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Old jokes (dynomight.net)
378 points by Gadiguibou 3 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 265 comments





Re: the age of "That's what she said":

I thumbed through The Frogs (Aristophanes) at a used book store once. This play was written circa 400 BC. In the prologue, one character is offering to entertain the audience with a few jokes, and another character says, "Yes, but not 'That's what she said.'" The joke was too over-used.

I was astounded to think that the joke was that old! But it's actually not. The old jokes of ancient Athenians were a little too obscure, I guess, so the translator picked a modern example. Still, that translation of The Frogs is from the 1950s, so the joke was old at least that far back. (Here is the translation: https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.65406/2015.6540...)


I looked up some other translations...

1908 - "Not "Oh, my poor blisters!" - https://archive.org/details/frogstranslatedi00arisuoft/page/...

1995 - "Anything but “What a strain!”" https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext...

Original greek - "πλήν γ᾽ ‘ὡς θλίβομαι.’" - https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus:text...

This appears to translate as "except 'as I grieve.'" according to Google Translate - https://translate.google.com/?sl=el&tl=en&text=πλήν%20γ᾽%20‘...


> This appears to translate as "except 'as I grieve.'" according to Google Translate

That Perseus link will give you dictionary entries for the words. Relevant glosses of ὡς appear to be "as; how; so; thus". θλίβομαι is the passive form of a verb meaning "press; squeeze" and metaphorically "oppress; afflict"; examples in the Great Scott (LSJ) show it being used to describe a shoe pinching a foot, a shoulder rubbing against a narrow doorway, lips pressing against each other in a kiss, and the circumstances of poverty making things difficult for a poor person.

So it's easy to imagine that it might feature in the punchline of a pun. But even without constructing a pun, it would be easy to translate that as something like "see how I suffer?", which could be the punchline to any number of jokes. It sounds like a good translation of the modern punchline "first world problems", for example.


"What a strain" feels like quite a good translation, then. One can easily imagine a joke along the lines of...

I've been having stomach pains all week but finally managed a bowel movement this morning. What a strain!


I studied Aristophanes in school and read some of his plays. It's astonishing how 2000 years later, some things can still be funny.

that one looks more like a very liberal translation to match the present audience (see shagie comment)

Well, that's what dkurth said.

These remind me of a category of "joke" that some of my middle-school peers and I engaged in: the non-joke. The only one I can remember went something like: a man walks into a bakery and asks for two baguettes. The baker looks at him, thinks for a moment and says "It's OK, you can leave your bike outside".

Looking back, I think this idea was somehow rooted in the idea that jokes have delivery and that if you use that delivery (rythmn, emphasis, body language) maybe you could say anything and be funny. There was also the peer effect - if you had an audience "plant" in the school yard that would start the laughter, sometimes it would catch even for these non-jokes.

Decades later, the idea I described above seems both obviously false, but also true, in the sense that a lot of modern stand up is based on "say anything the right way and people laugh". However, "the right way" for standup is very different than the "telling a joke" structure.

On the other hand, it does feel to me at this point that this is the crux of the contemporary poetry slam: read an arbitrary text in the right way, and while it may not win any prizes, it will feel like poetry, because that's what make it poetry.


We used to really enjoy a long elaborate joke setup with a let down as the punchline in college.

My favorite was "A patron sees a whale sitting in a booth at the bar". You go on and on about him coming back day after day seeing the wale, describing the beverage, etc. Just improv it. The key is going as long as you can while keeping the audience, but still getting that frustration and tension from them.

At the end the patron gets up the courage to talk to the whale explains to the whale that he had seen him for days, was amazed, etc. Then the whale looked at him and responded [insert best whale noise impression].

Since he passed I've seen a bunch of Norm Macdonald videos of this. He really was the best. The moth joke and others that go on for ~30 mins each on Conan are amazing.

He plays them dumb but is basing them off like Russian literature tropes that go way over the audience's head. The repeated build up, let down, and then finally just a silly punch line that could have landed in 3 sentences is incredible. And his ability to play off Conan's occasional shots...


The name for these jokes is a shaggy dog story. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaggy_dog_story

It's one of my favorite categories of joke. It gets even better if you can retell it to intersecting groups of people, as the people who have heard it before are now "in on it." They can see you leading the audience on a wild goose chase and will react with amusement throughout, increasing the excitement of the fresh audience and making the punchline (or lack thereof) all the better.


My favorite shaggy dog is from the video game West of Loathing, about a buttfor. It's written on plaques in a cave and goes into lots of detail about the buttfor, the lengths to which the authors went to find it, and suggests the possibility that it might be hidden within the same cave. Alas, like a good shaggy dog, the cave is just a dead end, there's nothing in it, the buttfor is nowhere to be found, and you have to spend minutes walking back out of the cave like a chump.

wondering who is going to be the first HN poster to ask ....

To ask what?

what's a buttfor?

For sitting on.

I think you have it confused with a henway.

So there's a farm. On this farm, there's a cow, a chicken, and a horse, and the three of them are best friends. They do just about everything together. And one day, they're sitting at the window of the house, and the farmer's kid is watching MTV, and they're watching it, and they hear the music, and the horse says "you know what? I'm gonna learn how to do that." So the horse calls up Guitar Center, and he says to the guy on the phone, "Hey, listen. I wanna learn to play guitar." Guy on the phone says "no problem. Come on down." "No, there might be one problem. I'm a horse." "Naw, it ain't a problem. We'll get some attachments, I can teach you to play. Promise." So horse turns out to be a natural. He gets GOOD. And he calls over Cow and Chicken and he's like "LOOK WHAT I CAN DO" and he jams out like Jimi Hendrix. And Cow says "Holy shit. That's awesome. I want to learn to do something like that too. What's like that?" And horse says "Bass. Learn to play bass." So Cow calls up Guitar Center, and she says "Hey, listen, I wanna learn to play bass guitar." Guy on the phone says "No problem, miss, come on down." "Eh, this might be a problem. I'm a cow." "Nah, no problem. I helped a horse recently, I can teach you to play too. Promise." So Cow learns to play the bass, and Cow is fucking amazing at it. So Cow and Horse are jamming, and Chicken gets a bit jealous. He says "Damn, I wanna learn something too. But not like that." Horse says "Well, I mean, we need a drummer around here." So Chicken calls up Guitar Center, and he says "Hey, listen, I wanna learn to play drums." Guy on the phone says "No problem, man. Come on down." "Eh, maybe a problem. I'm a chicken." "Naw. Ain't no thing. I taught a horse guitar and a cow bass. I can teach you drums." So chicken learns the drums, and he's fucking amazing. So Cow, Horse, and Chicken all start having jam sessions whenever the farmer's out. And one day they're playing, and a big record agent is driving down the road. And he hears them, and he’s like "What the fuck? That sounds amazing." So he stops at the farm, and he finds them all playing in the barn. And he says "Holy shit. You guys sound AWESOME. I wanna represent you, make this a real band, make some music. You're gonna be HUGE." So Cow and Chicken and Horse take this guy's deal, and they move to the city, they cut albums, and they're big. REAL big. Top 10 hits, platinum albums, the works. They get set for their first tour. But there's a problem, see. Horse gets a phone call, his mom's real sick. Cow and Chicken, though, they're cool as hell. They say "Listen. Go see your mom. We'll delay the first show a couple of days, so fly back home, spend some time with her, and then jump on a plane and come meet us." Horse says "Thanks, guys. you're the best," and he takes off. Couple of days later, Horse's mom is just fine. Turned out to be a real bad cold, she gets over it, and he spends another night there. The following morning, he gets a call. It's his agent. Cow and Chicken's plane went down, they died in the crash. The band is done. He's lost his best friends. And Horse, this breaks him, man. He's been through so much with them, and he feels real down in the dumps. So he takes a walk, and while he's on that walk, he just can't shake the blue, so he figures to himself "Alright, alright. One drink, just to get over it." So Horse walks into the local bar. Bartender looks at him and says "Hey. Why the long face?"

... this one can be extended for 30 minutes ...


I remember as a kid some speaker at some school event doing a story for at least 10 minutes about the travails a family suffered with a pet called a "rare ee", all to build up to the groaner of a punchline "it's a long way to tip a rare ee"

Thanks for letting me know of this category of jokes. My favorite is this one that I encountered on the early Internet - too long to put here, so I'll link it: https://www.jokebuddha.com/joke/Bad_Conductor

It's a good joke, but the delivery isn't very good. Seeing "electrocution" and "conductor" in the same sentence immediately made me get the joke, so I skipped to the end, and I was correct.

Maybe they should have given him a name and used that instead of "conductor", and only refer to him as a conductor 3-4 times throughout the story.


That term reminds me of "yak shaving" for some reason.

> My favorite was "A patron sees a whale sitting in a booth at the bar". You go on and on about him coming back day after day seeing the wale, describing the beverage, etc. Just improv it. The key is going as long as you can while keeping the audience, but still getting that frustration and tension from them.

> At the end the patron gets up the courage to talk to the whale explains to the whale that he had seen him for days, was amazed, etc. Then the whale looked at him and responded [insert best whale noise impression].

This made me laugh more than is reasonable.


I used to work at a summer camp. Campers would sign up for various activities, the longest time slot for which was one hour each day, commonly used for extended crafts or sometimes a movie.

One week, a friend and I ran the activity “Friend and greggyb tell a joke.” We strung together a half dozen of our favorite shaggy dog stories, interweaving them and putting off the combined punch line until the last ten minutes of the third day. We handed off to one another every 15-20 minutes. At the end, the 30 or so campers agreed that they could not be angry with us, because we did exactly what the activity said, we told _A_ joke.


I also like the short version of the whale one:

A whale sitting at the bar says: [long whale noise]. The barman replies: "go home, Frank, you're drunk".

A similar one is:

A monkey eats some soup at a restaurant, and says: [monkey noise]. The waiter replies: "be careful, sir, it's very hot".


Kind of related: https://twitter.com/KidsWriteJokes

It's a collection of jokes (apparently) written by children. They aren't funny, in the sense that they make no damn sense. Yet, lots of them are funny in the sense that they are completely ridiculous but you can see what the child was trying to do, i.e. deliver a joke in the same style as they have heard before, e.g.

  Knock, knock
  Who's there?
  A ladybug.
  Ladybug who?
  A LADYBUG. I just SAID that.

  whats a fish with no eyes.

  dead
That one I found way too funny haha

"What is yellow and if you get it in your eye you die?"

"A train" (context, in the Netherlands all the large intercity trains are yellow)


Q. Why did the girl fall off the swing? A. Because she had no arms!

"Fsh".

I like to send messages to my partner where I say “I wrote a song for you” and then what follows is a few lines about how they’re great, and in my head it COULD be sung as like a really awkward song, but when you read it it doesn’t really look like a song at all. No rhythm and no rhyme. I guess it’s fun to write a non-song and pretend it’s a song.

> Looking back, I think this idea was somehow rooted in the idea that jokes have delivery and that if you use that delivery (rhythm, emphasis, body language) maybe you could say anything and be funny.

Reminds me of the Code Geass abridged series Code MENT (most famously known for the Soup Store[0] meme) which relies on this type of humor heavily. Most of the jokes in it aren't really funny on their own and are essentially just nonsensical statements delivered in strange and distinctive ways rapid fire while VERY loosely related to the plot of Code Geass. But with the right delivery the lines become hilarious and easily quotable: just look at how many Soup Store parodies there are.

[0]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAUnDDTz30k


I had a somewhat similar feeling watching How I Met Your Mother -- there are many places where it's obvious that the show expects you to laugh, but in most of those places, there is no joke. Instead, there's a continuity reference.

The author just wrote an article about this as well - https://dynomight.net/no-soap-radio/

Some of the variations just had me in tears and I can‘t really explain why.

Edit: I guess it‘s the same formula as most jokes: There is some logic in the setup, and the punchline replaces it with a different logic or pattern. Only in this case, the original logic isn‘t common sense, but the expected pattern of each type of joke. A meta-joke in that regard. It really depends on you being blindsided, but immediately recognizing the new “logic“ at the punchline.


Yeah this is a meme in the modern internet sense, where a large portion of the humor comes from recognizing the format

A joke breaks expectations. Setup: "What kind of bear has no teeth?" Punchline: "A gummy bear" breaks the expectation you have trying to think of a type of animal bear.

Non-jokes or meta-jokes break the expectation but in an unusual way. "Why did the chicken cross the road?" punchline breaks your expectation of an broken expectation. You thought it was a joke, but it turned out to be a statement. The aristocrats joke turns out to be just a dirty story- the story is the "joke".

Memes are not non-jokes or meta jokes. Memes are refillable jokes in a known container. You see the picture, you know what the joke is. Just like a TV sitcom is storytelling/joketelling in a refillable container. You see the kooky friend character, you know how he/she is going to react.

The aristocrats joke happens to also be a refillable container (you can tell/retell it however you want), but that's not the part that makes it a non-joke.


"To get to the other side" has a double meaning (to die, perhaps by being hit by a car).

So the chicken joke is not necessarily an anti-joke.


I somehow went thirty-eight years in this life without realizing there was actually a double meaning behind that phrase.

Thank you for enlightening me.


There's also the meaning of side as in potatoes or rice.

Based on the ancient Chinese "No Soap, Smoke Signal" surrealist joke.

I remember how intensely funny such non-sequitur jokes were to us at the same age. And they were quite similar to the one you quoted, absolute nonsense.

I vividly remember sitting in the back of my mothers car with a friend and just losing it for laughter. It was uncontrollable and my mother was rather annoyed.

It's almost sad that it doesn't work at all anymore.


In one of his auto biographical boom John Hodgman reflects how his nonsense books ("The Areas of my Expertise") were unexpectedly wildly popular among 12 year olds, and this popularity was the primary reason those books and their sequels we're successful.

I remember a similarly themed non joke where the meaningless and irrelevant punchline was "no soap, radio."


When my father first told me that joke when I was a kid (with "two elephants in a bathtub" rather than one being hippo), I just assumed that the elephant who wanted the soap was named Radio.

There was a thread on HN a week ago about this.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=32250203


When I was a summer camp counselor, on the first day I would always tell the joke/riddle

    Two canadians are paddling a canoe across a vast hot walmart parking lot.
    One of them turns to the other and says 
        "Where's the paddles, Eh?" 
    His buddy replies 
        "Eh, sure does."
It's a real slow burner, but invariably after an hour or a day one of the kids would get it and share the answer around and they'd all laugh. Then I would tell

    Two seals are sitting in a bathtub full of warm crisco. 
    One of them turns to the other and says 
        "Hey, could you pass the soap?"
    and the other answers
        "What do I look like, a typewriter?"
And, primed to believe that if you think hard enough, QuadmasterXLII jokes really do make sense / have a punchline, they'd entertain themselves the rest of the week hunting for an explanation that doesn't exist.

My aunt used to the tell the second as:

Two elephants are sitting in a tub. The one elephant says to the other, "Pass the soap." The other elephant says, "No soap. Just radio." Get it?

And then her and my mom would laugh, and wait for me to do the same. The joke being that anyone not in on it who laughs is faking. The joke is on them.

'Twas my fav joke.


Ok, I need help. I don't get it nor the seals one.

Edit: saw a link - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=32250203


Spoilers for the first one welcome at this point. Thanks. Gaaaah.

“Where’s” is a homophone for “wears (down)”. [0]

[0] https://www.reddit.com/r/NoStupidQuestions/comments/9a7k0p/c...


