Recently in the Funny Category

More recombinant idioms

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The following bit from an old Dr Who episode popped into my head this morning:

Seventh Doctor: Time and tide melt the snowman.

Mel: Doctor, "wait for *no* man."

Doctor: So who's waiting?

I never actually saw the episode, but I liked the quote, though it may not be precisely accurate. So I went to check on the phrasing, and ended up finding some other Seventh Doctor-isms; I particularly liked “Fools rush in where horses fear to drink.”

Elliott has been calling this sort of thing a “recombinant idiom” for a long time. I only just learned, from the Wikipedia article about the Seventh Doctor, that they're also known as “dundrearyisms,” after a character from the play Our American Cousin, which I've never seen nor read.

While I'm here, here are a couple from Elliott from a long time ago that I never got around to posting.

The administration has the upper ground.

—Professor emeritus Nathan Glazer, in a 2003 New York Times article

And:

That way, the public will be more secure that we're not trying to pull a fast one over their eyes.

—Moses Carey of the Orange County (NC) Board of County Commissioners, in a 2003 Chapel Hill News article

And:

To say that the world is trying to destroy “the romance of depression,” and by doing so end the future of literature and art, is a load of crock.

—Liz Kuzemski of Greenfield, MA, in a letter to the editor of the Valley Advocate, Feb. 17-23, 2000.

And finally:

Bush's visit to the vehemently anti-Catholic Jones college is a wedge big enough to drive a candidacy through.

Newsweek, March 13, 2000, p. 34

What They Did II: The Movie Breakup

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I've always been fond of my 1997 Words & Stuff post What They Did: The Movie, featuring short, silly, and surreal bits of fiction and drama consisting entirely of movie titles.

Now a comedy group called POYKPAC has upped the ante with a great four-minute video, Movie Title Breakup. The dialogue consists entirely of 154 movie titles, the storyline makes significantly more sense than any of mine did, and the video helpfully shows the covers of the movies in question as they go. Very nicely done.

Back in December, linguistics grad student Gretchen McCulloch analyzed joke variants on Benedict Cumberbatch's name to see what the underlying patterns are. She gave more statistical detail in a post on her blog.

Interesting and fun discussion, but I found it odd (in the Toast article) that it took her a couple of iterations to come up with initial-syllable stress as a factor; that part seemed obvious to me. But maybe she was guiding readers through a process of figuring it out, rather than describing the actual process she went through.

I also would've liked to've seen some further discussion about whether secondary stress on the final syllable of each word is relevant, but secondary stress is tricky and might've been too much of a digression.

...I also found it interesting that some of the specific examples don't work for me; in particular, I would never have guessed that “Bombadil Rivendell” was a Cumberbatch variation. (At first I thought she was saying it was a non-valid example, but then she says it came from the generator.) I think my own personal rules for what sounds like a variant of his name are stricter than the ones implied by the name generator. Another example: “Beetlejuice Animorph” doesn't sound to me like a joke on “Benedict Cumberbatch” except in the context of discussing Cumberbatchian names.

And I think she may not go far enough in some directions. The PronunciationManual joke pronunciation video for Benedict Cumberbatch opts for “Bucket Crunderdunder,” which isn't a perfect variation but is a funny one. And I think if someone said “I'm a big fan of that actor Bucket Crunderdunder,” I would know who they were talking about. Though in large part that's because (as McCulloch mentions) if one of the names is really obvious, the other one doesn't have to be. In other words, the “Bucket” part is almost useless, but “Crunderdunder” carries the variation almost on its own.

(I think The Cumberbatch Variations would be a good Fake Ludlum Title.)

I'd also have liked to see her try to construct new variations to test her hypotheses. For example, we could start with a pair of three-syllable words with initial stress, like “Higgledy Piggledy,” and see whether transforming them in accordance with her rules produces a valid variation:

Ends in consonant: Higgledip Piggledip.

Begins with B and/or hard C sounds: Biggledip Kiggledip.

Second word ends in preferred consonant: Biggledip Kiggledish.

She said that a good variant should have at least three of the listed factors. I think this one probably works: “I'm a big fan of that actor Biggledip Kiggledish.” Probably close enough. I'll go on to add her other rules:

N or M between first two syllables: Bimmeldip Kinneldish.

Has æ in final syllable: Bimmeldip Kinneldash.

Yep, Bimmeldip Kinneldash is definitely a valid variation. (For best results, I would tweak it a bit to Bunnydip Kenneldash.) But that's also because using all five of her rules transforms any pair of dactylic words into being awfully close to the original name. So I think that part of what's going on with those rules is that they demonstrate the allowable variations for certain phonemes to “sound like” certain other phonemes to English speakers. Nasals sound similar, sibilants sound similar, etc. So if you take a word and replace the sounds in it with other ones that sound similar, then you'll get a word that sounds similar to the original.

To be clear: I'm not trying to disparage her rules! I think they're neat, and it's a good analysis, and the at-least-three part is especially interesting to me. I certainly would never have figured out most of this. So I don't intend this post as criticism; just exploring the ideas.

My favorite Unicode character name

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My favorite Unicode character name is LATIN SMALL LETTER P WITH SQUIRREL TAIL (U+A755).

The character itself is pretty cool too. If you're viewing this page in one of the few Unicode fonts that supports this character, you can see it here: ꝕ. Otherwise, follow the link for an image.

But the name is what I really love about it.

Unfortunate Forever Stamps

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I'm guessing most Americans know by now that the US Postal Service sells “Forever Stamps”; you buy a Forever Stamp at today's first-class one-ounce stamp price, and it will be good for the first ounce of regular first-class postage forever. And instead of a price on the face of the stamp, it says the word “forever.”

Which can result in interesting juxtapositions with the subject matter of the stamp.

