Animals are not the only creatures or things on earth that are funny. In previous blogs we established that opossums are funny, horses and donkeys are not really edible, and that sheep, well sheep, offer the key to understanding the meaning of life. But I do not want to talk in this blog about animals such as the once-captive octopus who recently made the news by pushing boundaries/expanding his horizons—literally. (But seriously, good for him!)
Beyond this non-consideration of animals, I would also not really add that, given the present state of affairs in America, I will not deign to discuss the recent developments in the presidential race. Were I to do so, however, the word funny might just insert itself into the discourse, for from a distance at least it seems apropos to describe the current political field. Other adjectives of the same ilk that come to mind are hilarious, ridiculous (mostly that one), and absurd (perhaps that is a close second to ridiculous). But it is too easy to pick on politicians—so I leave that aside. Rather, as I reflect on things I found funny this week, I thought I would proffer here some less often considered items, starting with terms of endearment. Now something like “Honey” isn’t so much funny as it is sweet, even if it is a bit sticky; yet it is fitting qua a gentle appellation of love and is likely to remain perennially used as a substitute for sweetheart, another term whose connotation is obvious. Other such romantic terms, however well intended (like “hey there, lover”) are a bit suggestive and might be deemed less than appropriate for all audiences by the prudish.
Other funny, or perhaps in some cases not-so-funny, terms have to do with odd familial relationships. Take a term like mother-in-law. The last thing you want for that person is a term like that, as such a title sets a relationship on a razor’s edge right from the start. Your first thank you note to her might begin, “Dear Mother-in-law,” or worse, “Dear Janet” (or June or Julie or Jean)—or any first name, which would (and probably should) seem too palsy-walsy to you; your fall back, is “Dear Mrs. Jones” but that can’t work either, because she’s no longer a mere acquaintance. It’s the “law” part that makes it weird, as it makes it seem as if you should go to court to talk to her.
But it does not have to be that way! Think of the Italians: they have the lovely term suocera (pronounced SWO share ah) for mother-in-law. How lovely that sounds, rolls right off the, well, teeth, but it does so very gently. In German there is the less comely Schwiegermutter (which with the metathesis of the ‘e’ and ‘i’, looks strangely like, but is not, “silent mother” but other than that is not awkward). But everything in German sounds harsh (click here for some examples); German for butterfly is Schmetterling, while in Italian it is the lovely farafalla. But, at least for the Germans, the law business is left out. Not so in English! And that is why, as we have noted, it is especially awkward for Anglophones.
But that is not as funny as homophones, which perhaps to those with a limited lexicon may sound like a legitimate concern of the LGBTQIA community. But it is not. It simply means two words that sound alike. So, for example, Charmin® (the toilet tissue) and charming (the affectionate adjective). Charming Charmin® is indispensable.
And there is great confusion between “Charmin®-toilet-sale” and a “charming toilet for sale.” And I could go on, of course, with near homophones like synonym and cinnamon, or precise homophonic clusters such as building complex (where one lives) and building complex (affecting a psychologically troubled engineer who suffers from a condition akin to writer’s block); but I won’t.
I won’t because among the other funny things I thought of this week there are at least two that bear acknowledgment: the first, of course, is Ron Paul, doctor turned politician and father of recent presidential candidate Rand Paul, offering weird economic advice. Now I imagine that some of you may indulge in such conspiracy theories, and I apologize here for my Welsh gloomy skepticism. But that’s not so much funny as it is odd. But so are flower-covered toilets.
The second is, of course, the unexpected appearance of Napoleon Bonaparte impersonators at gatherings that are not costume parties—one just never knows what to say on such occasions. Then there are also the water-cooler conversations that consist of anachronistic urban legends: “Amelia Earhart is still alive.” (She was born in 1897). Then there are the odd conversations about Alice Cooper, and the false allegation that he and Eddie on “Leave it to Beaver,” were one and the same person. Funny as these things are—though awkward and strange might better describe them—I won’t close with them. I won’t close, either, with singers or actors with only one name, such as Cher, Sting, or Bono, the last of whom explains in fact what happened to Cher’s original last name; it drifted over to a guy named Paul David Hewson. Nay rather, what I will close with is old guys with beach bodies. And I shall leave you with that image to ponder all week. