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Linguistic Humor, and Language Play

Linguistic Humor, and Language Play by Don L. F. Nilsen and Alleen Pace Nilsen Funniness of a Text A text is funny if and only if the text is compatible (fully or in part) with two distinct scripts, and the two distinct scripts are in some way opposite . (Ruch [2008] 25)

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Linguistic Humor, and Language Play

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  1. Linguistic Humor, and Language Play by Don L. F. Nilsen and Alleen Pace Nilsen 33

  2. Funniness of a Text • A text is funny if and only if the text is compatible (fully or in part) with two distinct scripts, and the two distinct scripts are in some way opposite. (Ruch [2008] 25) 33

  3. Victor Raskin’s Joke • “Is the doctor at home?” the patient asked in his bronchial whisper. • “No,” the doctor’s young and pretty wife whispered in reply. “Come right in.” • Script opposition: Non-Sex vs. Sex (Ruch [2008] 25) 33

  4. ALLUSION • “Allusion” is the noun form of the English verb “to allude.” • “Allude” comes from Latin “ad-” plus “ludere” meaning “to play.” (Nilsen & Nilsen 23) 33

  5. “JIMINY CRICKET” AS AN ALLUSION • The expression “By Jiminy” used to be a swear word. In fact it was a double swearword, because it was swearing by the constellation “Gemini” which represented the twins (Castor and Pollux). • People could say either “Jiminy Cricket” or “Jiminy Christmas.” (Nilsen & Nilsen 23) 33

  6. But “Jiminy Cricket” also has the initials J. C., so this particular swear word takes on more serious consequences. • Remember that “Jiminy Cricket” was Pinocchio’s conscience. • What better conscience could one have than one with the initials J. C.? (Nilsen & Nilsen 23-24) 33

  7. CONFUSED ALLUSIONS • Comedian Michael Davis juggled with the ax that George Washington had used to chop down the cherry tree. • “However, I did have to replace the handle.” ……….. • “and the head.” 33

  8. On the “George Burns and Gracie Allen” television show, Gracie often got her allusions wrong. • GEORGE: If you keep saying funny things, people are going to laugh at you. • GRACIE: That’s OK. Look at Joan of Arc. People laughed at her, but she went ahead and built it anyway. (Nilsen & Nilsen 24) 33

  9. ANTITHESIS • Antithesis occurs when opposite concepts are connected so as to make a surprising kind of sense as in a MasterCard advertisement showing a picture of a tall man looking at a shirt. The caption reads, “You found a 50 long. But you’re $17 short.” • The World Book Encyclopediaran a summertime advertising campaign under the slogan, “Schools are closed…Minds are open.” • The Hoover Company advertised its irons with “The iron with the bottom that makes it tops.” 33

  10. Shortly after Gerald Ford assumed the U.S. Presidency, he amused an audience at Ohio State University by saying: • “So much has happened in the few months since you were kind enough to invite me to speak here today. I was then America’s first instant Vice-President and then I became America’s first instant President. • The Marine Corps Band is so confused they don’t know whether to play “Hail to the Chief” or “You’ve Come a Long Way Baby.” (Nilsen & Nilsen 178) 33

  11. CHIASMUS • Chiasmus is when words are repeated in inverted order: • Mae West said, “It’s not the men in my life that counts; it’s the life in my men.” • A bumper sticker reads, “Aging is a matter of mind: If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” • Another bumper sticker reads, “Marijuana is not a question of “Hi, how are you” but of “How high are you?” • A one-liner that is popular around tax time reads, “The IRS: We’ve got what it takes to take what you’ve got.” (Nilsen & Nilsen 179) 33

  12. EPONYMY • Eponyms are created when the name of a real or mythical person is used in reference to something other than the individual. • In 1992 the term Frankenfoodstarted being used for genetically altered tomatoes or other foods. (Nilsen & Nilsen 179) 33

  13. During the first Gulf War, American soldiers said they were taking Johnny Weissmuller showersbecause the cold water made them scream like Tarzan. • When Ross Perot was running for president, John Chancellor described Perot as holding “the Daddy Warbuckstheory of presidential qualifications.” • When a report stated that over 500 out of the 700 shooting incidents in which Los Angeles police were involved between 1987 and 1994 were potentially life-threatening mistakes, a union leader observed that officers had succumbed to the John Wayne syndrome. (Nilsen & Nilsen 179) 33

