2372: Dialect Quiz
Title text: Do you make a distinction between shallots, scallops, and scallions? If you use all three words, do they all have different meanings, all the same, or are two the same and one different?
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This comic is a parody of online quizzes that offer to compare the user's dialect of American English with others around the country. These quizzes generally contain questions about word usage, names for certain objects, and pronunciations that vary between different regions of the US. There are also quizzes about broader English dialects, but this comic focuses on commonly cited differences between American dialects.
The earliest quiz of this type to be widely disseminated online was the Harvard Dialect Survey, conducted in the early 2000s by Bert Vaux and Scott Golder. The survey created maps of the distribution of various word usage (such as pop/soda/Coke for a fizzy drink) and was a relatively early example of widely shared Internet "viral" content. In 2013, Josh Katz of the New York Times created a new version based on the Harvard survey, which became the Times' most popular content of 2013 and spread the idea to many more people. Many of the questions in this comic directly derive from entries in those surveys.
Randall's previous two comics have been about election predictions, leading up to the 2020 US General Presidential Election. A prominent predictor of the election results is Nate Silver, who runs the FiveThirtyEight website. @NateSilver538 posted his results of taking the New York Times version of the survey on October 11, 2020... just three days before this comic was posted. 2371: Election Screen Time specifically suggests that Randall may be spending too much time obsessing over new posts and content from the election predictors. It's coincidental, but likely, that Nate Silver's tweet inspired Randall's post: he was reminded of the 2013 feature from the Times.
|1||How do you address a group of two or more people?||
||Reference to the first question of the Times quiz: "How would you address a group of two or more people?" (with options including "you all", "you guys", "y'all", etc.). Option C may reference the significant decrease in human interaction and social contact during the COVID-19 pandemic.|
|2||How do you pronounce "Penelope"?||
|| Both the options for this are wrong, making it the first of many quiz questions it is impossible to answer correctly.
Neither Option A's "PEN-e-lohp" /ˈpɛnɪˌloʊp/ and Option B's "pe-NELL-up" /pɪˈnɛləp/ are a typical pronunciation of this name (beyond mispronunciations). In English, the only correct way to pronounce this name is "pe-NELL-o-pee" /pəˈnɛləpi/, which is not listed.
|3||What do you call the scientific field that studies the stars?||
||The actual answer is Astronomy, which is not listed. Astrology is the pseudo-scientific "study" of the influence of the stars and planets on our lives, including horoscopes (often confused with Astronomy due to its similar name), Agronomy is scientific but instead studies agriculture, and Cosmetology is the study of cosmetics and makeup (with a name close to Cosmology, a branch of Astronomy). The last may also be referring to the (occasionally makeup-heavy) faces of movie and television "stars".|
|4||How do you pronounce "genre"?||
|| Reference to a question found on some quizzes: "How do you pronounce genre? ZHAHN-ruh, or JAHN-ruh?"
A majority of (American) English speakers pronounce "genre" as either "ZHAHN-ruh" (beginning with the "zh" sound found in "treasure") or "JAHN-ruh" (beginning with the "j" sound in "justice"). Neither of these are listed, and none of the quiz's pronunciation options are common. However, they are close to other words: Gone-ra sounds like gonorrhea, Juh-neer is the way the second and third syllables of engineer are are pronounced, and Jen-er-uh is a word (genera), the plural of genus.
