dorks, dykes, and librarians

July 20th, 2007 | Uncategorized

Today I got to answer a few questions on Paper Cuts, a New York Times blog on books by Dwight Garner, the senior editor of The Book Review.

And here’s a video interview with me that just went up on Man, what a dork. This was at The MoCCA festival last month in New York City.

On the linguistic front, there’s been a new ruling in the “Dykes on Bikes” case that I posted about two years ago. Remember how the SF Dykes on Bikes won a battle to trademark their name with the patent office, who thought it was “offensive?” Apparently, after that, some guy decided HE was offended, and took the patent office to court. But it’s okay. Dykes won.

Oh, and thank you to the several people who’ve posted or emailed me about this cartoon about Fun Home by Paul Sizer. I met him at the American Library Association convention last month and he did this piece for the site of an online comic strip about librarians called Unshelved.

62 Responses to “dorks, dykes, and librarians”

  1. Alex K says:

    We need a Latinist.

    “Meae generis”? In the third person, for a woman, “suae generis”?

    I used to know all that stuff. Now… Meh.

  2. So UN-pc says:

    Si vos es non amo ceterus , is est quoniam vos es vilis discrepo. Vos es a scholasticus altissimus ordo. So there.

  3. So UN-pc says:

    Um…since my skill at Latin translation has also clearly fallen by the wayside, I retract my previous statement. (Except for the Scholasticus altissimus ordo part. That much is true. The rest is gibberish.) I suppose what I wanted to say, I can say in plain English: “Dork” is an interesting word. I define it as follows: A highly intelligent (check) usually self-effacing (check) and humorous (triple check) person whose painful shyness/ social awkwardness (um…check) often manifests itself in nervous yet unbearably charming speech and behavior (Check aaaand check). So, um….being a dork really isn’t a bad thing. Unless you go with the literal translation of being a whale penis.

  4. DaneGreat says:

    Man, what is it with terms like dork and geek?

    Dork = abovementioned Whale Penis.

    Geek = a carnival performer who performs sensationally morbid or disgusting acts, as biting off the head of a live chicken.
    [Origin: 1915- 20; prob. var. of geck (mainly Scots) fool

  5. DaneGreat says:

    Or, just for fun…

    Nerd = the word nerd, undefined but illustrated, first appeared in 1950 in Dr. Seuss’s If I Ran the Zoo: “And then, just to show them, I’ll sail to Ka-Troo And Bring Back an It-Kutch a Preep and a Proo A Nerkle a Nerd and a Seersucker, too!” (The nerd is a small humanoid creature looking comically angry, like a thin, cross Chester A. Arthur.) Nerd next appears, with a gloss, in the February 10, 1957, issue of the Glasgow, Scotland, Sunday Mail in a regular column entitled “ABC for SQUARES”: “Nerd—a square, any explanation needed?” Many of the terms defined in this “ABC” are unmistakable Americanisms, such as hep, ick, and jazzy, as is the gloss “square,” the current meaning of nerd. The third appearance of nerd in print is back in the United States in 1970 in Current Slang: “Nurd [sic], someone with objectionable habits or traits…. An uninteresting person, a ‘dud.'” Authorities disagree on whether the two nerds—Dr. Seuss’s small creature and the teenage slang term in the Glasgow Sunday Mail—are the same word. Some experts claim there is no semantic connection and the identity of the words is fortuitous. Others maintain that Dr. Seuss is the true originator of nerd and that the word nerd (“comically unpleasant creature”) was picked up by the five- and six-year-olds of 1950 and passed on to their older siblings, who by 1957, as teenagers, had restricted and specified the meaning to the most comically obnoxious creature of their own class, a “square.”

  6. kate says:

    no, you’re no dork at all–you’re thoughtful when answering questions and genuine. it’s nice and refreshing to see.

    2.5 years is a bit insane, though.

  7. Lisa (Calico) says:

    Wonderful interview. Good luck with your next Memoir.

  8. klm says:

    I used “dork” to describe myself back in response to the May 30 “It worked!” post. Now, of course, I realize I had no idea what it meant but, gosh, I sure did feel like one. Thus does experience trump knowledge.

    For the record, I AM a Latinist and Alex K. is probably right — the first person would be generis mei (“of my own kind”) rather than (the third person) sui generis. The gender of the adjective is correct, though, since the noun is neuter regardless. But, frankly, since AB was speaking English and not Latin, I think we can allow her to use the standard phrase. ‘Cause otherwise she might have sounded like a … um …

  9. clara_lemlich says:

    Nice interview– Sekou Sundiata died and the article about him is also in today’s NY Times…

  10. reinie says:

    I love Unshelved, but I missed your book in the Book Club! Thanks for the link, it’s great.

