2177: Gastroenterology

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Revision as of 17:37, 17 July 2019 by (talk) (I don't think Ponytail is lying)
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"Mostly it means that I'm acutely aware that the kid one table over coughed as the server walked past with our food."
Title text: "Mostly it means that I'm acutely aware that the kid one table over coughed as the server walked past with our food."


Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Created by a GASTROENTEROLOGIST. Please mention here why this explanation isn't complete. Do NOT delete this tag too soon.
If you can address this issue, please edit the page! Thanks.
Ponytail and a guy wearing a scrubs hat, seemingly being scientists as Ponytail wears a lab coat, are pursued by some offscreen people, at whom Ponytail will throw a bottle filled with probiotic and antibiotic substances, which, after being shook and thrown, surprisingly results in an explosion. This may refer to annihilation, a reaction between particles and antiparticles, which produces important energy, hence the explosion; the particles being the probiotic matter and the antiparticles being the antibiotic matter, even though annihilation usually implies subatomic particles.

In the last panel, the above is revealed to be some kind of action fantasy. Ponytail's reality is far more mundane: she is sitting at lunch and talking with Megan, the latter asking what Gastroenterology (Ponytail's job) is. Ponytail answers it is mostly boring paperwork.

Gastroenterology is the study of the normal function and diseases of the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon and rectum, pancreas, gallbladder, bile ducts and liver.

In the title text, Ponytail adds that her work makes her aware of a child coughing as the server was bringing food at the restaurant table, exposing the food to possible germs.


Ambox notice.png This transcript is incomplete. Please help editing it! Thanks.

Cueball: Hurry, they're right behind us!
Ponytail picks up a probiotic and antibiotic, combining them into a single jar.
Ponytail shakes the jar three times before throwing it, presumably at the off-panel pursuers.
There is an explosion off-panel as Cueball and Ponytail continue to flee.
Megan: So what's gastroenterology like?
Ponytail: Pretty boring. Lotta paperwork.

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I hope they are not eating italian, you never know what might happen if pasta and antipasta meet. Arachrah (talk) 16:23, 17 July 2019 (UTC)

Yea I figure this is a matter / anti-matter joke. Cgrimes85 (talk) 16:55, 17 July 2019 (UTC)
This antimatter explanation lacks the usual "punch" that I would expect from XKCD on a science joke. It's unsatisfying because the comic lacks any (other) reference to physics or space. My best guess is that it's a pun based on an alternate interpretation of the word "gastroenterology." Could some part of the word be re-used (or commonly used) in another, more explosive context? Could the explosion refer to methane production by the body? Or is it somehow a joke about a movie, or the general movie trope of making scientists into action heros? Jpaugh (talk) 14:41, 18 July 2019 (UTC)
It's playing on the general idea that mixing opposites often results in a violent reaction. Acid/Alkali or Matter/Antimatter. In a sense, probiotics and antibiotics are opposites - and in the (evidently very boring) world of gastroenterology - this is about as exciting at it gets. Obviously, the actual reaction between such things would be very slow and exceedingly un-exciting. SteveBaker (talk) 13:58, 19 July 2019 (UTC)

Current transcript says "Cueball" is the second character in the first and fifth panels. I don't think that's usually how it's done for a character wearing a hat, so I was thinking he should instead be named something like "Beanie Guy" or similar. Ianrbibtitlht (talk) 17:21, 17 July 2019 (UTC)

I think the hat looks like a surgical scrub cap[1]. Rtanenbaum (talk) 22:45, 17 July 2019 (UTC)

Saying the final panel is a lie is just one possibility. The 5th panel below can potentially mean the "reality", as opposed to the 4 panels above that's a fantasy/joke. Almost all jobs have this "what people think I do" and "what I really do" gap. Another possibility: I thought I saw in old cop/secret agent movies a common joke is when a character gets into a lot of action - and thus cause a lot of trouble - that person will need to write a lot of paperwork for the damage caused. Then the character will say "this job is boring. Lots of paperwork." Sorry I can't find an example right now but I seemed to remember seeing the joke multiple times.

It's hard to appreciate gastroenterology jokes if you've ever had a colonoscopy.Barmar (talk) 17:44, 17 July 2019 (UTC)

I disagree, & I'm holding back a bunch of bad puns about it. ProphetZarquon (talk) 18:02, 17 July 2019 (UTC)

I see a thematic connection with the comic about appendicitis treatment, although this could be about an unrelated ailment. 18:01, 17 July 2019 (UTC)

Current explanation says 'over-coughing'. What's that? a kid one table over, coughed. 10:22, 18 July 2019 (UTC)

Fixed! (Did you know they just hand out logins?) Jpaugh (talk) 14:53, 18 July 2019 (UTC)

"Another possibility is that the sequence refers to a reaction between an acid and a base," WHAT? No. They're specifically labeled! Where did "acid and base" even come from? Why not "Yin and Yang" or "White meat and dark meat"?? 10:46, 18 July 2019 (UTC)

I think the editor meant that the sequence is comically pretending that the mixing of probiotics and antibiotics gives a similar explosive effect to an acid/base reaction (or a matter/antimatter reaction) - they're not saying that that's literally what's happening. They're explaining the possible inspiration behind the cartoon logic. Hawthorn (talk)
And now the explanation covers that nicely. Well done. 09:49, 19 July 2019 (UTC)

It seems possible that the fantasy as a whole is a reference to a scene in the series Breaking Bad, in which Walter White substitutes fulminate of mercury for crystal meth, then uses it to cause a(n unrealistically large) explosion in the office of a rival. However, similar scenes can be found in earlier shows and films (e.g., the show MacGyver has several instance of such), so it may not be a reference to this specific one. 17:29, 18 July 2019 (UTC)

Any take on the meaning of the abundance of white space in the lower left part of the comic? Spongebob (talk) 15:17, 18 July 2019 (UTC)

My take is that it's a narrative device: the white space in which nothing is happening represents the two people just quietly eating, in stark contrast to the action-packed scene above. Hawthorn (talk) 19:46, 18 July 2019 (UTC)
It's almost as if the first row of frames is in a "think balloon" within the last frame. SteveBaker (talk) 13:58, 19 July 2019 (UTC)

My preferred interpretation is that Ponytail is to Gastroenterology what Indiana Jones is to Archeology... A usually boring field but Ponytail's / Indiana's versions are secretly more exciting. :) And Ponytail is keeping the exciting part to herself, just sharing the standard part. (Actually, now that I write that, I wonder if that's what Randall was going for) NiceGuy1 (talk) 05:43, 20 July 2019 (UTC)

In a sealed container prebiotics and probiotics would generate CO2 and explode, although it would take a while and likely not be a large explosion. As said antibiotics would likely just kill the probiotics.BlakeFelix (talk) 13:45, 22 July 2019 (UTC)

I think you'll find Gastroenterology is the study of the words used to describe the high quality food found in a moth's stomach :-) --OliReading (talk) 12:28, 30 July 2019 (UTC)