Many such juxtapositions can be seen as reasonable declarations of, or hopes for, the longevity of the subject. For example, the Forever Stamp with the word “Freedom” on it seems like a reasonable thing to hope for. And the Forever Stamp with a picture of Dumbledore on it seems like a nice way to declare your interests.

But I recently got a sheet of stamps titled Made in America: Building a Nation, featuring black and white photos honoring America's industrial workers. As Lewis Hine, one of the featured photographers, wrote, “I wanted to show the things that had to be corrected[, and] I wanted to show the things that had to be appreciated.”

And sure, it's great to express an interest in remembering our industrial workers forever. But it nonetheless felt a little weird to me to use a stamp that showed (for example) a millinery apprentice, who I suspect did a lot of hard work for not much pay, with the word “forever” on it.

So I started wondering what more-unfortunate things stamps could show with the word “forever.”

But before I could post asking for suggestions, I came up with an answer that I think will be hard to top:

A 1984 stamp. With the words “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face.” And then the denomination “forever.”

...Still, I welcome other suggestions. And while I'm here, I may as well link to my similarly-themed license-plate-slogan challenge from 1997.

Death Metal English

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The editor of the heavy metal website Invisible Oranges provides a guide to Death Metal English.

A couple of sample translations from the article:

Normal English: “Commuting to work”
Death Metal English: “TRANSPORTATION OF THE WAGEBOUND UNTO THE NEXUS OF PERPETUAL QUOTIDIAN ENSLAVEMENT”
Normal English: “Thanks for explaining the train schedule”
Death Metal English: “PROFFERING GRATITUDE UPON THE CHRONOCRATION OF THE JUGGERNAUTS OF RETICULATED METALS AND FIRE”

Fake Ludlum titles

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Nice list of winners of Slate's 2012 Fake Robert Ludlum Title contest, along with notes on Salman Rushdie's Ludlumization of Shakespeare plays.

Some puns

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Uncle Dobe passed along a list of puns, many of which (to my surprise) I hadn't seen before, and some of which made me laugh out loud. Here's an abridged version of the list:

  • I tried to catch some fog. I mist.
  • When chemists die, they barium.
  • I know a guy who's addicted to brake fluid. He says he can stop any time.
  • I stayed up all night to see where the sun went. Then it dawned on me.
  • This girl said she recognized me from the vegetarian club, but I'd never met herbivore.
  • I'm reading a book about antigravity. I can't put it down.
  • I did a theatrical performance about puns. It was a play on words.
  • The letter from the blood bank told me I had type A blood, but it was a type-O.
  • Class trip to the Coca-Cola factory—I hope there's no pop quiz.
  • The Energizer bunny has been arrested and charged with battery.
  • The old man didn't like his beard at first. Then it grew on him.
  • What does a clock do when it's hungry? It goes back four seconds.
  • I used to be a banker, but then I lost interest.
  • All the toilets in New York's police stations have been stolen. Police have nothing to go on.
  • Cartoonist found dead in home. Details are sketchy.
  • I wondered why the baseball was getting bigger. Then it hit me!

Heh—some of these would make good secret yets.

Who's On First, updated

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Joe Posnanski recounts the dialogue that would ensue “if someone traded for Who and What and other players.” Funny for fans of Who's On First even if you're not a baseball fan.

(Sorry, I've lost track of who pointed me to this.)

Recombinant metaphors: smoking duck

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A Reuters article about the Higgs boson provides a lovely mixed metaphor from Oliver Buchmueller, one of the CERN researchers:

If I were a betting man, I would bet that it is the Higgs. But we can't say that definitely yet. It is very much a smoking duck that walks and quacks like the Higgs. But we now have to open it up and look inside before we can say that it is indeed the Higgs.

Truncated senders

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In my mail interface, there's a column showing the name of the sender of the email, but that column isn't very wide. So the mail application truncates long sender names and appends “...”

This is all pretty standard, and not something worth mentioning except that sometimes the results of the truncation, especially for spam senders that don't have human names, can be amusing.

This morning brought two pieces of spam with amusingly truncated sender names. The senders were shown as:

  • Sell your Ass...
  • Provide Disco...

On expansion, the first was, of course, “Sell your Assets,” and the second “Provide Discount Insurance.” But I liked the abbreviated ones better.

Emotive conjugations

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In 1948, Bertrand Russell, on a radio program called The Brains Trust, gave a joke example of an irregular verb conjugation:

I am firm; you are obstinate; he is a pig-headed fool.

Apparently Russell referred to this construction as an emotive conjugation.

Here are a few more examples; I believe these are from a New Statesman competition to come up with other emotive conjugations, but Wikipedia (incorrectly, I think) attributes the first two of them to Russell:

I am righteously indignant; you are annoyed; he is making a fuss over nothing.

I have reconsidered the matter; you have changed your mind; he has gone back on his word.

I am sparkling; you are unusually talkative; he is drunk.

An about.com article from 2008 lists more entries from that competition.

I was thinking about this kind of thing the other day when a friend said something about me (to me) that put a positive spin on two less-flattering things others have said about (and to) me this year. So I combined the three into a conjugation:

I know my own mind; you like things to be just so; they have to have everything their way.

A few more pages with examples:

  • Ben Schott ran a Weekend Competition about emotive conjugations in 2010.
  • Time published some of the New Statesman winners in 1948, but the article (in their online archive) is available only to subscribers.
  • Craig Brown ran a couple of lists in a Telegraph column in 2004: 1, 2
  • Richard Lederer ran a contest in the Telegraph in 1969; he received 2000 entries, and published a few of his favorites.

I invite y'all to post conjugations of your own (or your favorites from other people's lists) in comments here. (They don't have to actually be about you, of course.)

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Funny category.

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