42 Comments

  1. It looks to me like it was just literally “What’s a typewriter?”. In explaining mimeo, Mrs O must have said something about “You roll the master sheet into the typewriter..”

  2. It seems pretty clear that the question was “what’s a typewriter?” Caulfield is probably too well-read not to know what a typewriter was, but it generally would be a reasonable question for a child of his age.

  3. BillClay, I see no reason to assume that Bill didn’t actually get the joke, and wasn’t genuinely asking what the question was.

    I think he said it well in a previous incarnation of the FAQ: What’s a CIDU for one reader is often obvious to others. It was my experience when I sent in CIDUs, more often than not he responds with “It looks like the joke is just X,” and then I immediately think “Oh, yeah, it’s obviously X, not sure how I missed that.”

  4. There is zero possibility that he doesn’t know what a typewriter is, BillC, and what he says to Frazz seems to confirm this.

    So this isn’t a case of “I don’t understand what the basic joke’s supposed to be,” but rather “In what scenario does this make sense?”

  5. “It seems pretty clear that the question was “what’s a typewriter?” Caulfield is probably too well-read not to know what a typewriter was, but it generally would be a reasonable question for a child of his age.”

    Which is very upsetting to old folks. But most children know what typewriters are in vague sense that they were how people made documents before computers. And Caulfield obviously does. So he’d only ask this to be annoying.

    Actually as an old person I wouldn’t be so upset if a young child asked what a typewriter was. I’d avuncularly show them my typewriter and demonstrate and I’d express them to be amused by a relic. What I *wouldn’t* expect is their utter fascination and exclamations of how neat and amazing it is and that they’d be utterly astonished that if you pressed a key an arm with in imprint of a letter would hit a paper and leave a mark. Um… it’s cute to *see* it in action but how else would you possibly think it worked.

    So I think if a child asked “Wait; you actually write directly on the paper?” or some such question, I’d feel *very* old.

    …..

    I now have to wonder if the adult I was in when I first saw a cartoon on a movie screen felt the same way. I had assumed that since you can’t go to a moving bunch of cartoon characters and film them that films of cartoons would have to have been produced on a television first and then one filmed the television. But I was *amazed* at the crispness of the image and realized this could only be a crisp first transfer and I had no idea what technology could put that image directly unto *film*. The adult did one of those “Well, how do you think they would make the cartoon for a television?” implying I was short-sighted and didn’t think things through. I tried to explain that although I had utterly *no* idea how a television made images I knew it was artificially reproduced through electric tapes and blips and produced as dots that make an image. An actual photo or even picture image wasn’t actually how television work; it was a compilation of pixels… pixels made by …. ?magic? .. I don’t know but I *did* know a television *artificially* made its effect and a film camera photographed it’s image. And although I had no idea how a television did that or how it did it so fast I knew that it *did*. Whereas film camera was… a camera…. You can’t take pictures of things that don’t exist but you can fake electric blips so a cartoon on television seemed reasonable. But a *filmed* cartoon seemed … paradoxical. I tried to explain that but being intimidated and with my thoughts unformed all I did was mutter “…I don’t know…. I thought a T.V. just made them….” The smug look on the adult was just withering.

  6. CIDU Bill: “So this isn’t a case of “I don’t understand what the basic joke’s supposed to be,” but rather “In what scenario does this make sense?””

    Well, you asked what the question was. And it was literally “What is a typewriter?” (as Frazz indicated by quoting it). And that would be upsetting to an adult who is used to typewriters being ubiquitous. So the scenario was probably as Mitch4 described.

    We have to do a suspension of disbelief if Caulfield is the smart and broad-viewed kid we’re supposed to believe he is, that’d he’d obviously know what a typewriter is and any detail he wouldn’t know (“Does the image appear by *pressing* a mold? I thought it was made by a chemical process so how does it transfer to the mimeosheet below it?”) wouldn’t be upsetting. But for the joke to work we have to assume he honestly *doesn’t* know what a typewriter is.

