1535: Words for Pets

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Words for Pets
Seventh year: Perfectly coherent words, but in the pet's language, not mine.
Title text: Seventh year: Perfectly coherent words, but in the pet's language, not mine.


The comic shows four similar Euler diagrams, one for each of the first four years of living with a pet. The diagrams depict sets of words which have varying efficacy in actually identifying the pet, and each one shows how the words used by Randall to refer to his pet changes year by year (becoming less and less specific as time goes on).

In the first year it is dominated by the actual name of the pet or words closely related. For example a dog might be called "Lassie", "dog", "collie" or "boy/girl".

Moving on to the second year, these related words like "dog" and "collie" get more abundant while the actual name is seldom used. Phrases such as "good dog" or "here, boy" are likely common.

In the third year, the pet's name is no longer used at all and the owner probably uses simple phrases like "come" or "come here" to call the pet, omitting the name.

The fourth year entails the use of just any sound. This may be referring to something like Baby talk or attempted mimicry of the pet's vocalizations.

This development can be attributed to the fact, that some animals don't listen to their own name but rather react to the sound of the voice of their owner. It could also refer to the growing bond between owner and the pet.

The title text suggests that the inevitable result of this continuing pattern is that by the seventh year, Randall will be communicating with the pet in its own language. This might refer to the tendency of some pet owners to mimic or imitate their pets' vocalizations, as if speaking to them. Alternatively, this could be interpreted as a joke that pets don't have proper language and the owner has degenerated into lack on language his/herself as time goes on.

The idea of pets having a detrimental effect on human vocabulary was previously visited in 231: Cat Proximity, also with a graphical representation of the effect.


[A box is shown, with title "Words I use to refer to a pet over the years I live with it".]

[Inside the box are four diagrams. Each diagram contains three circles containing the previous one, each labeled "The pet's name", "Words related to the pet", and "Coherent words of any kind", from inside going out.]

[The first diagram contains a red circle, labeled "First Year", overlapping the innermost circle.]

[In the second diagram, the red circle, labeled "Second Year", now overlaps the first two circles.]

[In the third diagram, the red circle, labeled "Third Year", has moved away from the first circle, and is now overlapping the second and third circles.]

[In the fourth diagram, the red circle, labeled "Fourth Year Onward", has moved away from all three circles.]

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I skipped the first step by naming my cat "Cat". On the plus side, even in the third year I was still mostly calling her by her name. -- 08:06, 8 June 2015 (UTC)

My cat is also named "Cat". Then again, I call all cats "Cat". 19:00, 8 June 2015 (UTC)

Not sure this is relevant enough to include, but there's a trope about that 11:39, 8 June 2015 (UTC)

I interpreted this slightly differently. In the first year, the pet is fresh and new, and you put the effort in to call it by its name. As time goes on, you get sloppier about it. In addition, I believe he missed a ring from it: Expletives. Within a year of having a new cat, I was calling it more by expletives than its name. Drmouse (talk) 14:24, 8 June 2015 (UTC)

I thought expletives were deliberately implied, so I'm very surprised they are not mentioned in the explanation. 23:50, 8 June 2015 (UTC)

I disagree with the explanation. The comic is about words used to refer to the pet, i.e. to name the pet when talking to someone else, not to talk to the pet. For instance "I forgot to feed Lassie" might later become "I forgot to feed the dog", then "I forgot to feed the damn thing" or whatever. Am I the only one to understand "refer" like this? Zetfr 16:53, 8 June 2015 (UTC)

In my household at least, we use the animal's species as its name. For example, instead of "Have you fed Lassie?", we may say " Have you fed Dog?". I think is what Randall is implying. 17:00, 8 June 2015 (UTC)
Since he begins to refer to the animal in the animals language, I would say that only makes sense if he talks to the animal. However the way the caption is phrased it could be understood the way he talks about the animal. So I think it is impossible to say that one explanation is correct and the other is wrong. Maybe that should be mentioned in explain. --Kynde (talk) 18:14, 8 June 2015 (UTC)
Agreed. 23:24, 28 December 2015 (UTC)

I got a completely different idea to this, the relationship is one of friendship, not parentage, so the moving from name to associated to other words to sounds would be more like Hey Lassie -> Hey Dog -> Hey Fatso -> Ugh, Oi. This shows more the common friendship trope of insulting one another in a humorous way, which seems far more likely than transitioning into some kind of hybrid language for all bar the most "maternal" of owners. Hackerjack (talk) 22:40, 8 June 2015 (UTC)