It almost be funnier if there was NO real punchline to the first joke and it was all a setup to spend endless hours trying to figure it out like the second one supposedly.

D'oh of course. Thanks!

My favorite:

How many pancakes does it take to shingle a roof?

Orange, because snakes don't have armpits!


Q: How many surrealists does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: Two: one to hold the giraffe, and one to fill the bathtub with brightly colored machine pieces.

Q: What's the difference between a duck?

A: One of its legs are the same.

Penguin jokes are even funnier when monkeys tell and laugh at them:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gTQMRC5Pm6k

Joking aside, this is Marvin Minsky's paper "Jokes and their Relation to the Cognitive Unconscious", published in Cognitive Constraints on Communication, Vaina and Hintikka (eds.) Reidel, 1981:

https://web.media.mit.edu/~minsky/papers/jokes.cognitive.txt

>Abstract: Freud's theory of jokes explains how they overcome the mental "censors" that make it hard for us to think "forbidden" thoughts. But his theory did not work so well for humorous nonsense as for other comical subjects. In this essay I argue that the different forms of humor can be seen as much more similar, once we recognize the importance of knowledge about knowledge and, particularly, aspects of thinking concerned with recognizing and suppressing bugs -- ineffective or destructive thought processes. When seen in this light, much humor that at first seems pointless, or mysterious, becomes more understandable.

[...]

>ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: I thank Howard Cannon, Danny Hillis, William Kornfeld, David Levitt, Gloria Rudisch, and Richard Stallman for suggestions. Gosrdon Oro provided the dog-joke.


There used to be a joke in French, popularised by comic book author Gotlib afaik, that went like that:

"Why do ocean liners have 3 big chimneys? Because Transatlantic!"

You could replace the question with anything nonsensical. In the comic, a father becomes crazy after his son tells him this joke. He just wants to understand it so bad...


I really like this one. "Transatlantic" is related just barely enough to "ocean liner" that it would make me think there's gotta be something to get.

My Dad used to tell this one, but the punchline was "because fish can't eat ice cream!" Thanks for taking me back in time :)

"Some people say funny things.

Other people say things funny."

Both can be equally comedic. Looks like you and your friends discovered that.


Michael Davis, comedy juggling act: "They say a comic says funny things, but a comedian says things funny. This makes me a juggler."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKRrfAzdpW8


Speaking of comedy juggling acts:

I was watching The Flying Karamazov Brothers performing their amazing comedy juggling act on stage, when they suddenly all messed up at once and dropped their pins, which caused the entire audience to burst out in uproarious laughter.

Taken aback, they asked the audience: "Are you laughing AT US or WITH IS?"

The audience unanimously replied together at once: "AT YOU!!!"

They smugly shouted back: "Gesundheit!!!"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Flying_Karamazov_Brothers


> Looking back, I think this idea was somehow rooted in the idea that jokes have delivery and that if you use that delivery (rythmn, emphasis, body language) maybe you could say anything and be funny.

This is “Friends” summed up. We are only laughing because they tell something like it was funny, and the canned laughter tells our brain to laugh.


> This is “Friends” summed up... the canned laughter

Are you not aware that the show was filmed before a live audience? Watch how the actors pause between lines - they're actually waiting for the crowd to finish laughing. And that's the case for most sitcoms from the previous century.

It might not be your kind of humor. But real audiences found the show funny enough to laugh so long and hard, when they were under no obligation to do so, that the actors had to have unnaturally long pauses between their lines.

Many modern internet commenters have a misguided tendency to automatically dismiss any show with a laugh track as inferior. FWIW I think Friends was a great show for most of its run, with top-notch comic writing, within the constraints of the medium at the time. Sitcoms were nearly always single-camera format, and shot in a studio with a live audience. The storylines had to be accessible to casual watchers. The shows lived and died by weekly ratings, and needed to have ad breaks at specific times, which also influenced the writing, casting, and pacing.

Just to show you that I'm not swayed by mere laugh tracks and longevity, let me also announce that anything made by Chuck Lorre is absolute drivel.


Friends was funny, but I'm sure they also had a big Laugh sign to tell people when to laugh

Every show with a live audience does. But notice how long they laugh at some points. You can't fake that.

This is also because laughing at jokes is a way to (unconsciously) show that you get it, and/or belong with the "in-crowd". So people tend to laugh at jokes other's find funny, even if they wouldn't themselves, and remember the joke must've been funny because they laughed. Also see: laugh tracks.

I know what you mean, but it isn't quite the same I think. The anecdote I told in a sibling comment about a friend and me sitting in the back of my mom's car is an example. We were two very good friends, so there was no "in-crowd" dynamic at all, and we were absolutely loosing over it, it was genuinely funny to us. Roughly the same age as what OP stated, so there just seems to be something inherently funny about those non-sequiturs to young folks... maybe that's when you start to "deconstruct" concepts like humor.

My favorite non-joke.

What did the farmer say when he walked outside and saw that his tractor was gone?

Damn it. My tractor is gone.


"I see," said the blind man, as he picked up his hammer and saw.

I seent it!

Unrealistic - insufficient cursing.

I wouldn't expect a lot of cursing in that scenario. I'd expect a lot of cursing from a farmer experiencing some sort of understandable problem that happens to him all the time, but not from one experiencing a mysterious, unexplained emergency.

My daughter when maybe 4 or 5 made this knock knock 'joke'. Knock Knock. Who's there? Laughing cow. Laughing cow who? Laughing cow is laughing at you! That's why!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-humor

You might enjoy the work of Andy Kaufman.


I remember a high school friend once telling a non-joke to us. We did find it hilariously funny at the time. I did not manage to make anyone laugh with it since. She was very good at it, but as you say the audience matters.

“What is purple and hums? An electric grape. Why does it hum? Because it doesn’t know the words.”

Delivery is the crux of a lot of comedians. If they have good delivery they can get away with saying a lot of unfunny, even mean repulsive things, and have the audience laugh along with them


Surely the ultimate non-joke involves querying the purpose of a chicken's road-crossing adventures...

It's a pun. The chicken gets hit by a car and dies. It reaches The Other Side.

That seems to be the recent interpretation (or at least I only recently read about it, it seems to be a thing right now), but I remain unconvinced.

It's just entirely plausible to me that the pun was just a "happy accident", and the originator of the joke really did mean to give a groan-inducing borderline-tautological answer that does not offer any insight besides the obvious. You were expecting a punchline, but your expectation was subverted!

And at least that's also funnier than that lame pun. I'd be pretty disappointed to be honest, but we'll probably never really find out.


A friend of mine swears that it's the intended meaning and that it was a pun all along

I'm absolutely certain he's wrong

Some jokes simply don't mean anything


Nope, that's a pun you've shared, but it's not the definitive answer in any way as you seem to think.

There is no single correct chicken crossing the road joke, but specifically the person you're talking to is speaking about an anti-joke where you don't even get to it crossing the road because you're stuck on the question of why cross the road rather than the act of crossing it.


If there's a pun it's one referencing the line from Othello about "this foul proceeding", but good luck coming up with one that would get a laugh outside very select circles.

I've never seen a chicken try to cross a road, they always seem to stay well away.

Geese on the other hand seem convinced they are tougher than anything with four wheels.


"to die, in the rain"

You sir, may be interested in /r/antiantijokes

That's a non-sequitur, no?

I’m surprised noone has brought up what I recall being told was the oldest known joke. Not sure about the specifics, but IIRC it’s from a mesopotamian cuneiform tablet and goes something like “Name something that never happened — A wife has never farted in her husband’s lap”. Supposedly a reference to the common knowledge at the time that everyone involved (or maybe just the wife) would vehemently deny it if it did happen, or perhaps awkwardly pretend it didn’t happen, knowing well that everyone noticed and politely joins in the pretense.

