Particle Man

Songfacts®:

  • This song was used in the television cartoon Tiny Toons, and featured Plucky Duck as Particle Man, acting out the actions in the song (mostly getting beaten up).
  • A line from this song inspired the Terry Pratchett catch phrase "Millennium Hand And Shrimp." Terry was using a computer program to create random sayings from various sources, and it used the line "He's got a watch with a minute hand, a millennium hand and an aeon hand," spliced with a Chinese menu offering a dish with shrimp. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Adam - Sussex, England, for above 2
  • They Might Be Giants lyricist John Linnell told Rolling Stone: "It does kind of echo the [1967] Spider-Man cartoon theme. Triangle Man was based on a friend's observation that Robert Mitchum looked like an evil triangle when he took his shirt off in Night of the Hunter. Nothing else not explicitly stated need be inferred. If the money were right, I'd consider a whole TV series." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Beau - Phoenix, AZ

Comments: 13

  • Fred from Laurel, MdOK, we all get to have our own interpretations of this song, so here's mine. It's about using personification of concepts as a teaching method at the elementary school level. And maybe poking a little fun at those who do. As a physicist, it sounded to me a little like, say, the late Richard Feynman, who invented quantum electrodynamics, trying to explain particle physics to 3rd graders--and if anybody could have done that, I'm sure he could have--and it would have been a hoot, like this song. (Einstein once said that any idea that couldn't somehow be explained to a 5-year-old, wasn't worth keeping. He later recanted that thought, though.) * * * Oh, and Flatland, mentioned by Ciera/Balto. -- great example! It's about explaining the notion of dimensions to kids. Like, how would a 2-dimensional creature try to grasp our 3-dimensional (spatial dimensions, that is) world? I first saw the book mentioned in the early 1960's in a Mathematical Games column by Martin Gardner in Scientific American. So I'm hardly surprised if L&F took on some of that plot in this song -- they are the Perfect Quirk-Rockers (PQR)!
  • Ciera from Baltimore, MdHas any one heard of the book flatland?? This song is a shortened version of the book set to music. Its about a square that travels to different worlds point land where everything is/looks like a speck and then he hears about space land (the song refers to this as person land)and in the end he goes back to line land. Its all about perceptions and how you are being percieved.
  • Mitch from Columbia, ScMaybe the song has no meaning...but I always thought it was about atomic energy. The old nuclear symbol was three yellow triangles against three black triangles...thus Triangle Man. Particle Man is the atom, Person man - us, and Universe Man is all of creation, or God, if you will. We don't totally understand the atom (even though we think we do), and one day (according to the doomsday clock) Triangle Man's gonna open up a can of whup-ass on Person Man. Just a theory, and I'm not even anti-nuke. Then again, the lyrics could be nonsense.
  • Scotty from Columbia, ScOk this song is very much open for whatever interpretation (just like most of their songs). In fact they even said it's half nonsense, half deeper meaning, but is 100% up to you to decide what it means to you personally. Having said that, it's obviously about science, religion (specifically the christian trinity, but overall religion nonetheless), society, and existence as a whole. Silly as it may be there is definitely some philosophical truth to it.
  • Jackie from Virginia Beach, VaSo triangle man is the trinity, but hates person man. You seem to fail to listen to the lyrics here, or at least how it's very inconsistent with your theory. Just enjoy the song. I always see it as a matter of scale and perspective. The particle is not much in the universe, but the universe is "usually kind to smaller man" - meaning *everything*. You can loop the scales on this song for days, and I love it for that. Not to mention it gets really stuck in your head for that long.
  • Jake from Rolling Hills Estates, CaI don't think the song has any deeper meaning than playing around with the idea of a man who's as small as a particle. "Does he get wet, or does the water get him instead?" means that from Particle Man's point of view he's getting wet but from the water's point of view it's getting him (because hes as small as a molecule of water). Maybe there's a metaphor with religion and god and humanity, but in my opinion it's just typical TMBG silliness. Although, I've always kinda imagined that when Universe Man's watch hands all line up it's some kind of astrological thing, like when planets line up or something. Great song anyway, I love that Triangle Man beats up both Particle Man and Person Man, it always makes me laugh.
  • Jerry from Nashville, TnThe story might be that of some artist considering, failing to develop, and discarding some half-a** comic/superhero ideas. That's what it always sounded like to me. ("What's he like / it's not important..." "Does the water get him instead / nobody knows...") The cover version done by the Bobs underscores this possible interp (one of the singers drunkenly calls out "Waiter!" between verses, as if he were the artist-narrator boozing it up in a bar trying either to get inspired or to run away from his assignment.) But hey, it's basically just a funny song, and I really doubt the Johns had anything in mind about cosmic struggles when they wrote it.
  • Tony from Topeka, KsIt's not supposed to mean anything. Why do you think TMBG has been doing songs for Homestar Runner lately?
  • Camille from Oz, WaThis is such a good song, and it has been debated among College students about what it actually means. I'm not sure why. It's a song. Ofcourse it could have a deeper meaning, but just enjoy the music people.
  • Johnny from Los Angeles, CaWhy the hell are you people trying to anaylyze this song? It's just a funny random song like Grey-ham from Canada said. If you invested your time you could anaylze all They Might Be Giants songs and have a spiritual breakthrough or whateva but they still would be just as random as they are now.
  • Vinny from Revere, MaI've heard that "struggle between science and religion" thing before, but I'm pretty sure the theory says that Universe Man is the actual truth, not God. God is part of the trinity. I don't buy it though. I've also read somewhere that it may have been based on some book, but I don't know what book.
  • Grey-ham from Comox, B.c, Canadaomgoodness this is such a funny random song, sorta like me, and number three.... listen to it
  • Frank from Syracuse, NyThis is song about the struggle between science and religion. Particle man = science, triangle man = religion (holy trinity), universe man = god (duh), person man = humanity as a whole.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Tony Joe WhiteSongwriter Interviews

The writer of "Rainy Night in Georgia" and "Polk Salad Annie" explains how he cooks up his Louisiana swamp rock.

David Paich of TotoSongwriter Interviews

Toto's keyboard player explains the true meaning of "Africa" and talks about working on the Thriller album.

Richard MarxSongwriter Interviews

Richard explains how Joe Walsh kickstarted his career, and why he chose Hazard, Nebraska for a hit.

Colbie CaillatSongwriter Interviews

Since emerging from MySpace with her hit "Bubbly," Colbie has become a top songwriter, even crafting a hit with Taylor Swift.

LecraeSongwriter Interviews

The Christian rapper talks about where his trip to Haiti and his history of addiction fit into his songs.

Tom Bailey of Thompson TwinsSongwriter Interviews

Tom stopped performing Thompson Twins songs in 1987, in part because of their personal nature: "Hold Me Now" came after an argument with his bandmate/girlfriend Alannah Currie.