Interviewer: That’s perfectly fine. Just tell it how you know it.
Informant: Okay. A dog with no nose, how does he smell? — Terrible!
Interviewer: You don’t wait for someone to ask how?
Informant: Not usually. Usually everyone knows the punchline so we all say it together.
Informant: Who’s the we? Where did you learn this?
Informant: Well I think I learned it from my father, he was always making silly jokes like that. Everyone learned it so quickly that it’s a bit hard to say. I remember hearing it during a big party at a small house. It must have been a Sunday because Sunday was when you went to see your family. I remember that because it was something everyone used to get hysterical about, everyone would roll about laughing.
Background: The informant believes she first heard this joke from family. She was not sure if she heard it from her father or older brother who was in the army. They were very close so it’s difficult for her to say who came up with it first, or if they heard it from someone else.
Context: I was asking my informant to recount things she remembered from her childhood and she remembered a few songs and this joke specifically.
Thoughts: It appears to be more of an inside joke but every British person I’ve interacted with appears to know it, but they always play along if they’re asked. It is probably incredibly popular because it’s an easy joke for children to remember and is incredibly easy for them to share to other kids.
My informant is a 48 year old pediatric oncologist at Stanford University. He is bilingual, binational and bicultural, born to a white American father and a Mexican mother. He grew up in both places but spent his formative adolescent years in Mexico City, where he learned this joke from a high school friend. He cracks up every time he performs this joke, which is often.
The joke in Spanish goes like this: “No es lo mismo los melones de Tapachula que tapate los melones chula.”
The literal translation is: “It’s not the same the melons of Tapachula as cover your melons cutie”.
This is a semi-dirty joke that employs wordplay, and is one of many “no es lo mismo” (“it’s not the same thing”) jokes. These jokes play with the sounds of a phrase and mix them up to make them something very different, as with this joke, which switches from the tame concept of melons from a certain town called Tapachula to a crude way of telling a attractive woman to cover up her breasts.
I love this piece and think it’s pretty funny, especially because the informant (my father) always laughs harder at it than anyone he tells it to. As a semi-dirty joke, it’s somewhat of a light taboo for him to break, especially in terms of telling this kind of joke in front of kids, so he gets a kick out of it every time he can perform it.
My informant is my cousin, a 9 year old boy born and raised in Mexico City to a half-white, half-Mexican mother and a Mexican father. He has an impressive repertoire of jokes that he knows, and impresses and cracks up the family every time he tells them, usually over the traditional Mexican mid-afternoon meal, which is the heaviest meal of the day and is typically eaten with family or friends, the same way dinner is here. He is very popular in school, probably in part because of his sense of humor as well as his natural charm.
This joke was performed over “comida” as the mid-afternoon meal is called, during an hour-long family-wide exchange of jokes. He learned this joke at school.
“Como haces que un burro se haga burra? Lo metes en un cuarto oscuro para que se aburra.”
Transliteration: How do you make a [male] donkey into a [female] donkey? You put him in a dark room so that he gets bored.
The word for female donkey in Spanish is “burra,” while “se aburra” means “[he] gets bored”, so it’s a classic and funny example of wordplay common among children. In fact, most of his jokes are wordplay, which is classic among children, especially as they are gradually learning the nuances and double meanings of a language, and particularly interesting as he is semi-bilingual due to his mom teaching English to him in the home.
No eye-deer [spoken like “idea” with a drawling a that ends in an r].”
The informant learned this and other jokes (most of them he claimed to be especially bad, and possibly prized for their cringe-worthiness), during band camp when he was an undergraduate, (he was introduced to many of them in his freshman year. The informant said that telling jokes is part of the ritual of band camp, partly to foster camaraderie and boost morale, and partially to evade boredom on buss trips. He said you had to tell jokes because “you can only drink so much on a bus trip.”
This particular joke holds no specific significance for the informant, but is representative of the types of jokes he remembers.
This joke, and the group of jokes of a similar type that it comes from, seems to have a universal hold on different age groups. It’s extremely similar to the types of jokes that might be told at a camp for youths. Word play is as understandable to adults as it is to children, and the frequency of the retelling of these kinds of jokes suggests that English speakers (and perhaps speakers of other languages as well) find humor in the manipulation of speech, which is such an ordinary part of life. This works with surprise to create humor.
My informant claims he had created this joke himself. Nonetheless when he used it on others, they were not surprised saying they have heard the joke before. Perhaps he did originally think of the joke but others also thought of it simultaneously. This joke is a play on words. To say, “It’s weird,” in Korean uses the exact same wording as saying, “Teeth will rot.” He thought of the joke when he misinterpreted his wife. While she was stating that something was weird, he took it as her saying that she had a toothache. Without paying close attention, he advised her to go to the dentist. Upon hearing such an arbitrary piece of advice, his wife understood his misinterpretation and laughed at him. Ever since then, which was about a decade ago, he tells a person to go to a dentist if he or she says something is weird.
“It’s weird” and “Teeth will rot” are not just similar; they sound and are spelled exactly the same way. It is easy to see why someone may accidentally misinterpret the two meanings. Misinterpretations can be hilarious, so it is not wonder this turned into a joke with several people thinking of it at the same time.