Words & Stuff

b: I've Jibe and Joke

(12 January 1997)

My father used to tell me that between them, he and his father knew everything. "All right," I finally challenged him, "what's the meaning of life?" He replied, "That's one of the things my father knows."

While driving somewhere with his parents, my father once boasted that he could tell a joke on any subject presented to him. The car entered a tunnel, and someone suggested that he tell a joke about a tunnel. He had one, too, though I no longer recall what it was.

I'm afraid I inherited my predilection for puns from him. He told me that a bun is the lowest form of wheat before I knew that a pun is the lowest form of wit. Paronomasia is a sad thing to be afflicted with.

He also told me some version of this joke:

A man in ragged motley appeared at the castle gates one day and demanded to see the king. When in due course he was presented in the throne room, he boldly spoke: "Your majesty, I am an itinerant jester in need of gainful employment, a traveling master of jibe and joke looking to settle down; in short, your majesty, I am a fool, and I need a job. Will you hire me to entertain you?"

The king, half-amused already at the man's chutzpah (so he was a Jewish king, so sue me), said, "That depends. If you're a good jester, why did you leave your previous employment?"

"I'm not just good, your majesty, I'm the best," the traveler replied. "I'm only on the road because my last master died, perhaps from laughing too much. In fact, I'm so good at my job that I can tell a joke on any subject."

The king raised an eyebrow, a trick he'd practiced for years. "Very well, then, fool: tell me a joke about myself."

The jester thought fast. Kings, as a rule, don't like to be the butts of jokes, but how else to make good his boast? Then he hit upon a solution. "Ah," he said, "but your majesty is a king, not a subject."

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Jed Hartman <logophilia@kith.org>