    ….. I can suspend my disbelief for that that, but it’s a strain and painful enough that I get utterly no pleasure in the resulting joke.

    And yes, it makes Caulfield a *very* unlikable kid.

    I find Frazz most enjoyable to read if I imagine Caulfield and Frazz as painfully dull and unintelligent people with slight narcissistic tendencies that they are simply incapable of not believing they are geniuses when they clearly are not.

  7. woozy: A few years ago I was talking with a recent college graduate about report cards, and he in all seriousness asked me “Is it true that you used to get them sent to you printed on pieces of paper?”

    At some other point I commented that I so rarely looked up programming information in paper books that it didn’t seem worth having them, and he said “Gosh, I don’t think I’ve ever looked up programming information in a paper book.”

  8. I think Caulfield is very likable and the series is very clever and intelligent. Maybe because I’m a female teacher, but I find the characters sweet and charming. No, you may never have a child as intelligent as Caulfield in your class, but it is a comic.

  9. “Sent to you”? “Printed”? Man, those were innovations we didn’t get until well into HS. For a long time the teachers wrote the letter grades and even prose comments by hand on the cardstock forms. (Come to think of it, that’s why they were, and anachronistically may still get called, report cards.)

  10. Actually, not only did I have a Caulfield in my class, but it was a class of gifted kids to begin with, so you can only imagine.

    My mother suggested he was God’s punishment for what I was at his age.

  11. “There is zero possibility that he doesn’t know what a typewriter is, BillC, and what he says to Frazz seems to confirm this.”

    Zero possibility? Caulfield is eight. Why and how would an eight-year-old know what a typewriter is?

    There is no typewriter in my home. There is no typewriter in my office, where about 40 people work. I can’t recall when I last saw a typewriter on television or in a movie or, for that matter, in a comic strip. I would not expect an eight-year-old to know what a typewriter is, just as I would not expect to know them what a linotype is, or a hayrake, or a floppy disc, or anything else that is completely outside their experience.

    Caulfield, of course, is preternaturally intelligent and well-read, so he may well know what a typewriter is. But even for him, that isn’t a certainty. I don’t think he was necessarily being mischievous when, in trying to make Mrs. Olsen feel better for being a teacher, he asked her not just “what’s a mimeograph?” but also “what’s a typewriter?”

    Incidentally, how does Frazz know what a mimeograph is? He’s 33. I would expect that mimeographs were no longer in use when he was in school.

  12. ” What I *wouldn’t* expect is their utter fascination and exclamations of how neat and amazing it is and that they’d be utterly astonished that if you pressed a key an arm with in imprint of a letter would hit a paper and leave a mark. Um… it’s cute to *see* it in action but how else would you possibly think it worked.”

    Well, it could also possibly work by rotating a ball with all the different letters molded onto the surface as the ball rises to strike the paper, with some kind of inked ribbon between the ball and the paper.. Then, if you want a different typeface, you could just take the one ball off and put on another one, with different molded letters..

  13. “Zero possibility? Caulfield is eight. Why and how would an eight-year-old know what a typewriter is?”

    For a normal kid? From seeing them in action and referred to by name in several different television programs… that 30 or 40 hours a week of screen time actually is educational, just not the way we think.

    But Caulfield is Caulfield, and he gets everything he knows from a book. Are there any books that have typewriters in them?

  14. We had written reports at my school, but on one piece paper, not card (or several cards). The form must have been passed between the teachers one after another, though I suppose that meant that the last teacher could see what everyone else had written about me or any other pupil and adjust their opinion accordingly, whether deliberately or not. And the first teacher was leaping blind into a sea of empty thoughts.

    Our English teacher, Peter Heywood, once wrote of me: “I see no reason why Nicholas should do well in his English ‘O’ Levels” [we did a Lit and a Lang O Level], missing out the ‘not’ – a rather unfortunate error for an English teacher (he did indeed expect me to do well). However, this was long enough ago that Mr Heywood’s son, five years younger than me at school, so I never knowingly was aware of him, has had time to grow up, work in the heart of the British government as the highest-ranked official in Her Majesty’s Civil Service, retire (briefly) and die.

  15. “Incidentally, how does Frazz know what a mimeograph is? He’s 33. I would expect that mimeographs were no longer in use when he was in school.”

    Why would you assume that the only way to learn what something is is to see it in use. I know what a chamber pot is…

  16. Usual John, Frazz readers are expected to believe that Caulfield knows more than any 7-year-old alive, even if that’s no more realistic than Batman’s ability to breath in space. Without that acceptance, the whole strip falls apart.

    You really can’t go from there to “but he has no idea what a typewriter is.”

  17. Reading about report cards on cardboard always makes me thinks of those I received in first grade. We’d just emigrated to US, I was tossed into school, and my first report card was all ‘U’s [Unsatisfactory). Well, damn – I didn’t even speak English!!

    The teacher complained that I didn’t join the singing. Repeat last sentence of above paragraph.

    I found all these cards when I cleared out my parents’ house in 2014, and I did notice that I started receiving more “S”s within that year, presumably having been ‘immersed’ in the language for several hours a day.

    (And no, there was NO SUCH THING as ESL and bilingualism in schools in those days. Not only THAT, but I also had to walk thru snow, uphill both ways, to get to school.)

  18. ‘“Sent to you”?’

    Never mailed – either given to students to take home, OR given to parent(s) at the parent-teacher conference, one per quarter.

  19. Have you any idea what became of him? I’d’ve been SOOO curious.

    An extremely smart student we once had (being an alternative school, we had the entire spectrum of intelligence AND enthusiasm about school/learning) became a nuclear physicist.

    Another who had a abusive start in life, then began to stop being such an *ssh*le whilst with us, went pretty high up in the USAF and a decorated war veteran, then became a lawyer and a parachute-jumping instructor. Which, sadly, after all that work to overcome his childhood and make himself such a great adult, is what killed him at the [to me] young age of 44 in 2007.

  20. “However, this was long enough ago that Mr Heywood’s son, five years younger than me at school, . . . ”

    (Putting on pedantic hat and flame suit); five years younger than I

  21. “Are there any books that have typewriters in them?”

    PSA: If there are, please remove them as the books are difficult to close and thereby take up a LOT of shelf space. Senkuveddymuch.

  22. To be more arithmetically pedantic, having looked closer I see he was actually four years younger than me. Or I. Well, three years and 11 months.

    https://onlinewritingtraining.com.au/than-i-versus-than-me/ – “than me” is OK in informal English and increasingly in formal, according to that site plucked out of the internet. If I was to use the “I” formulation I would probably more naturally say “he is four years younger than I am” rather than naked “four years younger than I”.

  23. I assumed he couldn’t resist being a smartass even though he knew what a typewriter is. And his initial kindness to Mrs. Olsen was undone, with her assuming he was just setting her up to feel old again.

  24. Way back when I was in high school (1960’s) another kid told me this joke:

    Little kid 1: I found a condom on the patio this morning.
    Little kid 2: What’s a patio?

    It was funny back then, but now all little kids know what a condom is, and some don’t know what a patio is.

  25. The fact that he know that burnt sticks were a form of communication makes it a near certainty that he knows what a typewriter is, and therefore, yes, he’s just being a smart-ass.

  26. My pen[wo]menship was so bad that I received an F on my report CARD in sixth grade. My father immediately bought me a typewriter. Standard typewriter. If any of you young CIDUwhippersnappers have NEVER typed on a standard typewriter, you should try it. [And yes, I walked many miles to school, uphill both ways, whilst typing, but I digress.)

    I then graduated to an Olivetti electric typewriter; had to travel to a ‘larger’ city (Milwaukee) to get one that was special-ordered. And when computers became the writing tool, I was able to segue right into that.

    And my pen[wo]menship became worse, of course, ’cause I don’t think I’ve done much writing – other than shopping lists – since. Let’s see – Sixth grade . . . 1960. And that’s why I’m such a fast touch typist; been doing it for 59 years. Thankfully, the idea of getting away from the QWERTY keyboard died aborning.

    (Someone expressed admiration of my typing speed; I told him, “Yeah, but I also make misteaks fast.”)

    Of course, no more White Out, which is a real boon to those of us who have to type a lot. I loathed that stuff. And the white out tape. I much prefer backspace or delete. That way, no one SEES your misteaks.

  27. As the parent of a seven-year-old (although I thought Caulfield was in grade three?), I would be horrified if a kid that age didn’t know what a typewriter was. I’ll believe that it hasn’t come up in conversation (not everyone explains to their kids that “my grandmother types better than I do because she had to learn on a typewriter”). I’ll believe that maybe they aren’t reading enough, or watching enough old shows for it come up in media. But the kid’s never been to a museum that shows communication technology through the ages? Never been to the library or etc when they’ve got a typewriter out for people to peck at? Sure, I can believe it, but like I said, I’d be horrified.

  28. To answer your question, Bill, I believe Caulfield represents the snarky, provocative sonofabitch inside each of us. Or, at least. the one inside of me. I like Caulfield very much.

  29. “Thankfully, the idea of getting away from the QWERTY keyboard died aborning.”

    Well:
    “According to Dvorak, prior to World War II, researchers had found that after three years of typing instruction, the average typing student’s speed was 47 net words per minute (NWPM). Since typists were scarce during the war, the U.S. Navy selected fourteen typists for a 1944 study to assess whether Dvorak retraining would be feasible. Dvorak found that it took an average of only 52 hours of training for those typists’ speeds on the Dvorak keyboard to reach their average speeds on the qwerty keyboard. By the end of the study their Dvorak speeds were 74 percent faster than their qwerty speeds, and their accuracies had increased by 68 percent. ”

    From
    http://www.mit.edu/~jcb/Dvorak/

    They’re YOUR 52 hours.
    At the end of 3 quarters of a school year, I could type about 17 wpm. I once supported a production typist who used an ergonomic keyboard and Dvorak layout, who could type around 150 wpm all day long.

  30. Back to the original topic, it seems that kids *do* recognize typewriters even if they don’t know how to use them:

  31. woozy – I don’t remember not knowing how a TV worked. My wonderful dad would explain everything and anything (well, almost anything – some things had to wait until I grown and the info come from mom) to me. I even knew how the back came off our 1950s console TV and that he was okay to open it, even though it said not to as there were no consumer repairable parts, and we would go together to test the tubes that might be bad and buy new ones. He even filmed my sister upside down jumping into the pool so he could show us how it could be reversed to look like she was jumping backwards out of the pool. I always thought he knew everything.

  32. Twice a year I pull out a typewriter or more technically recently a word processing typewriter as my typing is terrible (failed same in 6th grade).

    Originally all forms like W2s were typed (or hand written) and I would type a lot of them every year on a manual office typewriter or my manual portable typewriter. Later I was able to buy software to fill in the forms. Now that I am down to one client with one employee and one 1099-misc to type for myself from her, it costs to much for the software so I am back to typing. This year the word processing typewriter went batty and wrote the wrong characters. I ended up filing her W2 online and handwriting the 1099 to me.

    I also type the names and some other info on the membership cards for our reenactment unit as I offered to serve as membership chair also as easier than trading info and checks back and forth with someone else as membership chair. Had to handwrite same this year also due to typewriter problem.

    Have to figure out what to do by January when W2s have to be done again.

    So, yes, typewriters are still needed – for when lining up forms and info can’t easily be done with a computer and printer.

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