I don’t like it when people act as if these were objectively bad jokes. Many jokes are very dependent on a specific cultural moment as well as carefully crafted wording. Lots of current jokes fall can flat if you slightly change the phrasing, even if they aren’t word play. And then there’s delivery, pacing, knowing your audience…

Surely widespread literacy and technology allow modern people to develop comparably sophisticated tastes just by the sheer wealth of entertainment we consume, but people 5000 years ago were still people and I’m sure they found humour in similar places as we do.

edit: here’s a source: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-joke-odd-idUSKUA147851200... Again, I would take issue with the reduction to “toilet humour”. Clearly the comedy of manners aspect plays the larger role, even if farts are somehow eternally funny.


I would suggest that humor itself evolves. That we enjoy flavors of humor which are novel and new and specific to our cultural moment.

Internet humor is big on surreal non-sequiturs. I suspect that while it may have existed as a style of humor before the internet, that it may not have existed 3000 years ago as a style of humor.


I suppose that must be true in as much as technology and culture influence each other, but while the term “meme” is fairly new, the phenomenon is quite universal. Like, what’s funny about Kilroy Was Here [0] or drawing that constructivist S-shape in elementary school [1]?

Another thing to consider apart from cultural differences and translations is that a lot can go wrong betwen a hit joke being told and a scribe getting around to immortalising it. It’s obviously a game of telephone. Comedy is a craft and written comedy is different from stage comedy. I can imagine a joke absolutely killing at the end of a stand-up set, but falling flat when told in isolation, because it was a call-back or otherwise profited from a primed audience. It’s quite likely that someone might naively retell only the bit that got the laughs and only then realise their mistake. Or the shared experience of the audience might elevate a bit to an in-joke that is only funny to them because they know the rest. Decades later, only the devolved memes that obliquely reference this shared knowledge survive in writing and future generations are left wondering what was wrong with their ancestors’ odd humour.

Here’s hoping future generations will be aware of Douglas Adams’ work, but it seems entirely possible that in a thousand years, people will speculate why our we found towels or the number 42 so funny.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kilroy_was_here [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cool_S


Phillip J. Fry, his hand outstretched, holding a stack of money.

Great Star Trek reference, that’s exactly what I mean

Xkcd numbers are our own Darmok.

https://xkcd.com/902/


What do you call a software engineer who does standup?

A software engineer.

What do you call a software engineer who studies history?

A software engineer.

What do you call a software engineer who sticks to software engineering?

A coder.


>Many jokes are very dependent on a specific cultural moment...

Oh, that is so true... here in germany there is (or better was) the category of the "Mantawitze" (Manta jokes... the Opel Manta was a car that was liked in the late 80s early 90s by...special... people with a taste for mullets, western boots and -allegedly- low IQs), that people who werent there at this time simply doesn't understand.

Like the shortest joke of this category: "Steht ein Manta vor der Uni"


Totally agree. Though I must say, i believe any joke today that gets printed on something, is almost certainly an objectively bad joke.

Yeah I think the balance of probability still suggests that it wasn't a great joke even then.

> (I can’t enjoy this kind of thing [The Office] —I feel only agony. Why enjoy this and not videos of people falling off of skateboards? But I guess most people are different.)

This was only a tangent, but I agree with this. I really don't like "cringe" humor.

There seems to be an entire British subgenre catering to that (which apparently the British original of The Office is a part of), and only to that. It's pretty extreme. As far as I know The Office in the US was retooled to be more "funny" than the original, which was apparently just cringe. (Didn't watch it so it was hard to say, but I've tried to watch other similar British shows like that.)

Fortunately it's only a subgenre, because there's plenty of other British comedy that is absolutely, and famously, fantastic... If you haven't watched Coupling, Look Around You, or The Peter Serafinowicz show, you're really missing out!


At the time of The Office release here (UK) it was a perfect satire. Many of us (not just in my bubble but according to lots of popular media outlets) very much had a socially-desperate David Brent for a boss, try-hard Gareth and drifter Keith as peers and we very much associated with Tim and/or Dawn who felt trapped in a world surrounded by the above metaphorically spinning our wheels in the mud of (then) modern office life with no prospects or hope in life.

Obviously it appeals to a lot of people, it wouldn't be so successful otherwise, and I'm not here to bash people's taste. It's just that for me personally I probably would not want to be reminded/wallowing in that in my entertainment if I was in the same situation, and as someone who not in that situation it just feels like looking at a train wreck. But I can totally understand how people feel differently and it allows them to relate and laugh about it.

What I was trying to say is that I don't think it would have as much success as it did then, if it were released today. The number of "lifer" employees with no aspirations is vanishingly small compared to 20+ years ago.

> The number of "lifer" employees with no aspirations is vanishingly small compared to 20+ years ago.

I'm curious: Do you have data you could share around this assertion?

Intuitively, I'd be inclined to bet the opposite. The population of the world has grown significantly; even if the number of "interesting" ambition-satisfying jobs grew at the same rate, there would still be tons more people in an absolute sense who end up stuck in a dead-end job.

(Admittedly, I conflated aspiration with achievement just then, but I'm not sure if there is an empirical difference? If an ambitious person is stuck in a dead-end job for years, then, by definition, they must not be ambitious enough.)


Nighty Night [0] is the peak of this wonderful (to me) subgenre. Top question on Google search "Is Nighty Night funny?"

Couple of great quotes from the Wikipedia page [1] "The Guardian called it "an exquisitely vile comic creation" and adding that "The Office might have popularised the comedy of embarrassment, but Nighty Night has moved it on." The Times called it "a blistering wall of superbly unredeemed cruelty that manages to trample over every social convention in a pair of cheap stilettos."

[0]https://www.google.com/search?q=%22nighty+night%22 [1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nighty_Night#Reception


Someone here put me onto "The Thick of It" and I absolutely loved it. But some of the humor comes from its frenetic pacing -- unlike "Friends", which someone here praised, there was absolutely no pausing for the audience to "get it."

I was just in awe that any cast could be that quick, or that any writers could write that stuff.


My day was made when I discovered "Chance in a Million" on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RC7zJP02Pak

It's comedy of the absolutely improbable. The female lead is a young Brenda Blethyn, who of recent years has starred as "Vera", police detective.


> British subgenre

A British comedy series I can recommend wholeheartedly is The IT Crowd (available on Netflix, at least in some countries).

An exemplar of the subgenre "what on earth were they smoking?" is The Mighty Boosh.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_IT_Crowd

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mighty_Boosh_(TV_series)


The reason this kind of cringe-worthy humour becomes popular is that almost everyone identifies with one or more of characters. When they're young and/or insecure, it seems almost unbearable to watch, but they're not sure why. As they grow older, it becomes relatable as they become less self-conscious and more self-aware.

This tangent caught my eye, too, but for the opposite reason. I never really understood why someone might enjoy watching people falling off of skateboards, or things breaking, pets making a mess, etc. Apparently stuff like that is very funny to a lot of people, because shows like America's Funniest Home Videos contain nothing but.

I agree with you about the falling off skateboards etc. I think people who like those things tend to be the people I don't like for other reasons.

The UK Office however, I think is entirely different.


I needed a password eight characters long so I picked Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

Stolen! Currently torturing my friends and co-workers with it :-D

Why thank you!

Error: password must contain at least two capital letters

> A pedant was looking for his book for many days but could not find it. By chance as he was eating lettuce and turned a certain corner he saw the book lying there. Later meeting a friend who was lamenting the loss of his girdle, he said, “Do not worry but buy some lettuces and eat them at the corner, when you turn it and go a little ways you fill find it.”

Not a a half bad joke making fun of people who are bad at logic and who doesn't understand cause and effect. Quite a few variants of this joke still exist today. It isn't meant to be funny, so much as it is an example of faulty logic taken to an absurd length.

