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July 23, 2003

Inscrutable cartoon
Posted by Teresa at 06:57 PM *

Will someone who speaks French please tell me what this is about?

Comments on Inscrutable cartoon:
#1 ::: Josh ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2003, 07:26 PM:

The caption translates roughly as "With a name like that, you must have a light hand." "Of course! Light like love and eyes as well." And the writing on the window translates as "Son of Love (i.e., Cupid), Dentist".

#2 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2003, 07:34 PM:

Thanks, Josh, but this is starting to look like one of those situations where the more information you have, the less you know, or at least understand.

#3 ::: Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2003, 07:37 PM:

The sign in the background says "Son of Love, Dentist." (Probably the dentist's name would be "Cupid" in an English cartoon?) The dentist is dressed up as Cupid and dancing as if his wings worked. The caption reads, "With a similar name, you must have a light (lightweight) hand. -- But of course, as light (frivolous) as love, and your eye ditto."

Which might be something like, "With a name like Cupid, you must have a light touch. -- Yesh, frivolous as love and your eye's the same way." (I'm thinking that "Mais zoui," is "Mais oui with slurring from a toothache.)

"L'oeil leger," or "Light eye," is an idiom I'm not familiar with, but I'd guess that it's imputing frivolity, idiocy, or insanity to the dentist. "Le9ge8re" is light in weight, and "le9ger" can definitely be translated as "frivolous."

Babelfish did okay on the bulk of the sentences, but Intertran actually translated "idem" and suggested "frivolous" while blowing the general sense of the sentences.

#4 ::: Ter ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2003, 12:14 AM:

I wonder if there's an idiom involved. L'oeil leger may be akin to legerdemain which means "sleight of hand", as in a deception or trick.

Isn't Cupid often depicted as blindfolded when shooting his arrow to induce love? Perhaps he's going to just pull any old tooth, like matching up any pair of lovers.

Maybe there's a play on words with the corkcrew. My French Argot site was no help. I'll send the URL to my French-Canadian friend.

#5 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2003, 12:41 AM:

Okay, I feel better about not being able to puzzle it out via Babelfish.

#6 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2003, 12:50 AM:

"Leger" also means "fickle." I think the patient's comment means "a delicate hand" (rather than "lightweight") and Cupid (it -might- be a dentist with an odd taste in white coats, but, uhm) puns it by answering, "Indeed, as fickle as love and its look."

Votre mileage, c'est peut-eatre variable.

#7 ::: Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2003, 02:44 AM:

there is also the possibility that we can't see the joke because it never was very funny in the first place. Happens with nineteenth century cartoons.

#8 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2003, 06:47 AM:

I like the suggested cartoon caption from the letters page of the old National Lampoon:

Young Dandy: (Seeing woman struggling with packages) Excuse me, my good woman, may I be of assistance?

Woman: (Distastefully eyeing Young Dandy's foppish dress and cloying manner) Yes, you can direct me to some gentleman who doesn't affect foppish dress and cloying manner!

Young Dandy: (Stung to the quick) Egad! My twin vanities are my downfall!

#9 ::: Charles Dodgson ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2003, 09:15 AM:

I'm reminded of the controversy of Gary Larson's "Cow Tools" cartoon from the Far Side -- an early cartoon with that caption which showed a cow apparently showing off some lumpy objects of indeterminate shape, one of which vaguely resembled a handsaw.

The cartoon prompted a small furor of interpretations, with Larson getting letters from professionals in all walks of life pleading for elucidation. Newspapers wrote articles about it. Larson's summary, years later, in The Prehistory of the Far Side: "I drew a really weird, obtuse cartoon that no one understood and wasn't funny and therefore I went on to even greater success and recognition. Yeah, I like this country".

#10 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2003, 01:08 PM:

I agree with John and Andrew. 19th-century French cartoons aren't funny very often, and I'd have translated it the way John did, except that I'd translate "oeil" as "eye". (Also, FWIW, "leger" can mean "easy," though I don't think that's the case here.) "Mais zoui" is an effeminate little lisp, in case we missed the tights and toe shoes.

#11 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2003, 02:10 PM:

I'm still translating "oeil" as "eye" -- I should have said "gaze" rather than "look," as that (rather than "appearance") was the sense in which it was intended.

Unquestionably, at some historical point, this drawing was shown to a focus group of French dentists, and the one who laughed was immediately expelled as an Alsatian infiltrator.

#12 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2003, 02:20 PM:

Hee. And at a different historical point, it was shown to a group of German dentists, and the one who laughed was also expelled as an Alsatian infiltrator. (Was it Daudet who wrote that tearjerker about The Very Last French Lesson Ever?)

#13 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2003, 06:24 PM:

Another reason the cartoon is opaque could be that it refers to some long-forgotten person or event. Spoofing something some prominent person actually said, or perhaps some dentist really did have that or a similar name, or whatever -- if it's something like that, it's anyone's guess now.

#14 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2003, 08:52 PM:

...cow apparently showing off some lumpy objects of indeterminate shape, one of which vaguely resembled a handsaw.

But can you tell it from a hawk, when the wind is southerly?

#15 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2003, 01:53 AM:

I wouldn't be surprised if it was aimed at some sort of artistic movement, just as Gilbert and Sullivan did in (if memory serves) Patience. Any idea of the date this was first published.

As with Victorian Punch, some cartoons aren't intended to be funny ha-ha.

#16 ::: language hat ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2003, 11:29 AM:

I'm guessing it's a reference to some semi-celebrity of the day. Similarly, many current New Yorker cartoons will be incomprehensible as soon as the moment of the thing or person winked at has passed. (I might add that I don't find most New Yorker cartoons funny even at their timeliest.)

#17 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2003, 02:01 PM:

Dr. Millmoss is not amused.

#18 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2004, 03:56 PM:

Gary larson has an obsession with cows. he thought it was hysterical at the time. wrong. it there is no hidden punchline that we arent seeing.

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