  14. Sometimes the eponymy is based on first names as in the noun Lazy Susan, the verb to peter out,or the exclamations Great Scott!and By George! • Sometimes the words rhyme as with even Steven, flap jack, and ready for Freddie. • Sometimes there is alliteration as in gloomy Gus, dumb Dora, and nervous Nellie, or assonance as in alibi Ike, fancy Dan, sneaky Pete, long johns, and screaming Meemie. (Nilsen & Nilsen 179) 33

  15. Joe is a simple generic name as in Joe Six-Pack, which is a refinement of the Good Old Joeconcept, seen earlier in Joe Blowand Joe Schmo, and in the more specific G.I. Joe(from “General Issue”) for a soldier. • Other examples include Joe(or J.) Random Hackerfor a computer whiz, Holy Joefor an army chaplain, Joe Collegefor a student, and even Joe Camelfor the controversial cartoon character that sold Camel cigarettes. (Nilsen & Nilsen 179) 33

  16. METONYMY • Metonymy occurs when something is named for a quality that is in some way associated with the item. • In the days of CB radios, people often chose “handles” that were descriptive of their physical characteristics or their hobbies • Today with e-mail and the Internet some people choose nicknames that are metonymous. (Nilsen & Nilsen 180) 33

  17. Jeff Gordon, a professor of geography at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, collects interesting names of antique shops. He has over 300, including these: • Another Fine Mess • As You Were • The Collected Works • Fourscore and More • A Touch of Glass • Den of Antiquity • Owners’ names can be seen in Suzantiques, Shair’s Wares, Young’s Oldies, andFine’s Finds. (Nilsen & Nilsen 180) 33

  18. The Watergate Hotel is where the break-in of the National Democratic headquarters occurred. • Today’s dictionaries give more room to the metonymous meaning of Watergate than to the literal meaning of “a gate controlling the flow of water.” • “Gate” has now become a suffix meaning “scandal” as in Irangate, Contragate, Iraqgate, Pearlygate, Rubbergate, Murphygate, Gennifergate, Nannygate, Monicagate,ad infinitum. (Nilsen & Nilsen 180) 33

  19. Diseases are sometimes given metonymous names. For example, the Pickwickian Syndromegets its name from Charles Dicken’s The Pickwick Papersin which Joe the Fat Boy constantly falls asleep. • The disease is a condition in which blood veins going to the brain are squeezed so that people fall asleep in the midst of activities. (Nilsen & Nilsen 180) 33

  20. Ondine’s Cursedescribes a condition in which sleeping people cease breathing and die without awakening. It is named for a mythological water nymph who cursed her mortal lover when he betrayed her. • Legionnaire’s diseaseis named for 29 victims who died after attending a 1976 American Legion convention in a hotel with a contaminated air-conditioning system. (Nilsen & Nilsen 180) 33

  21. NONSENSE • The literal meaning of Nonsense is that it doesn’t make sense; however nonsense verse and other nonsense is carefully put together so that it has a strong rhythmic quality that serves to highlight logical infelicities and nonce words. • Noncemeans “only once.” Nonsense words are coined for a particular use as in Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” poem where he created frabjousand galumphing, new words which caught on so that most people at least recognize them today. (Nilsen & Nilsen 180) 33

  22. Nonsense can also be found in the logic of some seemingly serious pieces as in Charles Dicken’s story for children “The Magic Fishbone,” in which he makes fun of large Victorian families by describing Princess Alicia’s family: • “They had nineteen children and were always having more. Seventeen of these children took care of the baby, and Alicia, the eldest, took care of them all. Their ages varied from seven years to seven months.” (Nilsen & Nilsen 180) 33

  23. OXYMORON • Oxymoron comes from two Greek words oxysmeaning “sharp” and moros meaning “foolish or dull.” • This paradox or contradiction can be seen in such expressions as Icy-Hot (an arthritis medicine), Cool Fire (a line of shoes), and Soft Brick (a floor covering). • An article in People Magazine (March 3, 1986) about Warren S. Blumenfeld, who brought oxymorons to the attention of the general public, contains fourteen oxymorons: (Nilsen & Nilsen 180-181) 33

  24. It was a new tradition---the First Annual Florida Snowmobiles’ Ball. • As he gazed across the crowded room, he saw her sitting on the real vinyl banquette. • She was a relative stranger, but he was attracted by her seductive innocence. • Sophisticated good ole boy that he was, he adopted an air of studied indifference as he mused upon the planned serendipity of their meeting. • “What if she is a closet exhibitionist?” he wondered. • “What if she thinks my minor surgery is old news?” • Still she was his only choice. (Nilsen & Nilsen 180-181) 33

  25. In truth, is it possible to desegrate schools “with all deliberate speed?” • Can there ever be a civil war, or friendly fire? • In Vietnam could the United States launch a peace offensive? • Some people go so far as to wear a button that says, “Anarchists Unite!” (Nilsen & Nilsen 181) 33

