Tag Archives: pun

Nautical play on words

Jennifer has been a close friend of my mother’s since childhood and has always been an aunt-like figure in my life. Multiple members of her family have at one point babysat for me as I was growing up and our joint families have often celebrated holidays together. Currently a 55 year old, Christian white (though with Native American Indian heritage on her biological father’s side) woman who works in Escrow in Glendale, CA, she grew up in La Crescenta, CA.

Jennifer also, essentially, grew up on boats. Her family owned a boat, a beach house in Newport Beach area, and a place in Avalon, on Catalina Island, and she frequently spent time on the boat and going to and from Catalina during the summer. Her father also had a fishing charter boat on which he would take out people that wanted to go fishing, and, she said, “my mother would have been involved with boats for forty years.”

She related to me a sort of joke, or pun, that her mother used to make while on the road, driving, that makes a play on nautical vernacular:

“Oh, what’s in the road? A head?”

This is a pun on the phrase “Oh, what’s in the road ahead?” an expression that comes from looking out the window of the car, down the road, and wondering what lies up ahead. However, as a member of a  nautical family, at least in this usage, she’s not referring to a physiological human head, but rather the “head” from a boat, or the toilet. Thus, as Jennifer says about her mother, “By pausing when she does [between the “a” and the “head” of “ahead”], it sounds like there’s a toilet up ahead, in the road.” Jennifer relates that this joke is very typical of her mother, “Things like that, I grew up with, where she [my mother] would constantly…basically, be quizzing us and having fun with words, and seeing how you can change it, change the meaning by simply pausing or stretching a vowel.”

Peanut joke

Joke:

“So a man was sitting alone at a bar and he kept hearing this whispering that said “hey nice shoes” he looked around and nobody was there he heard “You look nice today” he looked around nobody was there. Then he finally asked the bartender “Am I hearing anything?” and the bartender said, “it’s the peanuts. They’re complementary”

 

My informant loves to tell this joke because it’s clean and it’s a pun.

Puns are a way of playing with language in a way that messes with how similar words can mean very different things.  In this joke, complementary means both free and giving complements.  I’ve heard lots of jokes where the bartender responds with a pun. It is a popular genre where the idea is that the bartender is the one who knows what is going on while the patron is confused or, a similar one, is where the bartender acts as the frame for the joke.  This may be because a bartender is expected to be the one in control of a bar. They are the ones who control the intake of alcohol and are there to interact with the patrons.

Chinese-English Spider Joke

蜘蛛是什么颜色? 白色. 是白的.
Translated: What color is a spider? White. It is white.

This joke was heard at a Christmas party for a company that was predominantly made up of Chinese people.  This joke requires an understanding of both English and Chinese in order to fully understand the punch line.  At first, the question seems relatively easy as it is just asking the audience what color is a spider.  Audience members tended to yell out colors such as black or brown.  At this point, the informant would yell out “白色” (pronounced “bai se”), which means white in Chinese.  Then after hearing the confusions from the audience members, the informant would say, “是白的” (“It is white” in Engllish), which is pronounced, “Sh bai de.”  As an English speaker can see, that particular phrase sounds like the word “spider.”

My informant told me that he heard this joke first when he was learning English after coming toAmerica.  He told me that he felt a sense of accomplishment when he was able to understand the punch line as it marked his achievement in English comprehension.  For me, this poem is a symbol for the blending of English/American and Chinese culture since the two respective languages are necessary for this joke.

Mood ring joke

The joke goes, “I just lost my mood ring. I don’t even know I feel about it.”

My informant heard it from his best friend and likes it because it reminds of that relationship, which he said is one based on humor. Their dynamic is always fun and things like puns and non sequiturs form a big part of it because they are often absurd and so a departure from the stressful real world. This joke is absurd, too. It’s funny because it implies that without a ring that is supposed to tell you your mood, you don’t know what your mood is or what your feelings are. It plays on the fact that mood rings don’t actually work and to know our feelings, we can simply ask ourselves how we feel. The joke makes the reverse seem true.

I think jokes like that, where we assert something absurd or untrue, are funny especially to the current generation because they’re a very self-aware form of humor (fits in with postmodernism). They don’t sound like typical jokes of the past, which are often very transparently jokes, but instead are just statements that we only know to be jokes because they are so untrue or absurd.

“코피” and Others — Korean-American Pun Jokes

My informant is a Korean student attending the University of Southern California. He lived in Korea until the fourth grade and then, for familial reasons, moved to the Bay Area, where he went to school until coming down to Southern California for college. When I asked him to tell me a Korean joke, he thought for a bit, laughed, and said, “Weird. I only know Korean-American ones now,” which is understandable considering he has not gone back to Korea in the past five years. Mostly pun jokes, they were composed of Korean and English and require an understanding of both languages for them to be even remotely funny. For instance:

What is a vampire’s favorite drink?
코피 (kopi)!

This is funny because 코피 in Korean means nosebleed, while the way it is pronounced, kopi, sounds a lot like the English word coffee. So while the real answer is nosebleed, kopi adds another dimension to it by making it sound like vampires like coffee. In this case, the audience would need to know English to understand the question, but also the Korean word for nosebleed, and understand that its humor comes from kopi‘s similarity to an English word–a complex, bilingual understanding.

Another example:

Which celebrity likes to hold the most luggage?
Jim Carrey!

Now this is one that, if you did not know better, you would think was an American joke because of the lack of Korean words. However, this is only funny because Jim (or jeem) in Korean means, more or less,  “luggage,” while Carrey just sounds like “carry.” Jim Carrey’s name in Korean-American terms then, could be seen as Luggage Carrey.

These jokes are deceivingly simple, actually requiring a pretty advanced understanding of both languages for them to be immediately funny, as they are supposed to be (my informant could not stop laughing while he told these jokes, while I stared at him blankly, especially the second one). In that way, it can be seen almost as a rite of passage, or a kind of test, for Korean-Americans. To be truly bilingual, to be truly Korean-American, is to be able to understand these kinds of jokes. The fact that these jokes exist at all, in fact, makes it clear that Korean-Americanism is its own culture–that Koreans living in America are not just displaced peoples, losing their culture to America, but an entirely new, emerging culture that thrives on its distinction from both Korea and America.