Thursday, September 22, 2011

To live, perchance to pun. Aye, there's the rub.

Some of the best verbal jokes are the spontaneous, inadvertent ones. The ones that come from unplanned spoonerisms, unwitting malapropisms, and just total mispronounciations and misreadings. (For everyone who's familiar with the frequency I utter a mispronounciation: you're welcome. I'm very glad my social mortification is a constant source of enjoyment for you.) The non-premeditated joke is funny because its arrival seems like a gift, a small, unexpected windfall. It's nothing that you can't live without, but while it's there, one should appreciate its presence, like a rainbow or a good cup of tea. (On the other side of the scale, the planned joke becomes impressive through its sheer elaborateness, the length and scale required to reach the punchline. One of my favorites is a Spider Robinson story that constructs an entire sci-fi universe just to build to a colossally groan-worthy pun between two meanings of "note.")

The repression of such a misreading, then, is all the more frustrating. It feels like a burden, a rhetorical weight on your chest. There are many reasons for repressing a spontaneous joke, but most come down to social niceties. It's not the right place for that kind of statement. It's not the right moment. There's no one around you that would appreciate that kind of humor. You don't know the other person well enough and worry that you risk offending them. So you stifle the joke, make a mental note, and if you're lucky enough, you get to recount it to someone later. But more often then not, such jokes live and die in their immediate context; transposed into a foreign environment, they wither and die. But still, a part of me thinks, better to tell a joke that flops than to bury it, suppress it, and ponder what might have been. That, more than anything, convinces me of the value of Twitter: whatever else it may have done to the level of discourse, it gives us a forum for tossing our contextually unutterables into, a place where the joke, though perhaps still unappreciated, can at least be expressed. (There's still the potential for repercussions, of course. Tweet wisely, people.)

All of this is to say, I just misread someone's Facebook status as "freeballing" rather than "bailing" and gosh darn h-e-double toothpicks, that's funny. But I'm too chicken to face the potential, pretty much nonexistent consequences of posting that publicly. So I've dissected it here in the hopes that going to such ridiculous lengths will take the original joke from inadvertent misreading to elaborate amusement. Because nothing makes a joke funny like explaining it over and over.

Bonus game for people who have access to my friends list: Try and guess whose status I'm referring to! Don't guess here though. Keep it to yourself. And only to yourself. Repress your urge to tell it to anyone else. Ha! Now you know how it feels!

Later Days.

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