|5||You pronounce "Google" with a high-pitched yelp on the...||
||Reference to general questions regarding differences in pronunciation of words. "Google" is not generally pronounced with a high-pitched yelp on either syllable. Yahoo!, on the other hand, has advertised its services with a high-pitched yodeling jingle, with the high-pitched yelp on the second syllable (as opposed to Goofy's iconic holler, with the high yelp on the first syllable).|
|6||What do you call the thing on the wall at school that you drink water from?||
||Reference to a quiz question in the Harvard and Times quizzes, "What do you call the thing from which you might drink water in a school?" Answers included "drinking fountain", "water fountain", and "bubbler". However, the question in this comic implies that school children (or at least the quiz maker) drink out of gutter pipes or drain pipes, which are used to collect rainwater and/or should absolutely not be drunk from.|
|7||How do you pronounce the name for a short silent video file?||
||Reference to the "Gif" pronunciation debate, with people split between pronouncing it "gif" (with the hard G sound in "graphics") or "jif" (with the soft G sound in "giraffe"). Both options presented in this quiz use the hard G sound, but neither option uses the commonly-agreed on pronunciation for the ending of the word, “if”.|
|8||What do you call the baseball-sized garden bugs that, when poked, glow brightly and emit a warbling scream?||
||Reference to a question in the Harvard and Times quizzes: "What do you call the small gray bug that curls up into a ball when it’s touched?" (options include "roly-poly," "pill-bug", "potato bug", "doodle bug", etc.). Another question common to these sorts of quizzes regards the Lampyridae family of bioluminescent insects, variously called "fireflies," "glowworms," or "lightning bugs" (although these insects emit their light spontaneously, as a mating signal, and not in response to external stimuli such as being poked). However, there are no common "baseball-sized garden bugs," let alone bioluminescent ones that emit a warbling scream, though a cockroach that can approach this size does famously make a loud noise. May also be a reference to what "potato bug" means to people in the eastern part of the United States and what it means to people in the western part of the United States.|
|9||What do you call the misleading lines painted by disgruntled highway workers to trick cars into driving off the road?||
|| Reference to the fact that some quiz questions ask about road features, such as "verge/berm/parking strip/curb strip" and "roundabout/traffic circle". However, these particular road lines, if they have ever been made, aren't common enough to warrant different names. The Delaware Line was a formation within the Continental Army. May also just be a dig at Delaware.
Misleading lines on the road were also mentioned in 1958: Self-Driving Issues.
|10||What do you call the blue-green planet in the outer Solar System?||
||This question references the two common pronunciations of Uranus: "YURR-ə-nəss" and "yoo-RAY-nəss" (which sounds like the phrase "Your anus", a favorite joke of little kids). The original pronunciation is "oo-ra-noos", both u's pronounced the same way, but this is not a common pronunciation among the general public. It also references the fact that Uranus and Neptune are both blue-ish colored planets in the outer solar system and are often confused by people who don't know much about them. Uranus is closer to being the correct answer - it could plausibly be described as cyan, a color intermediate between blue and green - while Neptune is a deep, unambiguous blue.|
|11||What do you call this tool?||
|| The only name most people would ever call this tool is a "hammer".
The last two options reference options in many quiz questions along the lines of "I'm familiar with this but have no specific word for it" and "I am not familiar with this" (such as on the pill-bug/roly-poly question on the real quiz). These may appear as options to questions that ask about something that might not exist everywhere, or something which many may not have a word for (for example, some areas of the United States have a name for "sunshowers," while most don't). However, it's a bit absurd for these options to be present for this question (and this question alone), as most users would be expected to know what a hammer is.
|12||What do you call a long sandwich with meats and lettuce and stuff?||
|| Reference to a common dialect quiz question: "What do you call a long sandwich?" with options typically including "sub", "hoagie", "hero", etc.
The hot dog answer could refer to the common online discussion: "Is a hot dog a sandwich?"
|13||What do you call the scaly many-legged animal often found in attics?||
|| Another reference to the frequent appearance of quiz questions asking what users call various creepy crawlies.
Millipedes best fit the description. They have many legs, though rarely if ever a thousand of them, as their name (from the Greek for "thousand feet") suggests. The hard rings that separate an individual's body into segments give the animal a scaly appearance. And of the thousands of species, only a few have common names, hence "no special name for them". The reference to "lightbulb eater" is obscure, but may refer to the tendency of millipedes to congregate in large numbers in dark crevices. Perhaps Randall found some in empty (no bulb) light fixtures in his attic.
|14||What do you say when someone around you sneezes?||
|| Reference to a question on some quizzes about which of several words/phrases you say in response to a sneeze, with usual answers including "bless you", "God bless you", and "Gesundheit" (from the German word for 'health').
This question may also be referencing the COVID-19 pandemic in answer C (and possibly answer B). Sneezing isn't a primary symptom of COVID-19, but most people are hyper-aware of possibly contracting the disease from the people around them so sneezes are treated with suspicion and it's seen as rude to sneeze openly.
