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Word Play: L for laughter

We break into our alphabet order to lighten your day

Don’t take words too seriously

If you’ve worked through these pages systematically, you’ll have worked through a number of serious pages about words, language and punctuation. So let’s lighten out outlook and remember that much humour is based upon word meanings. So take this pager as a gentle respite from the heavy or solidness of the previous pages.

Some humour is simply funny because it is silly. For instance on our first Laughter page you will find, “10 Ways to Avoid being eaten by a Duck”, and first one is “Avoid smearing yourself in stale breadcrumbs unless absolutely necessary.” That’s just plain silly and its obvious silliness is what makes it funny.  All of the jokes on that first page are that sort.

If you worked through the laughter pages until page 5 you will have come across “Cow Economics”, Cow Economics is a brand of humour that is funny, partly because it is silly but partly because of the language and explanations, for example –

“Cow Economics”
FEUDALISM. You have two cows. Your lord takes some of the milk.
FASCISM. You have two cows. The government takes both, hires you to take care of them, and sells you the milk.
PURE COMMUNISM. You have two cows. Your neighbours help you take care of them, and you all share the milk.
APPLIED COMMUNISM. You have two cows. You have to take care of them, but the government takes all the milk.
DICTATORSHIP. You have two cows. The government takes both and shoots you. 

To see humour in each of these means you have to know something about feudalism, something about fascism and so on, and once you do, the explanations take on a funny feeling, they are humourous because they are clever.

The block that followed it was even harder to understand and required an even greater vocabulary and understanding for instance,

Ten Words that Don’t Exist but Should...
Parents need more words to describe the weird things that happen to them on a regular basis. Here are some suggestions.

   … is how the block started off. Number 6 was …

6. LACTOMANGULATION (lak' to man gyu lay' shun)n. 

 The act of manhandling the "open here" spout on a milk container so badly that one has to resort to the 'illegal' side.

To cope with that and see it is funny requires you to know that ‘lactose’ has to do with milk and so it is a suggestion that you need to ‘mangle’ a cardboard milk carton sometimes, punching a hole in the opposite side to that designed to be opened.


Page 8 of the laughter pages was about famous last words which are funny simply because of inappropriate they turned out to be –

The obvious ones are:

“It’ll be all, right, I’ve done this many times before.”
“It’s OK, it’s perfectly safe.”
and slightly morbidly,
“I know how to do it; you clip the safety harness like this.”

Page 9 gave us classic exam blunders which are a combination of wrong spellings and wrong uses of words and of misunderstandings. In this following one there is a spelling mistake in the first sentence, a strange way of putting things in the second sentence, a wrong spelling in the third sentence, a wrong way of putting words in the fourth sentence and an absurdity in the final two sentences.   The humour comes in the bad spelling and bad ways the student goes about expressing what they think.

“Abraham Lincoln was America's greatest precedent. Lincoln's mother died in infancy, and he was born in a log cabin which he built with his own hands. Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves by signing the Emasculation Proclamation . On the night of April 14, 1865, Lincoln went to the theatre and got shot in his seat by one of the actors in the moving picture show. They believe the assinator was John Wilkes Booth, a supposingly insane actor. This ruined Booth's career.” 

Page 12 took us to ‘Imponderable Questions’ each of which is funny because of the word meanings, e.g.

Is there another word for synonym?

(The humour comes from the fact that a synonym is a word having the same or nearly the same meaning as another word or words in a language.).

Then there was

If you try to fail, but succeed, which have you done?

Wrap your mind around that one!

Later on that page there were

Some Time Honoured Truths...

2. One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor.

Which gets its laughter from it sounding like a nursery rhyme but the picture suggests you fall over drunk after you’ve had three tequila shots. The rhyme would have finished with the word ‘four’.

On the Hotch Potch page 13 we have classic showing the funny use of words in the following:

Teacher: Max, use "defeat," "defense" and "detail" in a sentence. 
Max: The rabbit cut across the field, and defeat went over defence before detail.

(the feet, the fence, the tail!)

The last one on that page is also a good example of word sounds used to create humour:

Recently a guy in Paris nearly got away with stealing several paintings from the Louvre. However, after planning the crime, breaking in, evading security and escaping with the goods, he was captured only two blocks away when his rented van ran out of petrol. When asked how he could mastermind such a crime and then make such an obvious error, he replied: "I had no Monet to buy Degas to make the Van Gogh."

(Monet, Degas and Van Gogh are all names of famous painters whose painting may be hung in the Louve – sounds like money, the gas (petrol), van go)

On Hotch-Potch Page 17 you would find,

Burglarize: What a thief sees you with.
Left Bank: What the robber did after his bag was full of cash.
Misty: What Tiger Woods never does.
Subdued: Like a guy who works on one of those submarines, man.
Eclipse: What an English barber does for a living.
Eye Dropper: A clumsy ophthalmologist.
Rubberneck: What you do to relax your wife.
Heroes: What a guy in a boat does.

(to get them they need saying out loud)

That rule applied even more on P11 Simplified Chinese language which gets its humour from the idea of this is how Chinese might speak (with apologies to all Chinese):

Ai Bang Mai Ne - I bumped into the coffee table
Chin Tu Fat -
 You need a face lift 
Dum Gai -
 A stupid person 

(Speak them out loud)

Nuff said!

Well to actually finish off here are some quotes that get their laughter from word meanings:

"What some people mistake for the high cost of living is really the cost of high living."

"I try to take one day at a time, but sometimes several days attack me at once."
"Nostalgia isn't what it used to be."

"Most conversations are simply monologues delivered in the presence of witnesses."

“The word 'aerobics' came about when the gym instructors got together and said: If we're going to charge £10 an hour, we can't call it Jumping up and down.”

And OK, this really is the last one – Government speak –

“I know that you believe that you understood what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant."

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