Saturday, April 29, 2006

More on the topic of humour

After some negotiation, I was able to receive permission to re-publish this essay, which will aid in our discussion of the Chicken/Road matter. I thought there was something in one of these about the three monkeys, but perhaps I was mistaken. This is not the easiest kind of material to deal with, you know: there are hardly any of the nice equations and other tech things we all know and love.

But there is some Latin, so perhaps that compensates a little.

But I am grateful that I have been permitted to publish these articles, difficult though they may be to the non-scholar. (Incidentally, I asked about the Blücher articles; I learned that they are in German, and not yet available neither in electronic form nor in English.)

Incidentally, have I ever mentioned how happy I am that you tolerate my postings on Chesterton, Catholicism, Computers, and all kinds of other things? Well, I am grateful. Even though recently I have been posting old stuff, and stuff by others, just to keep things moving along while I am busy. Of course, if you don't like them you can just click over to another blogg. But then you may miss a really great poem. Oh - maybe you'd rather not read the poems, either? Then one of these days I'll have to post some equations, just to even things out - then you'll miss some really great equations.

It's your decision.

-- Dr. Thursday
Humor and its basis in reason
by Fr. A. Thomas, O.P.

Last week we examined the famous aphorism of the avian transiting a human vehicular construction. The mere fact that there appears in this aphorism the mention of one of the common municipal or state-effected constructs - I refer to a "road" - suggests a correlative study of an aphorism which is less well-known, but which bears a similar burden in our overall thesis. This aphorism is relatively recent in development, as it depends on both the modern technical advances in human flight as well as the coeval advance in urban hydraulics, or water purification techniques. It takes advantage of the principle of the double dictionary entry by a marvellous twist, which produces a faulty (and therefore humorous) reference to one word by using a word which is similar to it. This seems to work best on longer words, which of course are just those which typically lack homonym or other duplicative references, and would otherwise be deprived of their opportunity to call forth laughter - that rarest of human skills.

Let us, then, examine this aphorism as it has been recorded by Blücher (Archaeology of Aphorism, Vol. 62):
Why do airline pilots avoid municipal buildings?
Because they heard that the city purifies its water by forcing it through an aviator.
It will be rather apparent to the reader that this aphorism takes a completely different approach from that considered last week. It is hard to understand why Blücher considers this aphorism to be a variant on the transiting avian, but this could be merely an error in translation. There have been cases where heresies and wars have arisen over word mistakes far less serious than that seen here. When serious arguments take place over the insertion of an iota into homoousion or the deletion of the enclitic -que on Filio, the obvious change which was introduced in the above aphorism seems suitable for mass destruction, or at least a quarrelsome, if not violent, letter to the editor. [We don't allow them. Eds.] But, rather than producing war, and rumors of war, the aphorism produces laughter, at least in those who are aviators.

There is another aphorism of a very similar sort, which uses a somewhat different variation, in that more than one word is involved in the mis-directed reference. This one was not collected by Blücher, and has been seen in a variety of contexts, but despite careful search I have not been able to locate it in the literature. I give it as I have recorded it:

Teacher And now, class, we will review your vocabulary lesson. Johnny, use the term "bitter end" in a sentence.
Johnny Yes, Teacher. "My dog chased my cat under the bed and bitter end."
It is clear that Blücher's scheme would almost certainly class this together with the avian/aviator paradigm, though we are at a loss to understand why. There are no flying creatures mentioned at all. But the humor is obvious, and it cannot be emphasized enough that the humor in this aphorism, as in all those we have studied recently, relies only upon the care, precision, and unwavering conformance to a most rigid and fixed set of rules of reason. We will proceed to further examples in the coming weeks.

Reprinted with permission from
Something Good To Read
Vol. CXIV No. 227 (Jan. 21, 1998)


At 29 April, 2006 23:11, Blogger Rick Lugari said...

Incidentally, have I ever mentioned how happy I am that you tolerate my postings on Chesterton, Catholicism, Computers, and all kinds of other things?

Tolerate? It's for those reasons that I read you in the first place, Doc.

To the subject of these posts, I'm having a hard time deciding which is funnier, the jokes themselves (like the bitter end one) or the scholarly way Fr. Thomas writes (Last week we examined the famous aphorism of the avian transiting a human vehicular construction.) I didn't realize the words "chicken" and "road" were not descriptive enough. It's a good thing I'm not an intellectual, because I would fail miserably at it. ;)

At 30 April, 2006 15:03, Blogger Dr. Thursday said...

As Fr. Thomas might put it:

Better to fail in heaven than to succeed in hell.

Or, as Chesterton put it:

If thy head offend thee, cut it off; for it is better, not merely to enter the Kingdom of Heaven as a child, but to enter it as an imbecile, rather than with your whole intellect to be cast into hell - or into Hanwell.

[GKC, Orthodoxy CW1:224. Hanwell is (was?) an insane asylum near London.]

At 30 April, 2006 19:22, Blogger Rick Lugari said...

Indeed ;)


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