My father told me a joke a couple of times when I was a kid that I could never entirely reconstruct later. I just found a version of it in a 1908 O. Henry story, “The Man Higher Up.”

Partway through the story, a man named Alfred E. Ricks has been selling land in Florida to people in Chicago. One of the purchasers visits Florida and finds that the land in question…

…was under thirty-six feet of water, and, besides, had been preëmpted so long by the alligators and gars that his title looked fishy.

Naturally, the man goes back to Chicago and makes it as hot for Alfred E. Ricks as the morning after a prediction of snow by the weather bureau. Ricks denied the allegation, but he couldn’t deny the alligators.

[In the copy of this story that I have, it says defied instead of denied, but (a) this book includes several other typos, and (b) I found another printed version that says denied, and (c) I prefer it as denied.]

That wasn’t the form that the allegations/allegators joke took when my father told it to me; I think the version he told me didn’t have any real alligators in it—I think it was just meant to be funny that someone would use allegators to refer to people who make allegations. (In fact, allegator meaning one who alleges is in my unabridged dictionary.)

But I like this O. Henry version better. And it may have been the original source that my father’s version derived from, not sure.

The rest of the O. Henry story is pretty funny, too; I wasn’t expecting so many malapropisms and cute turns of phrase.

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