(7 December 1997)
There's an old riddle which goes:
Q: What word is always pronounced wrong?
A: The word "wrong."
I recently encountered another version of that riddle in a book:
Q: What word is never pronounced right?
Whoever wrote up this latter item may have not understood the original joke (the second version borders on being a secret yet), or may simply have been one of those people who can never seem to get jokes right. Like Porkypine, who (in a Pogo strip from 1949) gets the old joke about the dog who lost his nose wrong, substituting "What will he smell with now?" for "How does he smell?" (Come to think of it, that's a secret yet too.)
There's another old joke about a couple of philosophers:
There were two philosophers on a train, arguing about objective reality. One of them pointed out the window, saying, "For instance, surely you'd agree that those sheep over there are white." The other philosopher, not about to give an inch, replied, "On this side, anyway."
By itself, not all that great a joke. (I probably didn't tell it very well.) But I've usually heard it accompanied by a story about someone who always gets jokes wrong trying to tell it:
There were these two guys on a train, having an argument. And one of them points out the window and says "Look, there are some sheep." The other one says, "On this side, anyway."
(Speaking of trains, here's another riddle:
Q. There are two trains on the same track, heading towards each other. One train, driven by a Norwegian, is going 60 mph; the other, driven by a drunkard, is going 50 mph. Why don't they crash?
A: Because Norse is Norse, and souse is souse, and never the trains shall meet.)
Sometimes it's not the telling of the joke that goes awry:
A truck driver is driving a truckload of penguins to the city zoo. Unfortunately, his truck breaks down, and it's going to take a while to repair. He sees another trucker and, desperate to get his job done, says "I'll give you $100 to take these penguins to the zoo." The second trucker agrees.
Later that day, the first trucker sees the second trucker walking along the street, followed by fifteen penguins in a long line. "Hey," says the first trucker, "You were supposed to take those penguins to the zoo!"
"I did," says the second trucker. "But there was still $50 left over, so now I'm taking them to a movie."
And then there's the one about the two penguins in the shower. One asks the other, "Could you hand me the soap?" The second one replies, "No soap, radio."
(No, I never really got that one either. I'm told that was the point...)
I was amazed to learn recently that there are penguins in South Africa... How did I get onto penguins? Oh, well, since this column is rapidly drifting off-topic anyway I might as well add one more:
There are two penguins on an ice floe, drifting north into warmer waters. These penguins are very fond of each other, but they don't speak English very well. Suddenly, with a terrific crack, the ice floe splits in half, right between the penguins. As they begin drifting apart, one penguin sadly waves a flipper and calls out, "Chocolate milk!"
That one gets funnier over time. If you tell it enough times, you may find yourself using "chocolate milk!" as an all-purpose farewell...