It is also possible that a person who has been able to catch a sneeze-producing condition has also caught COVID-19 and, while the sneeze itself isn't caused by it, the air and various airway fluids so forcefully projected are a possible infective vector with that little extra frisson of concern, given the current situation.
|Title Text||Do you make a distinction between shallots, scallops, and scallions? If you use all three words, do they all have different meanings, all the same, or are two the same and one different?|| Phrased similarly to questions like, on the Times quiz, "How do you pronounce the words Mary, merry, and marry?" Options included "all three are pronounced the same", "all three are pronounced differently," or all three combinations of two being the same and one different. Refers to the naming confusion around scallions and shallots - also known as 'eschalots' - but with the unrelated but similar-sounding scallops substituted in the middle.
'Shallots', 'scallions' and 'eschalots' are names used in different dialects, for various species and cultivars of onion used in cooking, either as a small bulb (especially Allium cepa var. Aggregatum) or as a green leaf (especially Allium fistulosum). In many dialects, the green leaf type is called a 'scallion' and the bulb a 'shallot'. In at least one dialect (NSW Australia) the green leaf type is called a 'shallot' and the bulb an 'eschalot'. This causes confusion in recipes posted online. The word 'shallot' is also pronounced with emphasis on either the first or second syllable, as refered to in question 5. Despite the answer options offered, there is no evidence of dialects which use all three terms, or where 'shallot' and 'scallion' are interchangeable.
Scallops are invertebrate marine animals similar to oysters and clams, frequently harvested for food. In some regions of the UK and Australia potato fritters are also called 'scallops'. The word 'scallop' itself can be pronounced either as /ˈskɒləp/ or /ˈskæləp/, and its spelling has varied over time in a similar way to that of 'shallot'. However, these are difficult to confuse with shallots or scallions.
[Box with title at the top]
- Dialect Quiz
[Smaller subtitle underneath]
- Compare answers with your friends!
[Quiz is divided into two columns. Answers to questions are indicated by a letter followed by a closed parentheses, such as A). These letters are greyed out]
How do you address a group of two or more people?
- A) You
- B) Y'all
- C) I have not been around two or more people for so long that I can't remember
How do you pronounce "Penelope"?
- A) Rhymes with "Antelope"
- B) Rhymes with "Develop"
What do you call the scientific field that studies the stars?
- A) Astrology
- B) Agronomy
- C) Cosmetology
How do you pronounce "genre"?
- A) Gone-ra
- B) Juh-neer
- C) Jen-er-uh
You pronounce "Google" with a high-pitched yelp on the...
- A) First syllable
- B) Second syllable
What do you call the thing on the wall at school that you drink water from?
- A) Gutter pipe
- B) Drainpipe
How do you pronounce the name for a short silent video file?
- A) Animated give
- B) Animated gift
What do you call the baseball-sized garden bugs that, when poked, glow brightly and emit a warbling scream?
- A) What?
- B) Lawn buddies
What do you call the misleading lines painted by disgruntled highway workers to trick cars into driving off the road?
- A) Prank lines
- B) Devil's Marks
- C) Fool-me lines
- D) Fauxguides
- E) Delaware lines
What do you call the blue-green planet in the outer Solar System?
- A) Uranus
- B) Neptune
What do you call this tool?
[Image of a claw hammer]
- A) Banger
- B) Nail axe
- C) Wood mage wand
- D) I'm familiar with this tool but have no specific word for it
- E) I have never seen it before
What do you call a long sandwich with meats and lettuce and stuff?
- A) A long sandwich with meats and lettuce and stuff
- B) A longwich
- C) A salad hot dog
What do you call the scaly many-legged animal often found in attics?
- A) Lightbulb eater
- B) I have no special name for them
- C) I've never looked in my attic
What do you say when someone around you sneezes?
- A) "What was that?"
- B) "Oh, wow."
- C) [Quietly] "Yikes."
- The xkcd Twitter account posted a series of Twitter polls asking the questions in this comic.
- Shallots, scallops, and scallions ran against each other in 1529: Bracket
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