Joke – United States of America

What do you call a paraplegic nailed to a wall?


What do you call a paraplegic lying on the floor?


Everett says that he learned these jokes from his mother, and has even come up with a few of his own paraplegic jokes (although he couldn’t remember them at the time of collection). He probably learned them sometime during high school, about the time when my father told me about some paraplegic jokes. However, my dad learned them from a joke book rather than hearing them for the first time from an actual person, so they are listed below this analysis. It is clear from these examples that many versions of paraplegic jokes exist.

All of these paraplegic jokes consist of a question followed by a one-word punchline that is both an American name and a word that can have an alternate meaning such as a noun, verb, or adjective. In the jokes from Everett, both of the names can be used as nouns. Art, short for Arthur, is taken in the joke to mean artistic visual creations that would be displayed on a wall. Matt, short for Matthew, sounds like “mat,” an object that people walk on. In the jokes from my dad, Bob and Skip are both verbs describing what would presumably happen if a paraplegic was in these situations—if a paraplegic tries to swim, he or she will just bob and float in the water; if a paraplegic tries to water ski, he or she will just be pulled along by the boat, skipping across the water. The last joke implies that the paraplegic has sunk to the bottom of the body of water, as the punchline is the adjective “sandy.” Perhaps these different punchlines (noun versus verb versus adjective) are due to oicotypical variation—Everett is from Hawaii, while my father has lived in the contiguous United States for almost his entire life.

Some people might be apprehensive about telling these jokes in front of others. They might be afraid that the paraplegic jokes might be perceived as offensive toward paraplegics or people sensitive to others with physical handicaps. The performer may feel that the question is the offensive part: being nailed to a wall is kind of a gruesome image, if they take the joke literally. Alternatively, the performer may feel that the punchline is the offensive part, mocking the paraplegic’s situation in the joke. Other people think these jokes are clever in the way that they take advantage of homonymic relationships between words and proper names, and try to think of their own paraplegic jokes, as Everett says he does. Beyond the cleverness, one of the reasons why these jokes are so successful is because they challenge authority. People are generally told not to poke fun at disabled people, but these jokes bring the mockery of disabled people to the forefront. The “taboo” sense of these jokes probably makes them all the more successful.

Rick Mettler’s paraplegic jokes:

What do you call a paraplegic swimmer?


What do you call a paraplegic water skier?


What do you call a paraplegic scuba diver?