  11. Lauren Z says:

    What a great comic! I like the end part. I would probably act the same way. I think this comic reviewing Fun Home with such high praise – WITHIN the comic is so wonderful! Thy must really like Alison and her work! Very cute!

  12. f says:

    With apologies for being even further OT: I’m a librarian and computer geek, and I tell people that my chipped teeth are from biting the heads off disk drives. Well, it’s more fun than the truth, which is that I was biting into a bagel. (And I met the creators of Unshelved at ALA last month, where they signed two of their books for me.)

  13. So UN-pc says:

    Incidentally, while we’re on the subject, I never understood why my parents objected so strongly to my use of words like dork and scumbag — I mean, I *could* be swearing — until I realized the literal definitions. We have discussed the whale penis, but my mother eventually also explained to me that a scumbag was a used condom, and while I see the logic in the explanation, I fail to find evidence of this in any dictionary. Anyone else ever hear of this?

  14. DeLandDeLakes says:

    I Looooooovvve Paul Sizer’s drawing of you! But if I may digress about this McDermott, ahem, “dork”:

    What. An. Ass. The brazen whining coming from a number of white, male, Christian guys about how oppressed they are by women and lesbians makes me want to rip his heart out of his chest with my bare hands, Hothead Paisan-style. Talk about inciting dyke “violence” against men. (Plus if you’ve got a problem with SF dykes, dude, you can always go back to fuckin’ Dublin!)

  15. gatheringwater says:

    Having just read Fun Home, it was touching to see the NYT photo of AB in a room full of William Morris wallpaper and memories. I felt like I was seeing a ghost.

  16. little gator says:

    scumbag=used condom? I can’t remember not knowing that.
    here’s one vote for “everyone” knows that.

  17. So UN-pc says:

    I’m with you on that one, gatheringwater. It was disturbing and beautiful all at the same time. And little gator, *I’d* never heard it. But here’s to a relatively sheltered life in New York’s Hudson Valley in the ’80s.

  18. van says:

    Heh! Funny interviews. Re: video, this cracked me up: “… but #1 Book of the Year, which is a a great moment for all of graphic narrative.” (fake laugh, then deadpan face) “I’m very happy about it.” lol

  19. Tera says:

    I love the Paul Sizer Cartoon! What was it like to see yourself drawn by another artist? I love that he did a cartoon, with your cartoon in it. Did he have to contact you for permission first?

  20. Josiah says:

    For what little it’s worth, I’d never heard that definition of “scumbag” before I read it on this page. Not that I doubt the purported etymology — I suppose I was sheltered too.

  21. Alex K says:

    @ klm: Thanks. In spite of the “Meh” above, I really DO care about getting things tidily “right”, so I welcome the reminder that “genus” is a neuter noun.

    The floorboards, the heating, at the Beech Creek house. Interesting, to me, not to see typically, “authentically” late 19th-century bulky cast-iron under-window radiators – I don’t remember images from FUN HOME well enough, and I now wonder if the heating has been changed since the house left AB’s family. The flooring, though, seems wide-board, and thus likely original. It looks like s / p / f, spruce-pine-fir, interchangeable softwood, if I’m reading the knot pattern correctly. Unusually spare for a rich man’s dwelling; no patterning, no border. Was luxury signalled by broadloom carpeting rather than, say, rag rugs, and by broadloom that extended from baseboard to baseboard?

    I could never write an historical novel. I’d get tangled up in research worse than a kitten in yarn.

  22. Aunt Soozie says:

    There’s Alison in her “Mo” shirt. haven’t seen it much lately though…I wonder if it’s a staple item…how many there are of them…I think I’ve seen at least two colors but I’m not certain. Anyway…my paramour and I have confessed to each other having been mocked by previous partners for buying the same pair of shoes over and over after the old pair would wear out…or the same item of clothing in multiple colors if it suited us right. I’ve expanded, somewhat, more options now, a veritable plethora of styles of comfortable shoes these days…not like the olden days when there was one pair of dexters that fit comfortably on my weird feet and was presentable enough to pass with a dress at work.
    ooo… I digress… wanted t comment on the wallpaper too…in the New York times photo. Alison mentioned it in her talk in Philadelphia but you can see how accurately it is represented on the book jacket. That’s some serious OCD…oops…I mean realistic artistic rendering going on there.

    Alison…did you use a repeat pattern or did you just fill a whole page? Speaking of OCD..maybe I’ll have to go examine the book jacket and see if I can spy a repeat or not. That was one of the simple joys of taking fabric design in college. I loved learning how to make a repeat design…so obvious (once they showed us the path) and fun to try.

  23. Straight Ally says:


    An acquaintance of mine to whom I’d mentioned Alison told me that she used to know Alison, some years back. (First name: Laura. Last name: withheld to preserve her privacy.)

    “Is she nice?” I asked, dorkish fangirl that I am.
    “VERY nice.”

    What a relief! I mean, that’s what I figured, but can you imagine how disappointed I would have been if the answer had been anything else?

  24. lb says:

    Dork? But I like dorky girls. Don’t make it sound like a bad thing.:-)

  25. Nope, no repeats in my wallpaper endpaper. It’s one continuous swath and it took me three long days. Here’s a little footage I shot of me working on it. I really failed to do it justice, though. It’s a beautiful pattern by William Morris called Chrysanthemum.

  26. van says:

    Holy crap! 3 days??! And working in the dark with a lone lamp– I hope that was for cinematic drama and not how you normally work!

    Btw, can I ask something technical about Fun Home? No worries if you’d rather not.

  27. Aunt Soozie says:

    for some reason that you tube video wouldn’t load for me. Have to try again later. I do love William Morris prints but don’t know if I’d wanna live with one all over my walls…maybe on a lone chair or a panel or something.

  28. Aunt Soozie says:

    Oh, or as a design for the endpaper of a graphic novel…of course…

  29. shadocat says:

    Speaking of dorks, remember “The Fan Man?”
    “Today is dorky day; dorky, dorky, dorky, dorky, dork,…

  30. Aunt Soozie says:

    All of Alison’s other you tube videos play for me but that one, Penance, will not. those little white dots just keep spinning around and around and nothing else happens. maybe I have some repenting to do myself…hmmm…have to hole up with a number 2b pencil and a really good eraser. I bet in purgatory there aren’t any good sharpeners and the pencils are always dull just when you wanna do a sudoku or a crossword or copy wallpaper patterns…oh, that’s right, they got rid of purgatory.
    but, then again…anyone else having a problem viewing that video??

  31. shadocat says:

    They got rid of purgatory? I know they changed St. Patrick’s day, but when did purgatory go?

    Soozie, this is not technical advice, but my computer has done tha sometimes, only to perform correctly when I tried again later.

  32. shadocat says:

    ummm—“done that”

  33. martha says:

    Yes, my computer’s doing the same thing. “Penance” will not play, and the little white dots just go ’round & ’round. . .

  34. Josiah says:

    According to Wikipedia, Pope John Paul II said in 1999 that Purgatory was not a place, but a “condition of existence”. Of course, given Benedict’s recent track record, he’ll probably announce next week that Purgatory is in fact a physical place, a seven-terraced mountain on the exact opposite side of the world from Jerusalem, just like Dante said. (By the way, the Earth Sandwich tool tells me that location is in the South Pacific, a little over 2000 miles east-north-east of New Zealand, in case there’s anyone in Purgatory you want to visit.)

    I don’t have any problem playing “Penance” on my computer — perhaps it only plays for guilty Christians? (I don’t recall Aunt Soozie’s religious affiliation, if any, but maybe “Penance” plays only for those of us who feel like we need it. You people who can’t play “Penance” must be in a state of grace.)

  35. Suzanonymous says:

    I think it’s on YouTube’s end. They have many computers and this one could be on one that’s fallen ill. I emailed them. I’m sure they’ll get on it immediately. 😉

  36. sunicarus says:

    “Penance” works on my computer. Hmm…curious.

  37. Aunt Soozie says:

    Thanks Suzanon…it’s still not working for me.
    I don’t know who the fan man was Shado???
    re: Purgatory
    I thought the Catholic clergy (or maybe the Pope? or maybe just the Bishops here in the US?) sort of said,”nevermind…” on the subject of the existence of purgatory. Anyone remember that???

  38. Morris da Kat says:

    Alison – you are my favorite dork, I mean dyke. I met you in 1990 selling DTWOF calendars in Vancouver at the Gay Games, and I’ve been smitten – yes SMITTEN !!! ever since. There, I’m out, finally. I didn’t buy a calendar, but I bought Fun Home and I love it. You get better every year!

  39. shadocat says:

    A book by William Kotzwinkle–I read it in my modern novel class back in college. I remember one chapter consisted of only these words “Today is Dorky Day; dorky, dorky dorky dorky, and so forth for about 20 pages. He also wrote “Doctor Rat” and the “Walter the Farting Dog” series, including one “Walter” book in Latin.

    I remember when Pope Paul cut Limbo loose, but I haven’t heard anything about Purgatory. But I did hear on NPR yesterday that the guy my mom calls “The Bad Pope” moved St. Paddy’s Day from the 17th up to the 15th this year because he doesn’t want a lot of celelbrating going on during Holy Week. What’s next, move Christmas to Dec. 21st so we can all have an extra long week-end? (Wait a minute—that doesn’t sound so bad…)

  40. Pam I says:

    Speaking of bishops – I thought I was joking when I said to a friend, Hah, the floods (that are sweeping vast chunks of England following ridiculous rainfall, six inches in an hour) would be blamed on letting the queers marry. Then I saw this:

    “The floods that have devastated swathes of the country are God’s judgment on the immorality and greed of modern society, according to senior Church of England bishops.

    One diocesan bishop has even claimed that laws that have undermined marriage, including the introduction of pro-gay legislation, have provoked God to act by sending the storms that have left thousands of people homeless.”

    This is a _bishop_ for chrissake (!) – not some fruitcake self-appointed nutty tiny church leader – he gets to vote on laws as well as scaring the shit out of his constituents.

    Oh well, maybe it will help some people to reach a new understanding of how much respect to give organised religion….

  41. sunicarus says:

    Pam~It always amazes me when I find out as a queer I have the power
    to whip up any natural disaster from cyclone to typhoon. Who knew?

  42. shadocat says:

    What would the Rt Rev Graham Dow, Bishop of Carlisle say regarding the floods that have recently destroyed several towns just across the state line from my home? The area of southeastern Kansas here in the good old USA has often been referred to as the “buckle of the Bible Belt”—very intolerant of gays, liberalism, and any new ideas in general. What are those people being punished for, I wonder?

  43. Aunt Soozie says:

    Holy Moses, Batman!
    Oops…sorry…limbo…purgatory…my mistake!
    I’ll have to look those up. I’m unclear on their definitions.
    Moving St. Patty’s day seems fairly odd. have to check that out too to see if there is any precedence for doing that when St. Patrick’s day and Holy week are close together.
    Okay, gotta go make some nice weather for tomorrow!
    See ya.

  44. shadocat says:

    Yup,Limbo is gone…

    I just hope they took care of all those unbaptised babies, and didn’t just leave them out there, floating around in outer space…

  45. Aunt Soozie says:

    Yay! It worked…I got to see the wallpaper video.
    Alison, I can teach you how to do a repeat for next time. (if you don’t already know) That way you’ll only have to be as tortured as William himself was…more or less…

    You may need repeat patterns for your next book…all of those bed linens…though when they’re rumpled you have to draw it all by hand.

    Oh my…I’m tempted to add some sarcastic remark about how if you’re an average lesbian the bed only plays into the first year of the relationship anyway. Isn’t it horrible of me to perpetuate that stereotype? The myth of lesbian bed death? Yeah, help me out here girls.
    (oh no…I totally meant to type…wimmin)

    Can you imagine people waiting to see Alison’s next book… imagining hot steamy sex scenes? They’ll open it and it’ll be all about processing, potlucks, OCD, ADD, and classic literature? nah…that could never happen.

  46. van says:

    ASooz, lol, you crack me up. Thanks for the laugh, it was a very welcome break from my current purgatory called politics. Lots of pigs in there, total chaos.

  47. Alex K says:

    @ Pam I: Disappointing when senior churchfolk have forgotten Holy Writ.

    Genesis 9:11-16 — “And I will establish my covenant with you, neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth.

    “And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations:

    “I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.

    “And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud:

    “And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.

    “And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.”

    Can She have forgotten Her promise? Changed Her mind? Just on account of us?


  48. pfcpat2 says:

    Hi, I just read your cartoon #496. (I’m kind of behind on reading your strip!!! So far I’ve got all your cartoon books.) I’ve followed the pets that your characters own for a long time. I was so sad when Ginger’s dog Digger died, so long ago now. And now, little Virginia, Mo’s sweet Siamese.

    I’ve had so many pets over the years, from my first dog Sugar when I was eight to the latest to die, my cat- killing, screw-loose part chocolate Lab, Sadie, a year ago when I was fifty-four. I’ve loved them all, not all in the same way or for the same reason, but I’ve loved them all. I also follow the cartoon, For Better For Worse, and mourned also when their dog Farley died.