But this type of pattern matching is something people do all the time, and the results of it are often become baked into cultural traditions. From not having fans on in bedrooms to eating <culturally preferred food> when sick to get better faster. Someone witnessed A, then B, then C happen in rapid succession, so they assume A, B, and C are related to each other.


> eating <culturally preferred food> when sick to get better faster.

Some of these are more than just tradition. I'm familiar with having different kinds of soups or maybe eating spicy things. Having soup increases your liquid intake which generally helps your body process stuff (you could of course just drink lots of water, but that's not very culturally significant), spicy things can increase sinus drainage which is helpful too.


My favorite broken-logic joke about this is that a (pick your favorite ethnicity) grandmother owned two chickens, but one day, one of them got sick. So she killed the healthy chicken and made soup to nurse the other one back to health.

The joke works maybe as some kind of Sally Anne test.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sally%E2%80%93Anne_test


Like Lisa Simpson's tiger-repelling rock: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSVqLHghLpw

My theory is that Shakespeare is full of old jokes and old metaphors, for which we don't have an earlier written version. He is this one person that is so often quoted and repeated that it seems unbelievable that he could come up with so many memorable lines. It may be that he was the person who made the works of art that preserved the cliches of his era.

I was amused to see a performance of All's Well that Ends Well and discover that the "cutting onions" joke goes at least as far back as Shakespeare.

At the very end during the big resolution scene, Lafeu declares "Mine eyes smell onions; I shall weep anon."


It's a good bet that a new phrase which would require explanation is not something you're likely to put in a play. But most of the stuff that Shakespeare scholars credit to him probably did originate with him.

The printing press was well established in Europe by his time (to preserve any prior art), and Shakespeare had an astounding gift for language.


> A pedant was looking for his book for many days but could not find it. By chance as he was eating lettuce and turned a certain corner he saw the book lying there. Later meeting a friend who was lamenting the loss of his girdle, he said, “Do not worry but buy some lettuces and eat them at the corner, when you turn it and go a little ways you fill find it.”

This is interesting: it's the sort of quip that, if said extemporaneously in conversation, would probably get someone to laugh. The funny thing would specifically be referencing back to a conversation/event that happened a few days ago. The thing that makes it less funny in the compressed form is that you don't have to put the 2 and 2 together of "oh yeah, that's an event that happened a few days ago which is related to this situation" because the compressed joke has spoon-fed you the context.

Maybe jokes were such a novel form at the time that even the compressed form was still funny back then?


One of my favorite Norm MacDonald jokes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oseqh7SMIvo

Currently searching for dog houses on Amazon

That was worse than getting rick-rolled.

The shaggy dog story is a time honoured form of anti-humour.

Also, there's something about translated jokes. Not just in the sense of language, but also in the sense of culture. If somebody right now tried to translate a modern English joke to Thai, but only knew about the language through reading the works of Shakespeare, a King James bible and the US legal code, it doesn't seem that the result would be very funny to somebody from Thailand.

I don't know about this joke, but I can imagine how the punchline was lost in a translation with exactly these results. Probably English just lack some words like a verb with meaning "to find something by looking around a corner while eating lettuce at the same time", and without such word this joke is untranslatable. You can translate the idea of a joke, but it wouldn't be a joke.

Or it may be that the verb "to eat lettuce" sounded just like "to find something around a corner". Jokes tends to exploit peculiar facts of the language, which are mostly specific to the language and cannot be translated.


The funniest part of that for me was the “friend lamenting the loss of his girdle”

A girdle in that time would now be called a belt.

Indeed, didn’t know that. The last time I used a girdle was for holding hip padding in high school football.

I've come to appreciate Brooklyn 99's "title of your sex tape" as a fresh new twist on "that's what she said". I especially like how it's usually nonsensical or sad.

> I can't find anything, and I don't know what to do!

> Title of your sex tape


Even some of the puns in Shakespeare's plays have become lost due to language and social change. I would not be surprised if a bunch of the old jokes, especially the apparently non-sensical ones, are puns or have punny elements.

There are some renditions of Shakespeare's plays with pronunciations from where and when they were written. It recaptures some of the puns and jokes that are not apparent in most modern accents.

https://youtu.be/gPlpphT7n9s


Shakespeare didn't recoil from putting puns in the titles of his plays either! For example, "nothing" was a placeholder for ladyparts (no-thing: the absence of the 'thing', the thing being, of course, the penis).

And so, "Much Ado About Nothing" doesn't really mean "a lot of fuss for no reason". Or maybe it does, but it carries a strong double entendre: "make noise for the pussy".


especially double entendres or meanings more common in speaking language than writing language, or theater for Ancient Greek, might very well have been lost to time.

A seal walks into a bar, hops on a chair and orders a beer.

Bar tender: "A talking seal! I've never seen anything like this. You should go work in a circus!"

Seal: "Why? Does the circus need microservice architects?"


A man sits on the train and as he looks up, he sees a dinosaur sitting across him.

"A dinosaur? on the train? What on earth is happening?"

Dinosaur: "Well, don't get used to it. Tomorrow my car is fixed".


Two muffins are sitting in an oven. The first muffin says, “Man, sure is getting warm in here.” The second muffin says, “GOOD LORD, IT’S A TALKING MUFFIN!”

What do you call a black guy sitting at the front of a plane?

A pilot.


A grasshopper walks in to a bar.

Bartender: hey we have a drink named after you!

Grasshopper, confused: What? Kevin?


A man walks into a bar.

Ouch.


Two baby seals walk into a club

Rather than, "That's what she said", I prefer to sneak in "Why thank you!".

I believe the first place I heard the "Why Thank You" bit was in Police Squad / Naked Gun. The signature "confused guy says something unintentionally funny" humor Leslie Neilsen was known for.


Oh man, Leslie Nielsen movies, specifically the Naked Gun series, are my favorite of all time. They are nothing but clever double entendres the whole time. Each time I watch them, I find something new it seems.

Extremely humor dense. And multiple levels of it as well!

You can enjoy his movies as dumb and silly movies, or you can also enjoy the more clever jokes as well. I definitely did not totally understand everything when I first saw them as a kid.


> I’ve noticed a disturbing phenomenon: Many people who only recently watched the US version of The Office seem to think that Michael Scott invented That’s what she said.

Citation needed on that. Certainly it's been attached to the office, but if you've actually watched it you would know that Micheal Scott never invented a new phrase on purpose.


The author goes on to point out that that's exactly what the joke there is supposed to be—Scott making a mess of attempts to deploy a tired joke is the joke.

A poster in these very comments admitted to having believed that the joke originated with The Office. I suppose the author's "citation" is that they've personally witnessed this enough times to make an educated guess that it's a fairly widespread belief.


No one in these comments has said they thought that. The closest was someone saying 'he may not have invented it, but he brought it back.

I think you'd be hard pressed to find even a few instances out of the millions of viewers who would have thought Michael Scott invented the phrase.

I just assumed it was hyperbole.


> Yeah, I appreciated this article -- will confess I definitely thought the joke originated with The Office.

- kevin___

I'd not be a bit surprised if a double-digit percentage of viewers thought the joke originated there.


I don't know how I missed it.

I guess these days not everyone hears it growing up?

Seems I need to widen my view.


> I don't know how I missed it.

Haha, I was sure I'd read that post, but had to look for quite a while to find it again, myself, for some reason.

> I guess these days not everyone hears it growing up?

I'm actually not sure I heard it until after it was on The Office and it was suddenly everywhere, constantly. If I did, it wouldn't have been long before that. "Your mom" was big (LOL, yeah she was) when I was a kid, though.


Didn't expect my first comment to be so controversial!

I just asked a few friends if they thought it came from the show or not. The first person that responded thought it had come from the show as well. The second knew the joke hadn't originated from there, but attributed its popularity to appearing on the show.


