Thursday, March 6, 2008

Language Notes Part 2

JenniferConsider the following joke:

"A termite walks into a bar, and says 'So! Where's the bartender?'"

If you laughed, or groaned, or wished you hadn't read it at all, you are probably a native English speaker. 

At Tuesday's afternoon fika, V. and another student, Z., and I got into a discussion of puns, which I accidently started by referring to the polls that had just opened on the east coast. V. gave me a very strange look, then his face cleared and he said "Oh, polls, polls. Right. I thought you meant poles, and were referring to the East Pole or something." V. said he considers puns a high form of humor. So I asked if he'd like to hear a really bad one, he said yes, the worse the better, so I whipped on the one above. 

While V. and Z. were considering this, S. showed up, and asked what was going on. I was asked to repeat the joke, which I did, and tried this time to emphasize the word "bar" in "bartender," and perhaps even put a little bit of a pause in between the two syllables. Now I was alone in a room with three students, all completely mum, all staring distractedly in different directions. Having just read the book "Culture Shock: Sweden," I have learned that Swedes in general do not reason aloud, but prefer to consider silently. Still, I challenge my American readers, you just try sitting quietly for several minutes waiting for people to get your joke. Not easy! I was just about to burst when S. saved me by admitting that he didn't get it. So I explained, and there was the sort of half-hearted "Oh yes, oh yes, I get it now" that you always get when you have to explain a joke.

Fast forward to today's afternoon fika. Out of the blue, V. says to me "It's very funny, but none of my students got your joke either." Students, what students? It turns out that V. that is the technical coordinator for an undergraduate bioinformatics class, and they sometimes have discussion meetings in the virtual world. He told this joke to his class... and now the joke is being passed around the department, and to their friends, and etc. etc. as an example of a Pun. And I now probably have a reputation as a teller of really bad jokes. So I'm appealing for your support now—I need more bad puns! If you've got some, please feel free to leave them as a comment.

On another bright note, somebody finally said something to me that I've been secretly wanting to hear for a long time. Another postdoc, VP., came by my door at about 3:15 as I was deeply in the middle of a fascinating analysis, and said "Come on, come on. Coffee, coffee. You are not very smart. You've been here more than a month now, and you still don't understand fika? You must have fika. You Americans work too hard. You're in Europe now."



  1. What do grapes say when you step on them?

    Nothing, they just give a little whine.

  2. Ok--you did ask for examples. I can't believe I'm the only one brave enough to post. Here is a favorite of a friend:

    Two fish were swimming along. They run into a cement wall. The one turns to the other and says, "Dam."

  3. I did ask for input, yes, and you're right, people have been strangely reluctant to leave any. Well, I did receive a couple via email that the sender (being a person of discretion and tact) perhaps considered to be not quite fit for public consumption.

    Anyway, I'll certainly try the whine and dam ones.

  4. What's purple and commutes?

    An Abelian grape!

    Somehow that one just gets a little funnier every year.

  5. So I told the grape ones today, but had to explain the Abelian one (which is funny, because it had to be explained to me first, but come on, what kind of math/computer geeks are these, anyway?), then they complained that grapes aren't purple! I followed it up with Sara's "What's brown and sticky? A stick!", and nearly got lynched. Yep, that was a real fika-buster, that one was.

    So it's going well. Keep 'em coming! Tomorrow I'll try the dam one.