My friend and classmate Pauline told me the following joke, which she learned from her dad, who is a lawyer:
“It was so cold outside today that earlier, I saw a lawyer with his hands in his own pockets.”
This joke relies upon the stereotype that lawyers are greedy and corrupt, and the metonymic use of the phrase “having one’s hands in someone’s pockets” to refer to squeezing money out of someone, like a legal client. The humor of the joke may be based in a genuine belief in this stereotype for people resentful of lawyers, but in this case its humor comes from a self-aware and ironic acknowledgement of the stereotype by a lawyer who presumably does not believe in it.
Pauline says that her dad has a number of lawyer jokes in his repertoire, which he tells “any time we’re with, like, any other lawyers, or if someone’s giving him a hard time about being a lawyer.” Such jokes are pieces of occupational folklore, which may serve to bond lawyers over their common identity, or may function as self-deprecating humor performed for the entertainment of non-lawyers. Lawyer jokes are a common staple of mainstream American humor, indicating a distrust of or misanthropic feeling toward lawyers from the general public outside of the profession. Their embrace by lawyers themselves is somewhat surprising, but is representative of the ways folklore may shift meaning depending on context.
Q: What don’t you want, but when you have it, you don’t want to lose it?
A: A lawsuit.
My informant learned this riddle on a tour bus in Europe while she was on vacation. Since she loves riddles and puzzles, she looks forward to hearing new ones to think about and solve. Each time she learns a new riddle, she tells them to her friends to see if they can figure it out. Her friends know that they can go to her if they want to hear a riddle. Lauren also tells this riddle, and other riddles that she has collectively learned, when she or other people are bored. She believes that saying riddles is a good source of entertainment. It takes the way the silence or boredom that is present within a group of people.
Lauren really likes this riddle because it’s good. It makes people think a little without needing to think too hard. It doesn’t take a long time to tell, so it’s an easy way to amuse people. Lauren especially likes this joke because she couldn’t figure it out for a long time. Because Lauren has heard so many riddles, she can usually figure them out pretty quickly. This one caught Lauren off guard, so she liked pondering over the riddle.
This riddle is actually a very clever one. When my informant told it to me, I could not get the answer. After she told me the answer, the entire riddle made sense to me. I like these riddles because it gives me a chance to think. Riddles are so easy once you know them, but they’re so hard. Sometimes I end up thinking too hard when the answer is right there in front of me. With riddles, people can discover their thinking patterns. I think that riddles are a great way to educate children because they force children to think outside the box.
“Don’t Lose It.” Braingle. 6 April 2007 <http://www.braingle.com/brainteasers/teaser.php?op=2;id=1927;comm=0>.
Q:You do not want to have it,
But when you do have it,
You do not want to lose it?
What is it?
A: A Lawsuit.