It makes sense when you think about it. There are probably a lot more 10-12 y.o.s watching The Office vs being told racy jokes by adults.

> I don't know how I missed it

That's what she said


It certainly had a fad run as 90s slang, thanks to Wayne's World, before the Office was even a glimmer.

Yea, I'm 41 now, so I guess there goes me being old, but I guess its old enough now that people confuse the origin.

Like when artists cover a song and younger folks don't realize it wasn't the original.

I'll make a mental note to keep in mind I'm old now so as not to become the old man on the porch screaming at kids.


Oh man, I distinctly remember being in grade school in the early 90's and fellow students trying to convince me that "We Will Rock You" was a New Kids on the Block original. Me and my dad's vinyl collection knew better, but no one really believed me.

Oh shit I forgot about it being in Wayne's World. That's very likely the first place I heard it.

I know lots of family members in their twenties and teens who thought this was a joke Michael invented. I had to tell them it was lame and old even when the show first aired.


Indeed, I am not a fan of the office myself but since it was on the air in the mid-late 00's (USA) I have heard several people assume that "that's what she said" was a joke invented by the show's writers.

``I've noticed'' is the citation. It's a personal anecdote, not a thesis paper.

I know, it's just condescending implying that all these office fans don't get the underlying joke.

I think this idea (that the phrase originated with The Office) entered the zeitgeist because of 30 Rock https://youtu.be/Z2DGHRMJQLw

I’m guessing you watched the office (or were at least sentient) during its original run.

It’s “classic” TV now, and it’s always hard for kids to parse what’s new and a allusion in “classic” TV.


The very next sentence says as much.

Nasruddin had some good jokes.

Mullah Nasruddin was traveling when he came to a town. The elders of the town asked him to give a sermon at the temple, which he grudgingly accepted. On the appointed day, he strode to the pulpit and asked the congregation, "Do you know what I'm about to say?" To which they replied, no they did not. He looked at them with disappointment and said, "Well, I'm not going to waste my time talking a bunch of people that don't know what I'm talking about," and left.

Another:

Nasruddin was taking a shortcut through a cemetery, when passed a funeral. Speaking to the mourners, the officiant said, "Today we have buried a politician and a good man." Shocked, Nasruddin said, "I did not know that times were so hard here, that you had to bury a two people in a single grave."


When I was 10 or 11, my father slipped me a book of Hodja Nasruddin. I _LOVED_ it and went around sprouting witticisms and clever jokes to my friends. Most of them landed well, with an occasional thud or kids rolling their eyes at me at the weirdness or oldness of the jokes. Some of those still come up in my day to day use. Timeless stuff!

I have been known to tell jokes that have punchlines that are twisted in such a way that if you don't catch on, you will think I am either an idiot, or a horrible person.

   Two guys have fast cars and decide one day to have a contest to see whose car is faster. I can't tell you the rest of the joke though. It's racist.
See, if you get it, you laugh. If you don't get it, I'm suddenly a very bad person. I told this joke in public, to a stranger, once. They thanked me for not telling them the punchline (not realizing of course that that WAS the punchline). I don't tell this joke anymore. Well, except here. But there's context.

Ok I’ll bite. I don’t get it but I also don’t even think you’re racist, I’m just completely lost. Maybe it’s a non-native English issue? Please elaborate

It's a pun on the word "race" meaning both "ethnic group" and "contest of speed".

ohh ok that makes sense, thank you

if people dont get your joke its a bad joke

I don't disagree :D

Maybe my standards are low, but the ones categorized as Total failure strike me as kind of okay. Not great humor, but tbh better than half my son's jokes.

The translation does them no favours, but you could definitely tell all the total failures and get a laugh.

I'm not entirely sure the author understood them.


Considering a lot of jokes depend on a pun or play on words - I was surprised that I could figure out almost all of them.

> Another person who was going away wrote to a pedant that he should buy him some books. But he regarded the request lightly and said to him on his return, “I did not receive your letter which you sent concerning the books.”

I'm fairly certain the joke here is something like, "you couldn't have known to say you didn't receive the letter unless you actually did get the letter." I'm guessing the translation isn't helping, but it's actually a pretty routine joke. Not a total failure at all!


Hi Jan,

Sorry I didn't get back to you with those spreadsheet edits, I must not have gotten your email!

Best, -Joe -- Sent from my iPhone


That's funny, your mom told me the same thing!

Not quite as old as some of the jokes in the article but I really like this one from a previous thread: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13587528

For context, the joke is set in the Soviet Union

> Russian engineer got fed up of having all responsibility and low salary, so he moves to another city and pretends to be an ordinary worker, same salary and peace of mind. However, not long after communist party sends him to evening classes. On his first day there at maths class he was asked about circle circumference formula, but for some reason he could not remember it off hand, so he goes on blackboard and tries to work it out with linear integral. After exhausting whole blackboard he finally gets the result:

> -2RPi

> Then all of the sudden he hears all of the class whispering to him: "Change the direction of integration!"


Monstrous Regiment by pratchett is basically this joke in novel form.

The Soviet economy really was more efficient than ours--their shelves were empty decades ago!

> Category 3: Cumaeans are stupid

I haven't heard this in English now that you say it, but in Spanish it's also a whole category of jokes, just instead of "Cumaeans" it's "Lepe" (a small town).

"Lepe is known for its strawberries, and for Spanish jokes referring to its inhabitants as stupid."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lepe


Yes, go into any Swedish book store and you will find books upon books joking about how stupid Norwegians are. In Norway they have the same thing, often the very same jokes, but with the nationalities reversed.

I think the Australians and New Zealanders have the same joking culture between them.


I'd say it's slightly different; countries always make jokes about neighbor countries, but why this story stroke me and I pointed to the same Spanish reference is that somehow Spain has agreed to make jokes about a tiny otherwise unknown town _within_ the same country.

In a similar vein, I grew up in the state of Missouri hearing jokes about how the residents of Arkansas, the state directly south, were dummies. Little did I know that Iowa, the state to the north, had the same jokes about us.

Mainland Aussies also have Tasmanians to target.

I am haunted by the question of whether our ancestors (who were every bit as smart as us) were naïve when it came to humor, or have we lost something?

Were Caesar and Henry IV's jesters as hip as Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce? Did Dave Chapelle-level humor exist in earlier centuries? Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy etc. were clearly the pinnacle of humor in their day, yet I find their acts trite and boring. Only "Who's on first?" still works.

Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were hip in the 50's. Today they are passé. Is our humor evolving? Are we developing an irreversible, ratcheting level of sophistication? Or was there some ineffable zeitgeist, a quality to the context that we can never recreate?


Humor and fashion are more interesting when they're more unfamiliar, and the audience has the feeling they're from territory that's not fully explored yet by anyone. Humor and fashion in new mostly-unexplored territory is interesting because it makes the audience feel like they can learn to explore that new territory themselves and come up with new stuff others will find interesting. Old humor and fashion is usually less interesting because there's the understanding that its territory has probably been well explored and mined for content in the past by others, regardless of whether the territory is familiar to a current audience.

That's it! Exploring, discovering new territory and learning: that's what makes the difference. Very interesting. Thank you for the explanation.

Some does, some doesn't. The Marx Brothers movies still work, while Bob Hope does not.

To pick two TV shows that were popular at the exact same time: the original Bob Newhart Show still totally works, while The Mary Tyler Show is wearing kinda thin.

Newhart deliberately avoided any topical humor in his shows, just for that reason.


For those of you in the Apple ecosystem, Siri was loaded up with a new batch of dad jokes on August first.

Every night before I go to bed, I end the day with, "Hey, Siri, tell me a joke."

   Why is Cinderella so bad at soccer?

   She keeps running away from the ball. 
Loading up Siri with new jokes every month would be my dream Apple job.

Yeah 'soccer' - positioning is very important and running away from the ball is not necessarily incorrect, esp. for the defense.

