LINGUIST List 6.1332

Sat Sep 30 1995

Sum: Linguistically Based Jokes

Editor for this issue: Ljuba Veselinova <>


  1. Budd Scott, Re: 6.1220, Sum: What's Funny

Message 1: Re: 6.1220, Sum: What's Funny

Date: Wed, 27 Sep 1995 15:56:39 Re: 6.1220, Sum: What's Funny
From: Budd Scott <>
Subject: Re: 6.1220, Sum: What's Funny

Several weeks ago I posted the following note, responses to which I
cordially summarize and attach below. Many thanks to all respondents.
Some of the humor was refreshing! Hope you all enjoy.

> From: (Budd Scott)
> Subject: What's Funny?
> Does anyone know of a compilation of linguistically based jokes (besides
> those of Groucho Marx?). A great deal of humor is indeed based on play
> with language, but has anyone ever compiled this?
> Meanwhile, compilation or no, maybe we can tell a few amongst ourselves.
> Here's one based on a syntactic pun:
> Justice of the Peace (to bride who teaches linguistics):
> Do you take this man to be your
> lawful wedded husband in good times
> or in bad?
> Bride (after brief pause):
> In good times.
> Here's my favorite:
> A distinguished linguistics professor was lecturing
> on the phenomenon of double negatives. As he neared
> the end of his talk, he drew himself up and declared
> solemnly:
> In conclusion, let me observe that while there
> are numerous cases where a double negative conveys
> a positve, there is no case where a double positive
> conveys a negative.
> Whereupon, from the back of the room, arose a small voice
> dripping with disdainful condescension:
> Yeah, yeah...
> Any contributions? Will be happy to compile and publish responses on the
> forum
> Bud Scott

> From:
> Subj:	newspaper headlines
> Something went wrong in jet crash, experts says
> Police begin campaign to run down jaywalkers
> Safety Experts say school bus passengers should be belted
> Drunk gets nine months in violin case
> Survivor of siamese twins joins parents
> Farmer Bill dies in house
> Iraqi head seeks arms
> Is there a ring of debris around Uranus?
> Stud tires out
> Prostitutes appeal to Pope
> Panda mating fails; Veterinarian takes over
> British left waffles on Falkland Islands
> Eye drops off shelf
> Teacher strikes idle kids
> Reagan wins on budget, but more lies ahead
> Squad helps dog bite victim
> Shot off woman's leg helps Nicklaus to 66
> Enraged cow injures farmer with ax
> Plane too close to ground, crash probe told
> Miners refuse to work after death
> Juvenile court to try shooting defendant
> Stolen painting found by tree
> Two soviet ships collide, one dies
> 2 sisters reunited after 18 years in checkout counter
> Killer sentenced to die for second time in 10 years
> Never withhold herpes infection from loved one
> Drunken drivers paid $1000 in '84
> War dims hope for peace
> If strike isn't settled quickly, it may last a while
> Cold wave linked to temperatures
> Enfiels couple slain; Police suspect homicide


This is my favorite joke of all time. It does not
depend on ambiguities in English syntax, but even though it's in
2 lgs, you don't have to understand Spanish to get it (in fact that
is the basis of the joke, as you will see).

A Mexican bandid held up a bank in Tucson, and the sheriff's posse
chased him back across the border to the little town of Imuris. They
captured him, and the sheriff, who couldn't speak Spanish, asked him
where he'd hidden the money.
 ``No se nada,'' he replied.
The sheriff put a gun to the bandit's head and said to his bi-lingual
deputy: ``Tell him that if he doesn't tell us where the money is
right now, I'll blow his brains out.''
Upon receiving the translation, the bandit became very animated.
``Ya me acuerdo! Tienen que caminar tres cuadradas hasta ese gran arbol.
Debajo del arbol, alli esta el dinero.''
The sheriff leaned forward. ``Yeah? Well..?''
The deputy replied: ``He says he wants to die like a man.''

Marcia Haag


I always remember an embarrassing moment when, as a young professor, I
was earnestly laboring to convey the essence of phonology, contrasting
"p" and "b", and came up with a sentence something like, "Now if we
give names to the two qualities, "p-ness" and "b-ness"...To tell you
the truth, I don't know if anybody else noticed it, but I did.


