Wednesday, May 19, 2010

It's inadequate, and I like it!

If you've hung around me any significant length of time, I've probably either corrected you on an incorrect use of words, or I've asked you to clarify an ambiguous statement. For instance, the statement, "That was a cheap shirt!" can mean A) the shirt was inexpensive, B) the shirt was poorly made, or C) both. If I'm thinking about buying the shirt, I want to know if it's A, B, or C.

However, despite my best efforts to ensure people make clear, correct statements, the English language is fundamentally flawed. It is inadequate as a vehicle for perfectly explicit communication. The crazy thing is: I love it. Here's a stupid joke:

A carrot walks into a bar. The bartender says, "We don't serve food here."

This joke is only possible because English, like any language, has words that are allowed multiple meanings. Or how about this terrible joke:

A string walks into a bar. The bartender says "We don't serve strings here." So the string leaves the bar, and goes crazy: convulsing, twisting, and rubbing himself all over the ground. He then walks back into the bar and asks for a drink. The bartender says "Hey, aren't you that string I just told to get lost?" And the string says, "No, I'm a frayed knot."

This joke works because of those annoying little things we learned about in grade school called "homophones."

Our world would be a dull place without our language's pitfalls of ambiguity, even if it means I still don't know if I should buy that cheap shirt or not.


rigtenzin said...

I read the whole post and couldn't find a single joke.

I went to comicon and missed seeing you. I also broke my phone and lost your phone number, but didn't realize this until I was on the way to the fair grounds.

Sarah M. said...

Ah! The string joke is my favorite joke. I tell it to everyone.

Anonymous said...

Hey! Thanks so much for the props you posted. That has to be one of the single most physically powerful compliments anyone has ever given me. Also, I'm trying to figure out if you're actually someone I know from the comic jams...? Who the heck ARE you?

Davoh said...

Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of
the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on
his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather
frail and with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath.
This made him ?..
A super-calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.