A few comments above this one there is a subthread on the meaning of "pedant", you might enjoy it.

The point is the joke is not funny outside the US (or NA), and that was the joke - not being pedantic.

"He was so set up that he concluded to make a speech -- of course a humorous speech. I think I never heard so many old played-out jokes strung together in my life. He was worse than the minstrels, worse than the clown in the circus. It seemed peculiarly sad to sit here, thirteen hundred years before I was born, and listen again to poor, flat, worm-eaten jokes that had given me the dry gripes when I was a boy thirteen hundred years afterwards. It about convinced me that there isn't any such thing as a new joke possible. Everybody laughed at these antiquities -- but then they always do; I had noticed that, centuries later."

Sir Dinadan The Humorist - from A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain

https://www.pagebypagebooks.com/Mark_Twain/A_Connecticut_Yan...


Dorian Gray jokes never get old...

A recent favorite, which you can use whenever something bad happens in the world:

"My grandfather of 73 y/o didn't fight in WW1 and WW2 to let it come to this!"

"What?? He wasn't even born in WW1, and a toddler in WW2!"

"Like I said, he didn't fight".


I remember "NOT!" being a popular thing back in the 90s, and thought it originated then. Like, "Yes, you made up that original joke yourself. NOT!" only to see Steve Martin doing it on an old episode of SNL. Chances are any joke you hear dates back way longer than you imagine."

Not sure if this is a joke, but I remember when I was younger the sight or a yellow car (beetle?) would thrust you into attack or defend mode, as this was signal that you could punch one of you mates on the arm.

It always confused me. But then again, I was always the one with the sore arm in the end.


It was called Punch Buggy when it was for beetles https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punch_buggy

I definitely also played the yellow car variant. I assume it's the preferred variant nowadays given how rare bugs are.


We called it "slug bug."

I remember a guy in my class at school carried a small yellow toy car in his pocket. At any given moment he would flash it before your eyes, and swiftly after a fist of boney knuckles would come crashing into your arm.

Sorry, as a self-discovered empath...

> Why enjoy this and not videos of people falling off of skateboards

Because watching people suffer makes me _really_ suffer.

That's why the Office and other Ricky Gervais self-deprecation shows were fun but also very painful. However, his After Life series was incredibly touching. Even thinking about it makes me emotional.


I wonder why they had such a thing for pedants.

Seems the word being translated is Σχολαστικὸς.

At its root its a person who doesn't work. A scholar didn't work and could devote their time to acquiring knowledge. But a lazy person could also be a scholastikos.

So I think here it is getting the double treatment, referring to a person who has lots of book smarts but no common sense.

Pedant kind of makes sense as a person who thinks themselves smart, so perfect for being the butt of a joke about being stupid. Pedant, afterall, was once just a word for teacher in English, but has taken on a negative connotation.


Is that where “pedantic” comes from?

Pedantic describes the attribute of being a pedant. It is like "employee" and "employed." Hopefully this isn't too pedantic, haha, but they almost seem too closely related to describe one as coming from the other.

You are asking whether pedantic is derived from pedant? I assume so. It can both mean like a pedant (emphasizing minutiae) or it can mean just dull, as we often think of classroom activities being dull, which is similar to didactic, although pedantic is probably only used in the negative sense where as didactic still has more neutral/positive usage in addition to meaning dull. So I am not sure if Pedantic ever meant generally to be related to teaching by design or intent.

The answer is "yes"

Today such jokes are made about engineers, mathematicians, and professors.

Iffy translation of “smarty pants” or “Mr know it all”?

I kind of wondered how much connotation, puns, etc. been lost to us over time. Things like that matter. A lot of these jokes would have a bit more color if "pedant" was seen more as "Mr. know it all".

"Well hello Mr Fancy Pants"

I was wondering the same. Was 'pedant' at the time more like what we'd call 'peasant' today?

Etymologically appears to be 'headmaster'. I imagine that this and the Cumaeans are just a "pick a specific because it's funny" joke. Partly this makes fun of a certain class intentionally, but partly just because it's specific.

For instance, there are also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sardarji_joke


By the time the translation was made (~1920), it could also be "know-it-all" (I assume this started as a sarcastic use of its sense of "headmaster") which is pretty close to its typical meaning today—to me it implies someone who often, unnecessarily or inappropriately, corrects others, but that may be a recent connotation, and it's still close.

We'd have to find the original text and consult a translation dictionary, I expect, to figure out exactly which sense was intended.


> One of the twin brothers died and a pedant meeting the survivor asked him, “Did you die, or was it your brother?”

When I was young someone told me a very, very similar joke and attributed it to Mark Twain: "We were twins. One of us died. I could never tell if it was my brother or I."


Reminds me of an Asimov story:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jokester

Sadly HN doesn't have a spoiler tag otherwise I could tell you why. You'll just have to click the wiki link.


I'm surprised to see the ancient Sumerian dog joke[1] left out in this overview. It's an excellent example of an ancient pun that loses almost all meaning when translated directly ("a dog walked into a tavern and said, 'I can't see a thing. I'll open this one'."), based entirely on the way a specific verb is composed.

[1]: https://nitter.net/LinManuelRwanda/status/150564673862708838...


This Elitch business appears to be wholesale fabrication. Hilarious. Added here https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Said_the_actress_... but I don't get the joke.

Tom K Elitch, Tomkelitch, Tom Kelitch, Thomas Elitch. Is it just that "Tom Elitch" owns a business on "Broadway" https://clustrmaps.com/a/307mgf/

There's got to be something clever about it unless it's just total nonsense for its own sake. Ineptias ineptias gratia? :D

Touche!


About 70 years ago, Tarzan used to be very popular and was also the butt of many jokes featuring his broken English and jungle life.

Q. What did Tarzan say when he saw the elephants coming over the hill?

A. "El-e-phant coming ov-er hill!"

Q. What did he say when saw them coming over the hill with their sunglasses on?

A. He didn't say anything, he didn't recognize them.


I wonder if the point of the amphora is that pitch will cover the decoration or either it will seal the pores.

I think it's about the decoration, and I'm pretty sure the guy who painted himself in pitch did so in order to pretend he was wearing the leggings he couldn't fit into.

Presumably a stolen amphora would have been very fancy and possibly conspicuous, so more specifically the joke works like, a person bought a stolen Picasso to hang in his gallery, but crudely painted it over so he wouldn't get caught.

I totally missed the pants/pitch joke, good catch. Reminds me of an episode of It's Always Sunny where Frank keeps flushing articles of clothing down the toilet and uses black paint to cover up, except it ends up being a pretext for a later, unrelated bit.


I was wondering what other interpretation there could be. Still, while the translator chose a particularly dry way to put it I see that version as more likely. Putting on particularly tight clothing with any body hair at all tends to rip out hair, so I think the joke is about waxing rather than admitting the clothing is just too tight. You can imagine some pantomime after the joke. I've fairly sure I've seen at least one visual version of more or less this joke (in a cartoon).

Personally, the idea that someone could invent a basic joke does not make sense to me. People can popularize specific jokes at a specific time but as I see it the jokes themselves are a physical part of the world there to be discovered and only specific detailed phrasing can really be created. Though I guess I would say the same about anything people are said to invent so maybe it is a matter of perspective. Still, I'd be surprised if a good portion of "modern humor" didn't predate homo sapiens as a species.


That one has kind of turned in over my head a lot. I didn't think of the decoration for some reason when I first read it, but then it made more sense. I also imagine it would be pretty sticky?

I think some of these things would land differently to an audience more intuitively familiar with these things in their daily lives.


Sure, we used to have one of these in each home to drink cool water:

https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Botijo

It doesn't work if you add decoration because it needs transpiration to cool the contents.