As a speech therapist a number of years ago evaluation the
articulation of children, I gave an articulation test to all of the
incoming kindergarteners. The purpose of the test was to elicit all
of the sounds of English, the "zu" (pleasure) being one of them. I
gave the same test over and over and in response to the pictures shown
them, children said the word. For this particular sound, the target
was "television." One young boy looked at the picture and said "t.v."
a typical response to which I had a pat prod, "Yeah, and what's the
long word for t.v.?"

He looked at me very very puzzled for a long while and then he
brightened up and said, "TTTTTTVVVVVVV!"

(It gets a laugh at holiday parties :-)

Cindy Neuroth-Gimbrone

 "Now I know laughter is the only correct response."
 -Nora Ephron

>From Sat Sep 9 08:09:34 1995

You need Charles F. Hockett, "Jokes" and "Where the Tongue Slips,
There Slip I," one of them in the umpteenth Jakobson festschrift, the
other in the Trager festschrift (I think); both of them reprinted with
related material in his View from a Height (U of Alabama Oress, late
1980s I think).

Also, do you know Dmirit xxxx Dmitri Bjornkamm (or Bornkamm?),Language
on Vacation (Scribners, from the 50s or 60s)?

Have fun!


Below are 3 contributions. (The butterfly joke is my
all time favourite.)

 from the Casey Stengle School of Brooklynese

 (1) Just between you and I case is important.

 (2) Verbs has to agree with their subjects.

 (3) Don't use no double negatives.

 (4) A preposition is something you should never end a
 sentence with. (or as Sir Winston Churchill once
 said; "This is the type of nonsense up with I will
 not put!").

 (5) It is always good practice to never split infina-

 (6) About sentence fragments.

 (7) Don't write a run-on sentence you have to punctu-
 ate it.

 (8) When one is writing, it is important to maintain
 your point of view.

 (9) Proofread your work. Do not tolerate mispellings!

 (10) Watch out for irregular verbs which have croped
 into the language.

 (11) Don't say the same thing more than once. It's
 redundant and repetious.

 (12) If the writer is considerate of the reader, he
 won't have a problem with ambiguous sentances.

 (13) This sentance no verb.

 (14) You should be aware of the conditional case if you
 was to use it.

 (15) The smothering of verbs is a cause of the weaken-
 ing of the sentance impact.

 (16) Avoid the utilization of enlarged words when shor-
 tened ones will do.

 (17) Perform a functional iterative analysis on your
 work to root out third generation transitional
 buzz words.

 (18) Make sure you hyp-henate properly.

 (19) Sentences should be written in the active voice
 when giving instructions, so that the subject of
 the action can be identified clearly.

 (20) Avoid the use of dyed-in-the-wool cliches.

 (21) The defacto use of foreign phrases vis-a-vis plain
 English in your written tete-a-tetes makes the
 sentance harder to understand.

 (22) Continuity of thought, logical development and
 smooth transitions are important. Never leave
 the reader guessing.

 (23) Beware of malapropisms. They are a communist sub-
 mersive plot.

 (24) Join clauses good like a conjunction should.

 (25) Each pronoun should agree with their antecedent.
 (26) It has come to our considered attention that in a
 large majority of cases, far too many people use a
 great deal more words than is absolutely necessary
 when engaged in the practice of writing sentances.

 (27) Be careful of dangling participles writing a


Four linguists were sharing a compartment on a train on their
way to an international conference on sound symbolism. One
was English, one Spanish, one French and the fourth German
They got into a discussion on whose language was the most
eloquent and euphonious.

The English linguist said: "Why, English is the most eloquent
language. Take for instance the word "butterfly". Butterfly,
butterfly... doesn't that word so beautifully express the way
this delicate insect flies. It's like flutter-by, flutter-

"Oh, no!" said the Spanish linguist, "the word for "butterfly"
in Spanish is "maripose". Now, this word expresses so
beautifully the vibrant colours on the butterfly's wings.
What could be a more apt name for such a brilliant creature?
Spanish is the most eloquent language!"

"Papillon!" says the French linguist, "papillon! This word
expresses the fragility of the butterfly's wings and body.
This is the most fitting name for such a delicate and ethereal
insect. French is the most eloquent language!"

At this the German linguist stands up, and demands: "Und vot
is rongk mit "SCHMETTERLING"?"