    Now I just have Angus, my seven year old 100 lb black Lab and Sam, my 12 lb apple- head Siamese, about five years old. I’ve had several other Labs prior to Angus, and a few Siamese prior to Sam. I still feel grief over my very first pets when I remember them although not a poignantly as I do Sadie and Marie (another elderly Siamese) that died most recently.

    Thank you for including the importance of pets in our lives in your cartoons. Although they bring a tear to our eyes, they also cause us to recall all the happy times and all the cute little quirks each of them had that endeared them to us. I’ve been single all my life, and these pets have given me a measure of what I missed in human companionship. Of course they don’t replace a dear human, but they make the solitude more companionable. To me they are angels in the form of pets sent to help me through the various stages of my life.

    My father and I lived together all my life, except for my one year at grad school. I was in my 40’s before I realized I was gay and he did not love me any less when I told him. He was with me until he went to the nursing home a couple years before he died at 95 and a half. I took the two dogs, Angus and Sadie, every time I went to visit, and I visited several times a week. The elderly folks there just loved the dogs up and the dogs were in dog heaven with all the attention and love that was lavished on them!! I so enjoyed seeing the pleasure the elderly and my Dad had at the visit of the dogs. I took my one Siamese I had at the time a few times, but he was so afraid, I didn’t take him often. When Dad was feeling bad, I’d take Danny Boy, the Siamese, and he’d curl up next to Dad’s face and neck. The animals brought such comfort and love and in turn they also experienced the love of the people. One young woman was bedridden and could barely move her arms but I’d have Angus get close where she could touch him, and she was so happy to just experience his love.

    Thanks again. I really enjoy your strip.

  49. --MC says:

    I’ve noticed that the evangelicals, who were so quick to bray that the flooding of Louisiana was God’s direct response to the sinfulness of New Orleans, have been silent about the ongoing flooding in Texas.

  50. Feminista says:

    Cool cartoon from Paul Sizer,and I enjoyed the wallpaper video. Such attention to detail has paid off with all the accolades for FH.

    Aunt Soozie,you’re as funny as ever. Have you considered standup comedy?

  51. nic h says:

    drat AB leaving links to other cartoon sites.
    ive just spent £20 buying some stuff from good ol’ USA

  52. Aunt Soozie says:

    too funny. I had missed your earlier comments about purgatory. Yes, I believe I was in a state of grace but I guess that’s over now.
    I am going to look that up to see if Limbo and Purgatory are the same thing…I’ll let you know.

  53. Aunt Soozie says:

    Okay…just read a whole bunch of stuff about limbo and purgatory..not the same thing but each sort of part of the same thing…hell that is…now onto more uplifting reading.

  54. Dr. Empirical says:

    I don’t recall St. Paddy’s day being moved before, but bishops have previously offered dispensations against the no-meat-on-Friday rule during Lent so people could have their corned beef and cabbage.

    As George Carlin once asked, how does that affect all those people burning in Hell on a meat rap?

  55. nic h says:

    As George Carlin once asked, how does that affect all those people burning in Hell on a meat rap?

    they get the air con switched one for that one day

  56. shadocat says:

    I heard about St. Paddy’s Day on NPR about a week ago. I suppose it only really affects church-goin’ Catholics, but since most of the big parades are at least PARTIALLY sponsored by the Church, it might affect some of the major partying…

  57. van says:

    they get the air con switched one for that one day

    Or it’s Marshmallow Day. No sense wasting the raging fire everywhere.

  58. Natkat says:

    yes, scumbag=used condom.

    The first time I heard it was in a song “Saran Wrap” by Frank Zappa. He has another song called “Scum Bag” but doesn’t mention what it is used for.

  59. Kate Lambert says:

    What’s in a name? In earth science, a dike is an igneous intrusion that cuts across pre-existing layers of rock. The ridges of volcanic rock extending away from the central volcanic neck of the Spanish Peaks in southwestern Colorado are technically called “radical dikes”, and are known locally as “The Great Dikes” ( ). European geologists have their own spelling of the word. You guessed it, it’s “dyke”. There is even an International Dyke Association dedicated to their study and appreciation. If you don’t believe me, go to the website for the most recent International Dyke Conference at . Hey, I’m not making any of this up. Why are you all staring at me?

  60. Paul Sizer says:

    Hey all, thanks very much for the nice comments about my UNSHELVED guest review of FUN HOME. Great comic work just brings out the best in me, I guess. Alison deserves all the kudos she’s getting.

  61. Anonymous says: