Posts by Dr. Boli


Thanks to a French television magazine from 1974, we know that the proper way to translate “I tawt I taw a puddy tat” into French is “Je clois que j’ai vu un glos matou.” A more-or-less literal retranslation back to English would be “I tink I taw a big tomcat”; Tweety’s juvenile pronunciation is rendered in French by the substitution of L for R in “crois” and “gros.” The translation is not word for word (to do that we might have to invent a French word for “puddy”), but the number of syllables is (depending on your pronunciation) the same as in the original phrase, which means it works perfectly for dubbing.

There are some bits of knowledge that are so essential to one’s participation in civilized life that one wonders how one lived so long without them. You might also need to know that Tweety is “Titi,” and Sylvester is “Sylvestre.”


A correspondent who signs himself “K. J.-U.” writes to inform us that, contrary to the report published yesterday, the happiest place in the world is North Korea, where flowers of loyalty bloom spring, summer, autumn, and winter, and where never is heard a discouraging word, discouragement being a penal offense. The editor regrets the error.


The thirty-fourth annual World Happiness Index was released yesterday, with very few surprises on the list. Sweden edged out Finland for the lead spot this year, a result analysts attributed to the acute Surströmming shortage that affected Sweden in 2022. New Zealand ticked down two points in the rankings, owing to a disappointing season for the All-Whites. At the bottom of the list, for the thirty-fourth year in a row, the saddest place in the world is Walmart.


In olden times the Zebra lived in the forest and was dreadfully afraid of the open plain. His timidity made life inconvenient for him, because as everyone knows Zebras are supposed to eat grass, and grass is not found in great quantities in the forest. The poor Zebra came to the edge of the forest every morning and stuck his head out just far enough to nibble at the grass beyond the trees, but each morning the grass was farther away, and the Zebra had to stick his head out farther, until this nearly became the story of How the Giraffe Got His Neck, but we have already heard that one.

Eventually his friend the Albatross persuaded him to see a therapist. We are not quite sure why the Zebra had a friend who was an Albatross, but we are not going to waste time at present trying to come up with a hypothesis to account for it. So the Zebra went to see the Gorilla, who operated a therapy parlor with a sideline in tattoos, and asked for a couple of pounds of therapy.

“We are having a special today,” said the Gorilla. “If you buy three pounds of therapy, we will include a full-body tattoo of your choice absolutely free.”

“I don’t really want a tattoo,” said the Zebra.

“Well, you have to take it,” said the Gorilla. “It’s today’s special. You can’t leave without a tattoo.”

“Isn’t that kidnapping or something?”

“No. It is the rule of the house, and if you disobey the rule of the house, we must send you to prison.”

“I didn’t know we had prisons in the forest,” the Zebra said.

“Well, technically we don’t. So we just dress you up in the convict suit and rely on your sense of honor to keep you confined to one place, more or less. Within reason.”

“I think I’d look pretty silly in a convict suit.”

“Then I’d recommend getting the tattoo. It’s your only option. Besides, I’ve been itching to finish the tattoo I started on the Okapi before he up and ran away from me.”

“And what if I up and run away from you, too?” asked the Zebra.

“You can’t. I locked the door.”

“I didn’t know we had doors in the forest.”

“You should pay more attention to your surroundings. And now, Zebra, for your therapy session. You’ve got agoraphobia, and you should snap out of it. Now for the tattoo…”

Suddenly there was a voice from the doorway: “What’s all this, then?”

“Inspector African Striped Squirrel!” cried the Gorilla. “I thought I locked that door!”

“We don’t have doors in the forest,” said the Squirrel. “Has this Gorilla character been bothering you, Mr. Zebra?”

“He says I can’t leave unless he gives me a tattoo,” said the Zebra, “and I don’t want a tattoo.”

“Aha!” said Inspector Squirrel. “The old can’t-leave-without-a-tattoo scam! Why, I’ve been trying to catch him red-handed for years, but you did it in one afternoon! Good work, Zebra! How would you like to be a sergeant in the African Forest Constabulary Service?”

So the Zebra took up his new position, and that is the story of How the Zebra Got His Stripes. And incidentally his new job gave him the right to be arrogant and boss people around and act like he owned the forest, so he gained confidence and lost his old agoraphobia and went out into the plains any time he was hungry.


Several correspondents had things to say about “cultural neoteny,” and all of them deserve replies. Today, almost at random, which is to say at pseudorandom, we reply to Daniel, who suggested,

Consider the rise of Verbal Emojis in place of adult speech. One or two ritual words are offered instead of a thoughtful comment. Examples: “Bro!”, “Right?!”, “True that.”, “Ship it!”.

It certainly does seem as though whole conversations drift past us on the street that are nothing but compilations of catch phrases, arranged in a predictable order that spares the speakers from thinking but somehow allows them to think they are filling the air with sparkling epigrams.

The question is whether this is a new thing. The phrases are new: our modern Oscar Wildes sneer at the older generations who responded to every stimulus with “All reet!” or “Solid!” and who greeted every unpleasant smell with “B.O.!” in foghorn tones. And of course the hep cats of those days thought the older generations were comically quaint with their “First-rate!” and “Oh, Laura!” But perhaps humanity has always reached for catch phrases to carry on most of its conversations. What are Homeric epithets if not catch phrases? “Swift-footed Achilles” is “swift-footed” because the epithet spares us from having to come up with something new to say about him every time we bring him up in conversation. Most conversation is a social recreation rather than a communication of information. If all the passengers on the streetcar were struck mute for the duration of the ride, the number who would be seriously inconvenienced by failing to receive vital information from their fellow passengers would be small. (The number offering silent thanks for an answered prayer would be at least one.)

What is new is the rise of written emojis, which have become so much a part of our culture that we describe catch phrases in terms of emojis, rather than emojis in terms of catch phrases. There was a time, not so long ago, when the only people who communicated with happy and frowny faces were elementary-school teachers: by the time students reached junior high school, they no longer required smiley faces as commentary on their quiz results, and they would have been insulted if a teacher thought they were so immature.

But, having said that, we recall that printers kept stock cuts on hand that served more or less the same purpose as emojis, and the typefounders’ catalogues are full of the things. Therefore, to remind us that even emojis are not such a new thing after all, we present Victory Rooster.

Victory Rooster

He comes from an American Type Founders catalogue dated 1897. From now on, Victory Rooster will make an appearance every time we record a minor triumph, because he expresses the idea of triumph with a thoroughness that mere words cannot match.


Illustration by Clarence F. Underwood.

Memorial Day. According to a ruling by the United States Bureau of Firsts and Superlatives, issued to settle a number of longstanding and intractable disputes among American towns and cities, Memorial Day was first celebrated on May 30, 1868, by 19,522 municipalities simultaneously.