Posts Tagged ‘jokes’

Anyone who knows me well knows I enjoy good wordplay and frequently insert puns into my everyday conversation, just to show off how clever and witty I can be.

Over the years, I’ve given the world — or at least my closest friends and relatives — a ton o’ puns that have made the world a little bit better. We all remember the classics. (What do altar girls wear? Altar tops! Oh, the hilarity!)*

But with my proclivity for pun-ditry, it’s easy to take my wittiness for granted. And, as I learned today, even I fail at times to appreciate in full my own genius.

Take for instance the e-mail a student sent me today during the mid-class break. I had been lecturing about the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century, and right before break I was talking about Newton and his contributions to physics. I mentioned the concept of gravity, and how other thinkers had suspected such a force existed. But I mentioned that Newton is associated with gravity because he derived formulas that explained how this and other laws of motion functioned.

Evidently, at this point, according to my student’s e-mail, I added, “and that put some real force behind it.”

“Well placed,” wrote my student.

Indeed. So well placed was this bit of wordplay and so caught up in my own gravitas was I that my gem of a joke had gone unnoticed not only by most of my students, but also by me.

My un-WIT-ting pun also explains why this student and a couple of others around him were quietly laughing at one point during my lecture. And to think, I was afraid I had neglected to zip my fly.

Naturally, I wrote back to my student after class to thank him for his note, but also to take full credit for my ingenious pun. I saw no sense in confessing to the accident of my witticism. The joke, if unintentional, captured his interest and got him engaged in the course.

No, a candid admission of accident was out of the question. My unintended joke had done some pedagogical good, and I wasn’t about to sacrifice that for the sake of total and excessive honesty.

After all, I appreciated the gravity of the situation.

* I don’t care if there is no such thing as an “altar girl.” You can’t allow “reality” to get into the way of a legendary pun, just like you can’t allow the desire for straightforward storytelling to prevent you from recounting an anecdote in an especially tortured and convoluted way just so you can make a pun (or four) along the way. Like any good joke, the secret to great puns is in the set-up.

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And now for something completely different, selected jokes I found to use in my dissertation.

Everyone knows how well Communist economic planning worked, with notoriously unproductive five-year plans and perpetual consumer shortages. Unsurprisingly, these were a source of humor for those who could laugh at the situation.

Czechoslovakia had a provisional two-year economic plan from 1946 to 1948, and then launched the First Five-Year Plan in 1949. During the period of preparations for the latter, a Slovak satirical magazine, Šidlo (Dragonfly), printed a joke about the two plans:

– What do you get when you add a two-year plan and a five-year plan?

– Seven years of poverty!

At the same time, rumors spread that one of the quotas of the five-year plan called for everyone to get their own airplane by the end of the plan. This provided fodder for Šidlo to crack another joke.

Two pilots are flying over Bratislava. One gets on his radio and asks the other, “Where are flying?” The second pilot answers, “To Košice [a city in the opposite side of Slovakia], they say you can get ten grams of butter there.

Another anecdote I came across was recounted by Vladimír Clementis, the Slovak foreign minister later executed on the trumped-up charge of “bourgeois nationalism.” Clementis spent the years of the Second World War first in France, and later in England. He recounted an episode from a meeting with Stalin in Moscow.

Stalin asked Clementis if it was true he had been imprisoned in France and England. Clementis confirmed this. Then Molotov, Stalin’s foreign minister, turned the Soviet leader and said, “Should we lock him up like the English and French allies?”

Actually, that one’s not very funny, given what ended up happening to Clementis a few years later.

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