  26. PERSONIFICATION • Even before infants have mastered language, they respond to toys as if they were human, and in the earliest nursery rhymes and stories, animals, dolls, “choo-choo” trains, and teapots come to life. • This kind of personification is a kind of fun that we never outgrow as shown by this paragraph from an often reprinted lament to old age: • As soon as I wake, Will Power helps me get out of bed. Then I go see John. Then Charley Horse comes along, and as soon as he leaves, Arthur Ritis shows up and for the rest of the day we go from joint to joint. After such a busy day, I’m tired and glad to go back to bed---with Ben Gay. What a life! (Nilsen & Nilsen 181) 33

  27. PUNS • Richard Lederer in the introduction to his Get Thee to a Punnerysaid that puns are “a three-ring circus of words: words clowning, words teetering on tightropes, words swinging from tent-tops, words thrusting their heads into the mouths of lions.” • Tony Tanner said that a pun is like an adulterous bed in which two meanings that should be separated are coupled together. (Nilsen & Nilsen 181) 33

  28. Debra Fried defined puns as “the weird accidents, amazing flukes and lucky hits that the one-armed bandit of language dishes up….” • This last example is a case of once-removed personification, since a “one-armed bandit” is itself a personified reference to a gambling machine. (Nilsen & Nilsen 181) 33

  29. SYNECDOCHE • Synecdoche is a specific kind of metonymy in which a part of something is used to represent the whole thing. • We refer to the movies as the big screenor to television as the tube. • In a popular joke about the Lone Rangershow, Tonto uses synecdoche when he responds to the Lone Ranger’s announcement that “We are being followed by Indians,” with “What you mean we, Paleface?” (Nilsen & Nilsen 181) 33

  30. Football kicker Lou Grossa was called The Toe, while the outspoken baseball player and coach Leo Durocher was called The Lip. • Actress Betty Grable was called The Million Dollar Legs, while Jimmy Durante was called The Schnoz. • In a Brant Parker Wizard of IDcartoon, a girl brings a boy home and introduces him with, “Father…This is Marvin! He’s asked for my hand.” The father replies, “Marv….It’s the whole package or nothing.” (Nilsen & Nilsen 181) 33

  31. ZEUGMA • Intentional Faulty Parallelism is called Zeugma. • Chuckles the Clown on the Mary Tyler Mooreshow said, • A little song… • A little dance… • A little Seltzer down your pants! (Nilsen & Nilsen 179) 33

  32. Naturalist Joseph Wood Krutch wrote that “the most serious charge that can be brought against New England is not Puritanism, but February.” • Henry Clay declared that he “would rather be right than President.” (Nilsen & Nilsen 179) • Here are some more examples of Zeugma: 33

  33. !When William F. Buckley Jr. was campaigning for mayor of New York City in 1965 and railed against the restrictions being put on New York City police, he complained that they couldn’t use clubs or gas or dogs and then concluded with, “I suppose they will have to use poison ivy.” • Sid Caesar said that tequila is “our national drink” because “it kindles the spirits of our hearts.” • Then he added, “And it keeps our cigarette lighters working.” • A Wall Street Journalcartoon by D. Cresci pictured a bank robber informing the teller, “You won’t get hurt if you hand over all the money, keep quiet, and validate this parking ticket.” (Nilsen & Nilsen 179-180) 33

  34. !!Here are some more examples: • “You were never lovelier, and I think it’s a shame.” • “One swallow does not a summer make, but Humpty Dumpty makes a great fall.” • “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you may be radioactive.” • There’s no fool like an old fool; you just can’t beat experience. • An apple a day keeps the doctor away; an onion a day keeps everyone away. • Rome wasn’t built in a day; the pizza parlors alone took several weeks. (Nilsen & Nilsen 179) 33

  35. !!!LANGUAGE PLAY WEB SITES AMERICAN DIALECT SOCIETY: http://americandialect.org/ HUMOR, LINGUISTICS & NAMES (ALLEEN AND DON NILSEN): http://www.phoenixartspace.com/icm/ HUMOR QUEST (Mary Kay Morrison): http://www.questforhumor.com/ MALEDICTA (REINHOLD AMAN): http://www.sonic.net/maledicta RICH HALL’S SNIGGLETS: http://www.ziplink.net/users/wood/funny/snigglets.html VERBIVORE (RICHARD LEDERER): http://www.verbivore.com 33

  36. Related PowerPoints • Ambiguity • Animal Language Play • Bilingual Humor • Jokes 33

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