Monkey School


Every so often I do a cartoon that attracts a certain amount of angry mail. Normally it is for something I didn’t do that the reader misunderstood or something I did unintentionally, like using a word I didn’t know was a hot button for a certain group. The following bit of angry mail relates to the cartoon below and is a new category for me so I thought I’d share it, lest you have “innocent, impressionable children” at home and you should want to protect panel 08-31-15

Dear Mr. Piraro,

Aside from the monkey-see-monkey-do school of misinformation, where do people like you get the idea that words like nonfat are hyphenated? Certainly not in any dictionary of American English that I ever saw. Mine, for instance, has upwards of a thousand such words from nonabrasive to nonzealous. This matters because innocent, impressionable children will see your blunder and imitate it. Give good example to America’s youth, not bad.

Name withheld

I can easily defend my choice to hyphenate this word by saying it is a sign written by the character in the comic. It was his mistake, not mine. But that would be dodging responsibility for my callous and foolhardy behavior that most certainly has poisoned any number of young minds. So please accept my heartfelt apology for this grievous error. As of this day, I will no longer be asking my monkey (seen above driving a truck) about issues of punctuation  and I encourage you parents out there to advise your children to do the same.


53 thoughts on “Monkey School

  1. You’ll be happy to know that a quick google shows plenty of dairy products labeled with “non-fat” as well as “nonfat”. This chap must be huge fun at dinner parties.

  2. Really?! (And while I know that’s a hackneyed expression, it fits here). Be assured that I “got” your intent. I laughed right out loud and the hyphenated “non-fat” fits the character perfectly!!

  3. I think the hyphen between non and fat shows why the guy is panhandling–he can’t spell. Let that be a lesson to the kids of America who haven’t the depth of imagination to resist the urge to troll out their own ignorance. Keep up the good work. (a fellow Tul-san)

  4. The reason we have difficulty understanding Chaucer or Shakespeare accurately without footnotes is that language changes over time. The main engine of change is vernacular misuse of the language, which becomes accepted and commonplace before the academics embrace change. Those who hold onto the old edition of the dictionary will lose the ability to communicate effectively, as new editions are published. As to hyphenating, longer words are harder to read and breaking them up helps. It’s all based on breath, a hyphen is a shorter pause between than a space, but more than a syllable; so the flow of breath is interrupted, but gently.

  5. The real problem here is that innocent, impressionable young monkeys will get the false impression that they will be able to become truck drivers when they grow up. Taxi drivers, sure, but truck drivers? Don’t give them false hope.

  6. Danny boy… didn’t they teach you better at BTW? :-)
    As far as I can tell, if these children are looking to you (or product names, advertising, etc.) for spelling help, the public school system has even more problems than not knowing how to count… seen common core math? Now there’s a joke… too bad it’s a “not funny” joke.
    Anyway Dan, just want to say, keep being your bizzaro self, and we’ll keep reading and lining your pockets with coin.

  7. There is a school of thought regarding the hyphenation of words. In the Merriam – Webster Second Edition the hyphen was king. But now with modernization and the Merriam – Webster Third Edition most hyphens are removed. Therefore, non-fat is a correct, but archaic, spelling. Perhaps our panhandler is an out-of-work dictionary sales person?

  8. I think that Mr. Withheld’s comment is absolutely awesome! I mean, correcting your, (or your cartoon character’s,) use of an errant hyphen and then, after admonishing the cartoon, uses a Tarzanic sentence like “Give good example to America’s youth, not bad,” containing either the omission of an article, or the lack of pluralization.

    In either case, it is non-productive nit-picking and complete non-sense.

    Oh yeah, and a f*cking joke!!! (Sheesh, with these people!)

  9. There is no such thing as “American English.” There are yankeeisms for sure – zillions of them – like “grits,” “y’all” and soda. But that’s it.

    • Of course there is a such thing as American English; it refers to the set of dialects we adopted from the British colonial masters. It refers to the way we spell ‘color’ without a ‘u’, or ‘defense’ with an ‘s’ rather than a ‘c’.

      And I think a few million southerners would politely disagree with your attribution of words like “y’all” and “grits” as “Yankeeisms”.

    • No such thing as American English?

      Having bounced around American international, Canadian, and Australian schools growing up, I can testify to some significant differences in word spelling (Where is the letter “u” in labour, colour, etc.?) and meaning (Ask for a rubber in grade school in Australia and you’ll get an eraser. Ask for a rubber in grade 5 in the US and I think you’ll be having a conversation with the teacher!).

  10. I would suggest the critic and the monkey change places. The monkey is the more reasonable one. I think it was Ring Lardner who said “A critic is like a one legged man who teaches running!”

  11. ‘Non-fat’, with a hyphen, is correct, as is ‘low-fat’ and all other distinctions such as non-aggressive. To spell such a word without the hyphen is a monstrous mangling of the English language. Anyone who disagrees must be a dumb-ass mo-fo. I rest my case.

  12. I understand what you are saying. I am in line the market, buying my 80% groung beef trying to make ends meet and someone with a smart phone waiting to purchase steaks with the FREAKING WELFARE CARD THE WORKING PEOPLE PROVIDE!!!. If things are so bad how do you explain the phone and steak you lazy asses..I’m just saying it does not look right. If your going to talk the talk then walk the walk

    • My phone is provided by my daughter. I buy steaks about once a year. Big deal. I wish you would get as upset about all the homeless and hungry children as you do about my phone.

    • Isn’t that the point? I mean, at least you work for your “beef.” The steaks on SNAP purchase however, is, I think, a reaction to the privileged-class smartasses (spellcheck is not happy) who have said things like, “Let them eat cake.” Next, they’ll be cutting off the heads of people like us who criticize a system from which many otherwise worthy people benefit. I suppose it would be wiser they keep their form of payment somewhat concealed to help preserve a polite society. Or at least a handgun along with the Smartphone. But then those can’t be had with the welfare card. Not yet, at least.

