February 22, 2004

Exclusive: Doonesbury rips off Language Log

Language Log readers who are also Doonesbury fans were shocked, shocked, to wake up and find that the Sunday morning Doonesbury strip for today was a one-joke piece entirely devoted to making fun with a curious observation that you read first here on Language Log on January 3rd, namely that communications between Pat Robertson and God appear to establish that God uses like as a hedge, as teenagers do, rather than its more grownup and formal near-equivalent if you will.

As Mark has shown, like it's not a perfect equivalent of if you will in all respects, but it's like, close. The point is that God could easily have said unto Pat, "It's going to be a blowout election, if you will, in 2004." But what is implied in Robertson's report is that God saith unto him, "It's going to be like a blowout election in 2004". The Doonesbury strip has Mark Slackmeyer discovering this fascinating fact on his radio show in an interview with Robertson -- over seven weeks late.

Language Log has spent the morning consulting with its attorneys at the distinguished Boston law firm of Dewey, Cheatham and Howe, and has considered its options for bringing a suit over this flagrant rip-off of our stuff, but after careful reflection on the advice received from counsel we have decided on this occasion not to bring the force of law to bear on Garry Trudeau for this shameless piece of borrowing, and will content ourselves with wagging the finger of warning. (Well, to be honest with you, the advice of counsel was, "Oh, give me a break; you chicken-shit bloggers don't have a prayer. Trudeau is big-league. You guys are the little people. Don't abuse the privilege of having my cell number by wasting my valuable time on this kind of footling nonsense. I'm trying to have breakfast here. I'm billing you $750 for this under the ‘or any part thereof’ clause. [Click.]")

We will not be going to court, then. However, Trudeau now owes us one. Language Log feels morally entitled to rip off one good piece of linguistic material from Trudeau's strip without being criticized for it, and will be looking for opportunities to do that over the next few months.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at February 22, 2004 12:56 PM