I feel like there was a somewhat recent post here about an ancient Sumerian joke but I can't find the post now. Anyway, I did find the joke:

A dog walked into a tavern and said, 'I can't see a thing. I'll open this one.'

https://popcrush.com/twitter-decipher-punchline-ancient-sume...


I wonder how many of the unintelligible jokes are puns and wordplay? That's one of the most favored categories of jokes, and hardest to translate.

I recently found an article about Ancient Roman jokes. My favourite went something like this. Apparently, "logic jokes" are ancient as well.

> A man asked a friend to buy two 15-year old slaves for him next time he visits the market. After a few days, the friend returns and says: "I couldn't find any 15-year old slaves at the market, so I bought you one 30-year old slave."


Old farmhand wisdom:

“One boy is worth half a man. Two is worth nothing.”

Heard that one after wasting 10 minutes chatting instead of loading the truck.


Michael Jackson goes up to Elton John: "I'll swap you a ten for two fives."


That's similar to a little Johnny joke ...

Schoolkids come back from a trip to the farm and the teacher asks them what they saw. Little Johnny says we saw a chicken and a horse and a pig and a fucker and a cow and ...

Teacher: Johnny! I'm sure the farmer didn't use that language.

Johnny: Yeah he called them 'eifers but we knew what he meant.


I happened to see a black and white video of Flip Wilson telling his infamous baby joke on the Tonight Show [1], and thought to myself that I barely know who he was, let alone anyone born after me.

Seems like a great way to build a following on TikTok would just be to go through the countless hours of standup comedy that was shown night after night on late night TV in the 50s and 60s, cherry pick the best bits and just start making clips. Even if you were called out for copying, a funny bit is a funny bit. Think of the wealth of material from George Burns, Milton Berle or Carol Burnett that could be reintroduced to the world as 30 second vids.

1. https://youtu.be/xG3v_kA0Stw


First time I heard: that's what she said as a punchline for double-entendres...

was around mid-to-late 90s on King of the Hill and I was a teenager. It was an episode where Ben Stiller guest starred as a new employee who worked with Hank Hill at Strickland Propane and the premise was that this new employee (I forget his name) would create a toxic work environment where he'd make crude jokes about everything and everyone and nobody had the balls to stand up to him except for Hank.

Now, given that writer/producer Greg Daniels, worked in both King of the Hill and The Office I figured that maybe he made the joke prominent in the latter show.

But I'm probably wrong.


>This is the largest category. You can see what’s being attempted, but the joke utterly fails. Sometimes it fails so hard that it almost works as anti-humor. Overwhelmingly these are a variant of “Once this guy did something dumb.”

What the author doesn't get is that those are meant not just as ha-ha jokes, but also as ironic comments on behavior. E.g., his example on this category:

"A pedant was looking for his book for many days but could not find it. By chance as he was eating lettuce and turned a certain corner he saw the book lying there. Later meeting a friend who was lamenting the loss of his girdle, he said, “Do not worry but buy some lettuces and eat them at the corner, when you turn it and go a little ways you fill find it.”

This is an ironic remark on how people think what worked for them circumstancially, it will work for others, even in another situation. E.g. this joke could be used almost verbatim as a ironic critique of modern-day cargo cult of success (where copying BS circumstancial things a rich person does, like "waking up at 6am" or "only eat Soylent to save time") is supposed to be how you find success.

Or take:

"Another person who was going away wrote to a pedant that he should buy him some books. But he regarded the request lightly and said to him on his return, “I did not receive your letter which you sent concerning the books.”"

The joke here is not about "someone saying something dump", but rather poking fun at "the check is in the post" kind of behavior.

Moving on: "Cumaeans are stupid. I’m not sure what the Cumaeans did to deserve this, but there’s a whole section with jokes like this"

The point is not Cumaeans, and those kind of jokes at some group (from the Polish to rednecks) are a staple all across the world - including by those groups made fun of themselves.

Or one he is confused about, which is perfectly clear:

"A pedant had purchased a pair of breeches and since they were very tight and he had difficulty in getting into them, he pulled all the hair off himself."

It just a critique of people doing something supposedly to help with a situation, that actually has zero returns. (the guy couldn't fit in his clothes, so he shaved his body hair - as if that would make much of dent to his body volume).

One can see that there are tons of examples of this behavior in modern life (and, alas, in programming).

The author says he is especially confused about this joke, but the meaning is, once again, totally clear:

"A shrewd fellow whilst wrestling fell into the mud and in order that he might not seem to be clumsy, he got up entirely covered with mud and stood conceitedly through the whole contest."

It's again poking fun at the well known "save face" behavior, that if you accidently fail at something, you can try make it appear like you didn't fail, but rather intended what happened. There are like 100 examples of the same exact behavior in modern comedy movies.

In essense, the author appears to take the jokes too literaly or as actual advice, fails to see their point, and in general appears to be quite the ...pedant, like the butt of some of those jokes!


Yeah, I appreciated this article -- will confess I definitely thought the joke originated with The Office. I think the author just missed a lot of the punchlines in the jokes that they didn't find funny, many of these formats are still in use today!

The one you describe is a classic format: someone has a problem, then through accidental, unrelated circumstances, solves it. They meet someone else with the same problem, and the punchline is that their advice is "have you tried..?"

> A pedant having fallen into a pit called out continually to summon help. When no one answered, he said to himself, “I am a fool if I do not give all a beating when I get out in order that in the future they shall answer me and furnish me with a ladder.”

The author ends being unsure their strategy is sound -- but the point of the joke is that it's clearly not sound, and one that would only make sense to a pedant.

> "Another person who was going away wrote to a pedant that he should buy him some books. But he regarded the request lightly and said to him on his return, “I did not receive your letter which you sent concerning the books.”"

The punchline is that the pedant clearly received the letter, or he wouldn't know to say that the he's claiming to have not received concerned books. Today it might be: "Hey, did you get my text message?" "The one asking if you could borrow my car? No, I didn't."


> The point is not Cumaeans

Indeed, that's what's going on in Pohl's "The Day After The Day The Martians Came".

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Day_After_the_Day_the_Mart...

Ordinary people are telling ordinary in-group jokes... but now they're about Martians. The joke is invariably that Martians are stupid, dirty, uncivilised etc. One of these people observes to his (we infer black) employee that the discovery of Martian life won't make any "difference to anybody". The employee politely disagrees, pointing out that it already made "a damn big difference to me".

Pohl wrote that in 1960s America.


> "A pedant had purchased a pair of breeches and since they were very tight and he had difficulty in getting into them, he pulled all the hair off himself."

> It just a critique of people doing something supposedly to help with a situation, that actually has zero returns. (the guy couldn't fit in his clothes, so he shaved his body hair - as if that would make much of dent to his body volume).

I understood this joke differently: You're supposed to pull the breeches to get into them, but the guy pulled his hair instead.


Before reading this, I thought I am sort of proficient in English. Not any more... Haven't looked up so many words in years

Never get into a synonym duel with a translator ... you will not prevail

My theory for the ”why people enjoy this” is: for part A of the population, the situation activates the empathy centers of the brain, and you share the pain. For part B, the bullying centers activate, and you find amusement in the torment of the poor fool.

We all have both centers, only luck will tell which one is wired up to ”cringe” stimuli.


Reminded me of the book/movie Name of the rose (awesome in both formats). The Macguffin is the single remaining copy, long thought lost, of Aristoteles book on comedy, thought to be a forbidden thing by some of the monks.

I didn’t see a mention of Chris Farley. He says it in 2 of his movies from the 90s I believe.

“This inn on the road to Iwanoue is a cold place to sleep…

Oh monk, would you please lend me your robes?

The monk’s reply:

Those who have given up the world wear only a single layer of moss-rough cloth,

yet not to offer it would be heartless.

Let us sleep together, then.”

A poem/joke by Ono no Komachi from c. 825 — c. 900


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