  13. Loathe as I am to discuss the correct use of English with an American but I will defend the Modern Panhandler’s use of “non-fat” as modern parlance along with “reduced-fat”, “low-fat”, “fat-free” and several other examples found as common (modern) idioms throughout the internet.

  14. I would write non-fat because I’m English and that is the accepted form in the UK. Most words using using the prefix ‘non’ would be hyphenated. There are a few, such as nonconformist, that commonly aren’t but it would not be seen as wrong to put a hyphen in. It’s a matter of style really. I always think the hyphen adds clarity and puts you on the right track to the meaning more quickly.

    I refuse to believe there is word ‘nonzealous’, with or without a hyphen, until I see a convincing example of its usage.

  15. Dan, you can spell any word any way you want it is your cartoon. Please do not apologize,, it’s not like you denied anyone a marriage license. What would be a good addition to this cartoon would be the dude having a “Square” credit card reader on his phone to accept card donations to his panhandling and some hipster swiping his card.

    Peace out brother I for one have always loved your stuff and thank you for making the world some what tolerable.

  16. The words “low-fat” and “fat-free” do require a hyphen. Is that logical? I would also reply to the critic that his wording is not very effective. No one cares whether other words starting with “non” are hyphenated. Stick to the point please.

  17. Why waste time responding to some coward who doesn’t have the balls to include a signature. Also, why would something like the use of a hyphen in a cartoon make that idiot blow a microchip. (Gee should that be hyphenated?). Comment on how to help the thousands (maybe millions) of people being displaced and trying to reach the safety of a safer environment in Europe. Sorry, hyphens aren’t that important.

  18. My young, 40-something, im-pressionable mind was ir-revocably harmed by this un-fathomable and flagrant mis-use of hyphens. For shame! I will never be the same.

    You will be heading from my attorney post-haste.

  19. There’s a lot of info out there indicating that your use of a compound adjective modifying additional adjectives in front of the noun is correctly hyphenated, and grammatically appropriate.
    Can’t say as much for Name Withheld’s incorrect hyphenation of “monkey see, monkey do” and questionable grammar in the use of “Give good example to America’s youth, not bad.”
    It helps one to maintain their perspective on life to realize that there’s a critic born every 4.3 seconds (2014 est.).

  20. Best thing I’ve read all day. Simply amazing.

    On a side note – Been a fan of your work for years and used to cut the comic out of the newspaper. I have a hilarious collection of your work. Simply put – The person who wrote you is a muppet.

  21. I thought the author of the “bit of angry mail” was sincere until I read the last two sentences, and then I figured it was a humor piece. Anyway, I see that people are having fun responding.

    Whether it was sincere or not, I recognize frustration with the language rapidly changing out of ignorance and/or for no apparent reason.

    Always following “where” with “at”. It’s just wrong, folks.
    Always saying “fearful” instead of “afraid”. (When did everybody start talking like a broadcast evangelist?)
    In writing, using “setup” as a verb, which it isn’t.
    Always using “gift” as a verb, when “give” will do. (OK, I concede that there can be a slight difference in connotation, but we got along fine before.)
    Always saying “fund-raise” instead of “raise funds”. (And many similar novelties.)

    OK. Enough of that.

    Dan B: Maybe you were looking to post on This is a Bizarro blog. Not quite the same thing.

  22. Maybe u should of not put the hifen their then, Mr. Piraro!

    I’m surprised no one wrote you about the fact that some 90 percent of all soy produced in the USA is genetically manipulated (GMO) by that most *benevolent* of greedy, monopolistic mega-corporations, Monsanto. Whoops, there, I just did!

    PS Is there a hyphen between mega and corporations? Is mega- anything a REAL word? I’ll google it later. (Is “google” a REAL word? I had best check out that too!)

  23. According to Google (a vast, albeit questionable authority on ‘words’), there are “About 40,900,000 results” for the hyphenated word “non-fat”… Your single cartoon is statistically insignificant to any but the very feeble-minded, antagonistic trolls out on the Internet. Keep pointing out the UN-obvious absurdities of our humble lives.

  24. What’s up with the huge eyeball in the top right corner and the piece of pie on the ground in the bottom left corner? Did you intentionally draw these items, along with the driving monkey, in some kind of lame effort to draw our attention away from the oh-so-glaring error on the sign? Just curious, George

  25. The man is a fool, why would you look in an American Dictionary to find English Usage, especially considering that an American dictionary might be in Spanish or Portuguese, or even one of the original languages of that continent. The question is – What does the Oxford English Dictionary have to say on the matter?

  26. What kind of uncultured boor are you!? And don’t get me started on the other readers who have commented here missing this obvious error!
    If any of you had ever actually been to a Starbucks or similar civilized coffee venue, you’d know a “non-fat” drink is referred to as “skinny”, as in “skinny venti soy chai latte”. Any modern bum would know that! Your lack of basic research is appalling! You cartoonists these days treat the comics like it’s some kind of joke.

  27. The comment is a clever ruse! Bizarro satire at its finest, I say! Seriously! Some Puritanical grammar teacher worries about what the errant hyphen does to the impressionable youth. Meanwhile, the monkey zips by in a delivery truck and the absolutely most outlandish panhandler ever idles on the sidewalk. The slice of pie and the eyeball seem normal by comparison. My God, the poor nine year old who stumbles across Bizarro humor for the first time is destined to be pulled into the abyss of dark satire and end up like you and me! I mean, just the thought of that commentor – the twisted, upside down logic – gives me the same, deep in the gut laugh I derive each day from Mr. Piraro’s craft. Well played!

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