he thought magma was underground. Randall attempts to confuse him further. Indeed lava is called magma while it is underground, but it's ridiculous to suggest all other things are called lava when underground.

Meteor & Magma

Here is a list the of terminology that is being muddled:

  • Small metallic or rocky body from space is called:
    • A meteoroid while it travels through space
    • A meteor if it enters Earth's atmosphere and produces a streak of light.
    • A meteorite if it lands on a planets surface.
  • Molten rock is called:
    • Magma if it is flowing underground
    • Lava after it has been extruded to a planets surface, generally through volcanic eruption.


Cueball: Check it out -- I got a piece of a meteor!
Friend: Actually, it's only called that while falling. Once it lands, it's called Magma.
My Hobby: Mixing pedantic terms

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If meteors fall, then what is a meteoric rise? Rfvtg (talk) 04:54, 8 August 2014 (UTC)

Fast. 08:12, 8 August 2014 (UTC)
See 1115 for explanation Spongebog (talk) 11:19, 8 August 2014 (UTC)

The legend of this comic might refer to pedology, the study of soil. 06:56, 8 August 2014 (UTC)

But the sky is blue. It is a desaturated blue with a center wavelength of 474 to 476 nm. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diffuse_sky_radiation The statement that the sky is "anything but blue" is wrong.ExternalMonolog (talk) 08:34, 8 August 2014 (UTC)ExternalMonolog

does anyone else find the capitalization variation of LAVA vs lava funny? In all seriousness that would make them two different programming variables... However it is hard to notice and isn't clear on what the difference in meaning should be. This is one of the reason for using Object mObject instead of Object object in java. Mr.Smiley (talk) 10:28, 8 August 2014 (UTC)

I think it might just be for emphasis. The pedantic Cueball is becoming exasperated with the person who's getting it 'wrong'. 11:30, 8 August 2014 (UTC)

And to everybody who is't a pedantic nerd, it's a rock.Seebert (talk) 13:37, 8 August 2014 (UTC)

Is my transcription incomplete? I feel like it is because I published it really early and I have not done many transcriptions here. InAndOutLand (talk) 15:02, 8 August 2014 (UTC)

What has more nutritional value, a small rock in space or a small rock falling from space onto the Earth?
A small rock falling from space onto the Earth because it is a little meatier(meteor) 06:24, 9 August 2014 (UTC)

A meteor (follow the link!) is not an intermediate stage in the lifespan of a chunk of rock between a meteoroid and a meteorite; it is the streak of light produced by a meteoroid during its descent through the atmosphere. It spoils the joke if we're not pedantic about the pedantry! —TobyBartels (talk) 08:35, 9 August 2014 (UTC)

Nice. A lot of meteorites on the earths surface today come from broken apart, differentiated asteroidal parent bodies so they were magma once. The rocky planets have grown through accretion of meteorites so all of the earths magma used to be elsewhere in the solarsystem at the very start. Plus, with temps so high under the crust, anything found down there would be molten and dissolved in the magma anyway and called such. Mark.Squirreltape (talk) 15:49, 13 August 2014 (UTC)

Mnemonic: In the void, meteoroid. On the site, meteorite. Neither/Nor: meteor. -- CoderLass (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Great. I didn't know this maybe because I'm German. But this is worth for the explain section so I will add this. --Dgbrt (talk) 22:04, 5 November 2014 (UTC)

There is a community portal discussion of what to call Cueball and what to do in case with more than one Cueball. I have added this comic to the new Category:Multiple Cueballs. Since Randall is the one with the hobby and also the one that Cueball represents I have changed the reference to Cueball in this explanation and transcript to represent this fact. I have also made a note of this fact and the fact that the friend looks like Cueball.--Kynde (talk) 14:55, 15 March 2015 (UTC)

It's not rocket surgery. 17:34, 11 July 2018 (UTC)