Tell Me a Groaner

In this time when the news is almost entirely depressing with, well, you can fill in the blanks with Montana, US, and world events; you may want to go back to a simpler time when there was only one major worry — like during World War II or the Black Plague.

Now is the time made for us English majors, because we can save the day with our superior knowledge of puns, mostly known to the uninitiated as “groaners.” Oscar Levant, an old-time actor, comedian, pianist and composer, said, “A pun is the lowest form of humor — when you do not think of it first.”

Dave Barry made it even clearer: “Puns are little plays on words that a certain breed of person loves to spring on you and then look at you in a certain self-satisfied way to indicate that he thinks that you must think that he is by far the cleverest person on Earth now that Benjamin Franklin is dead, when in fact what you are thinking is that if this person ever ends up in a lifeboat, the other passengers will hurl him overboard by the end of the first day even if they have plenty of food and water.”

Decades ago, our sister, Jannie, and her honey, Randy, had a game they called “hot dog,” or “he said, she said,” or something like that. The goal was to produce sentences that balance, like these:
“Hot dog,” she said frankly.
“Holy cow,” he uttered.
“I’m in a hurry,” she expressed.
“I declare that Montana is no longer a territory,” he stated.
“You’re the one who ate the apple, Adam,” Eve insinuated. (in sin you ate it)

OK, we concede that word games are only fun if you think of one yourself. No, they aren’t funny, even if you don’t have to explain it.

A degree in English prepares a person for a variety of occupations, everything from fry cook to plumber’s assistant all the way to proofreader. That in turn explains all the fine occupational puns.
Did you hear about the optometrist who fell into a lens grinding machine? He made a spectacle of himself.
Did you hear about the butcher who backed into a meat grinder? He got a little behind in his work.
Truck drivers are semi-professionals.
I had a job as a human cannonball, but then I got fired..
I got a job as a marriage counsellor, but didn’t have a single customer.
I was hired as a grammar teacher, but it didn’t work out to well.

Yes, we understand that only English majors who are proofreaders even got the last one, and it certainly isn’t funny.

Music is closely allied to English in that it produces a weird sense of humor. Our church organist, Fay Buness, asked a music theory question: “If a piano fell down a mine shaft, it would make a sound when it hit the bottom. That sound would be in what musical key? A flat minor.”

That was the answer. “A flat minor.” It’s a pun because the name of the music chord sounds the same as “a flat miner.” Now do you get it? What do you mean it struck a sour note with you? You are undermining our whole thesis here.

And what is your thesis, you don’t ask, but you would if you had the slightest interest in the topic. Our thesis is that you can tell when a non-English major tells a pun because the math teacher will say, “I believe that without geometry, life is pointless. No pun intended.”

An English major would never say “no pun intended” when a pun is in fact intended. An English major will use a pun and then pray that the listener will ask, “Was that pun intended?” so that the English major, who can barely control his/her glee, can answer, “Nope, unintended.” You non-English types just missed one of the finest puns ever.

Fortunately, by now the only ones left reading this tripe are English majors. That is good for us, because nobody else would appreciate this:
The friars were behind on their belfry payments, so they opened up a small florist shop to raise funds. Since everyone liked to buy flowers from the men of God, a rival florist across town thought the competition was unfair. He asked the good fathers to close down, but they would not. He threatened to sue. They ignored him. The rival florist hired Hugh MacTaggart, the most vicious thug in town to “persuade” them to close. Hugh beat up the friars and trashed their store, saying he’d be back if they didn’t close up shop. Terrified, they did so, thereby proving only Hugh can prevent florist friars.

The difference between ordinary mortals and English majors is that they would have looked at that story and thought, “That’s not funny,” whereas we English majors said it three or four times out loud until we got the tongue twister right. Then we thought, “That’s clever, but not funny.”

And behold, it made us forget all about the bad things happening in the Legislature.

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Rusty Harper is outrageously happy because he is retired and living with the love of his life, Pat Callbeck Harper in Helena, Montana. So why does he inflict these ramblings on the rest of us, you ask? Because you deserve it. If you aren't smart enough not to read this stuff, then you have to suffer through it. Maybe that builds character, though I doubt it. Think of all the positive things you could do with the time you are wasting on things that occur to me in the night and then sound strange even to me when I write them down in the morning. Bake a cake. Complain to your Senator. Run for Congress. Do something.
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