Title text: Astronomy (or "astrology" in British English) is the study of ...
Contrails (short for "condensation trails") are trails of vapor produced by aircraft exhaust, and are composed primarily of water. The Chemtrail conspiracy theory claims that contrails lasting unusually long are actually chemical or biological agents sprayed into the air for sinister purposes. Here, White Hat notices that there are a lot of contrails in the air. Cueball corrects him, saying that in American English, contrails are called chemtrails. This, however, is incorrect.
The title text implies that astronomy and astrology are synonymous, though astrology is used in British English. However, this is incorrect. Though both involve studying celestial objects, astrology is about interpreting positions of celestial objects as having influences on human affairs, while astronomy is the scientific study of celestial objects on a universal scale.
Contrail stands for “condensation trail”, which is the trailing cloud often found after jet planes that fly by. Itʼs formed from water sublimating on jet fuel exhaustions, some impurities of which provide bases for ice crystals to cumulate on. Some would dissipate in minutes, but others can last for hours or even longer.
Chemtrail, specifically referring to contrails that last for very long, is a conspiracist term that states such clouds can last so long because there are other chemicals added in jet fuel, thus achieving malicious results. Itʼs not approved by scientific community.
The joke is that British English and American English often call the same object with different terms, and one can often learn new words for a simple thing. This, however is not the case in this comic; contrail and chemtrail do not refer to the same thing, the latter being only a part of the former. And it being xkcd, we can assume that chemtrail is a term that is frowned upon. Thus the comic states it as misinformation.
The title text includes a similar situation: astronomy is serious study about things in outer space, like stars, planets, and galaxies. Astrology, however, is a system that infers one’s personalities and characteristics from zodiacs of her date of birth, which is a constellation assigned to a period of time in a year. The same system can also derive predictions about future, especially that of a relationship. Some would argue that astrology shows statistical values, but itʼs hardly science as by the standard of scientific community.
Given that the "American English" version is the conspiracy theory one for contrails/chemtrails, while who confuses astronomy and astrology is not fully clear, it is possible that the rest of the explanation of the astronomy vs astrology text would describe astrology. In that case, this could be a comment on the educational status in US vs UK, where the conspiracy theories and superstition (astrology) are much more visble in the US that in the UK (or Europe in general).
- [Cueball and a White Hat are walking. White Hat is looking up to the sky.]
- White Hat: Lots of contrails today.
- Cueball: Oh, you must be from the UK. In American English it's "Chemtrail".
- [Caption under the panel]
- My hobby: Spreading linguistic misinformation
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