I agree here. With our cat it was Hi Blaser -> Hi Cat -> You little **** -> Oi, you -> "Maw?" Drmouse (talk) 09:08, 9 June 2015 (UTC)

The "You little ****" is something I can definitely attest to. A friend of mine keeps calling his cats assholes and similar words, so often that I have a hard time remembering their actual names. "come here" isn't how one "refers to" a pet, it's how one might call a pet, which isn't what the comic is about at all... Maplestrip (talk) 09:15, 9 June 2015 (UTC)

I call my dog "plague" (makes more sense in our dialect of Portuguese). 23:24, 28 December 2015 (UTC)
Was it a black dog, by any chance? Brenda (talk) 11:36, 20 April 2019 (UTC)

I wouldn't say Randall is restricting this comic to either of the two major possibilities: speaking to the pet, or speaking about the pet. It could well be a mixture of both. We have a cat whose name is "Pwca" (Welsh spelling, same as "Pooka" as in the Jimmy Stewart movie "Harvey") but the name varies between "Pwca" and "Picklebean" and just "Bean" right along with "silly kitty" and "funny girl" and other descriptive words. She has a typical little short chirp that she uses to get our attention or to complain about something, and we often chirp back to her, so that would be "the pet's own language." My daughter's cat "Minnie" is "Minners" or "Minimum" or "Min-Min" or again, descriptive terms. You could certainly argue that some of those words are borderline incoherent. In most cases, they can be used while speaking either /to/ the pet, or /of/ the pet to a third party (or sometimes to the universe at large.) Note that the phrase "pet name" has a double meaning, with 'pet' either a noun or an adjective, and in the latter case usually not actually referring to a pet.Taibhse (talk) 00:43, 10 June 2015 (UTC)

Randall talks to cats: 231 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I thought it is Vienn diagram not Euler diagram (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I call my kitty "foofy butt," "foofbutt," "fluffbutt," "plushbutt," "puffbutt," "squishy," [gibberish cooing], "meow meow," "hairy baby" (BH6 is my favorite animated movie), identical meows to his, and sometimes, occasionally, his actual name Mitu. Or Mittu My mom spells it differently than me. For the longest time, autocorrect autocorrected his name to MIT. xD Now all I can picture is me stroking the dome of one of the best schools in the entire world like it's a kitty. KITTY.

I miss him. He has lung cancer, and is at home, and I'm away at college. My poor little foofehbutt :c International Space Station (talk) 05:20, 7 October 2015 (UTC)

If you just listened to what my mother called her cats throughout the day you'd think their names were "Trouble" "You Ratbag" and "Get down off that!" -Pennpenn 01:22, 15 January 2016 (UTC)

By the time my parents' dog died her name had expanded from 'Lucy' to 'Lucius Germanicus P. Codwagon the Great' and my dad would talk about how she got lost up in the frozen spruce country and saw the Wendigo. To be fair she was like 14 by that point, so it's possible that we had reached past talking to her in her language to achieve complete screaming psychosis. She seemed to enjoy being told spooky stories about herself, though, so that was okay. 04:44, 7 August 2017 (UTC)

Maybe it's just me, but I interpreted it as referring to the gradual transition where the pets name is gradually morphed into something else and/or it's given a nickname, which also eventually morphs. I once had a cat named "Smoky", which became "Swiss Mocha", and eventually "Bin-Bin" (I forget how exactly". My dog "Rasta" eventually became "Googer" or "Biggur" (I think that was "Good girl" and "Big girl" originally; "Biggoogurl" was also used sometimes). "Pupplet" and "Dogalog" also saw use. Her actual name is reserved for when she is bad or I'm trying to get her attention when she's running around outside. 06:52, 7 January 2018 (UTC)

We have a dog named Gypsy, and that somehow became "Dipper". PoolloverNathan (talk) 17:13, 19 January 2021 (UTC)

i call my dog a dingus, which turns into a dongus or donkus or doinkus. also for cats, good kitty --> gooky 14:28, 28 September 2021 (UTC)Bumpf

there are no cats. there are just small fluffies. PoolloverNathan[stalk the blue seas]UTSc 16:57, 28 October 2021 (UTC)