Thanks to M. Zarnosky: Thu Feb 23 08:08:05 1995

>From IEEE Transactions on Aerospace and Electronic Systems, Vol.
26, No. 2,
March, 1990 -- p. 209, author name n.a. --

Catching Misspilled Words with Spilling Checker.

As an extra addled service, I am going to put this column in the
Spilling Checker, where I tryst it will sale through with flying colons.
In this modern ear, it is simply inexplicable to ask readers too expose
themselves to misspelled swords when they have bitter things to do.

And with awl the other timesaving features on my new work
processor, it is in realty very easy fro me to pit together a colon like
this one and get it tight. For instants, if there is a work that is wrong,
I just put the curse on it, press Delete and its Well sometimes it
deletes to the end of the lion or worst yet the whole rage. Four bigger
problems, their is the Cat and Paste option. If there is some test that is
somewhere were you wish it where somewhere else
you jest put the curse at both ends and wash it dissapear. Where you want
it to reappear simply bring four quarts of water to a rotting boil and
throw in 112 pounds of dazed chicken. Sometimes it brings in the Cat that
was Pasted yesterday. But usually it comes out as you planned, or
butter. And if it doesn't, there are lots of other easy to lose options...

 Alan C. Harris, Ph. D. TELNOS: main off:
 Professor, Communication/Linguistics direct off:
 Speech Communication Department
 California State University, Northridge home:
 Northridge, CA 91330-8257 Internet email:


>From Mon Sep 11 12:15:02 1995

In 1960, I traveled to Mexico with my high-school Spanish
teacher. Once in a restaurant, we were asked where we were from.
We said Ohio, whereupon our new friend launched into this story:

Un vendedor llamo' a la puerta de una casa. Un nino de 5 anos
contesto' .
- Esta' tu papa'? -- pregunto' el vendedor.
- Mi padre esta' en Ohio -- dijo el nino.
- O, y co'mo se enojo'? -- dijo el vendedor.

A salesman called at the door of a house. A 5-year-old child
"Is your daddy home?" asked the salesman.
"My father is [in Ohio], [en Ohio]" said the child.
"Oh, and [how did he become angry] [co'mo se enojo']?" said the

[enojado means 'angry']

The Spanish may be atrocious (it's been 35 years!), but you get
the idea.


A nurse in sparkling white uniform was walking to work. As she
passed one house, a huge and friendly dog bounded out of the yard
and planted its muddy paws on the nurse's uniform. The dog's owner, who
was in the yard gardening, ran over and apologized profusely:
"I'm so sorry," she said. "I don't know what got into my dog.
Please accept my apology."
"That's all right," said the nurse. "I have time to go home and
change if I drive to work."

The next day the incident repeated itself, with even muddier paws
and more abject apologies. The nurse was clearly irritated, but she
kept her composure and simply went home to change.

The third day, the nurse walked by the house to see the owner in
the garden. There was no dog in sight. "How's your dog?" she asked.
"I did" was the reply.

(It took me several repetitions to get this joke. I hope you
have better luck.)

>From Wed Sep 13 07:13:47 1995

Some fun with adjective/pres-part ambiguity. "Very" and similar
adjectivals force the adjective reading.

Courtier: Sire, the people are revolting!
King: Yes, very.

Similar fun with adjectives vs. pseudo-adjective "type-of"

Character 1: Is he a personal secretary?
Character 2: A bit.

Similar for "plastic surgeons," "legal secretaries," "abnormal

Kenneth R. Beesley
Rank Xerox Research Centre
6, chemin de Maupertuis
38240 MEYLAN, France


What's another word for Thesaurus?


In response to your Internet query, I can refer you to an article of mine
entitled "A Linguistic Look at Riddles". This was published in our English
Dept. series, <PEO>, as issue no. 71, Dec. 1993. If you are interested I
would be happy to send you a copy. This grew out of a course which I have
been offering here on "The Language of Humor". Though the course deals with
linguistically based humor in many different genres (riddles, jokes,
cartoons, ads, graffiti, etc.) the above-mentioned issue deals only with
riddles (86 of them). But in it I offer my thoughts on how one can classify
such texts based on the type of linguistic "trigger" employed. Though I
apply the system only to riddles, it generalizes nicely to other humorous

Here, by the way, is one of my favorites:

Q: What happened to the terrorist who tried to blow up a bus?
A: He burnt his lips on the exhaust pipe.

John Dienhart
Department of English
Odense University
Odense, Denmark

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