It’s true: though our man seems fond enough of Amy, he’s an absolute sucker for a beady eye and a spoon-shaped nose. (Who isn’t?) Koalas are his kryptonite.
How on Earth, then, can he have made the mistake of referring to Australia’s iconic marsupial as “koala bears,” instead of by their correct name, which is simply koalas?
It’s a more forgivable error, perhaps, than calling a kangaroo a kangaroo rat, or a rhinoceros a rhinoceros beetle, or an ant an ant lion, but the fact is that a koala is not a bear, and Sheldon has no business implying that it is. Evidently he knows this, for though he refers to them again numerous times, never again does he call them anything other than “koalas,” with no explanation or apology ever offered for the one-time taxonomic imprecision.
In fact, considering his blatant contempt for biology — a field he dismisses a moment later as being “all about yucky, squishy things” — Sheldon is a repository for a surprising number of biological factoids. For instance, a different episode features him eagerly (and without provocation) informing an unappreciative lunchtime klatch that the capybara is the largest member of the rodent family, and that it feeds on its own waste. Not only that, but he knows how to pronounce capybara correctly. Another time, he informs the group that the African civet cat, “[d]espite what the name suggests, . . . is not a true cat.”1
Even when the subject of koalas comes up again in later episodes — once in the context of a hypothetical friendship between a koala and an otter, despite their completely non-overlapping habitats, and again in a discussion of the perfect genetically engineered soldier (half-man/half-koala, giving it the advantage of being “so cute it couldn’t be attacked”) — he uses the correct, one-word name.2
We can only conclude that his insertion of the word bears after koala that very first time must have been intentional, perhaps as a way of approaching Penny on her own ground. After all, ordinary people say “koala bears” all the time, and Sheldon may have been allowing himself to indulge in that common bit of linguistic casualness as a way of better resembling, for one brief shining moment, an ordinary person. It’s not uncommon to favor casualness over accuracy, such as when a person texts “LOL” while not laughing at all (out loud or otherwise), or declares, “The thing of it is, is that . . . ,” or flagrantly eschews the rules of English grammar and pronunciation while speaking to a two-year-old (“Whoza Mummy favwite diddle dirl? Whoza Mummy favwite diddle dirl? Is we izza Mummy favwite diddle dirl? Such a pwitty, pwitty diddle dirl,” etc.).
For Sheldon to adopt a speech pattern associated with the hoi polloi (or, more correctly, “associated with hoi polloi”) as a way of establishing an emotional connection with Penny is certainly admirable. Unfortunately, Penny’s goal in the conversation is to encourage the man of steel (emotions) to establish a connection not with herself but with the weeping Amy.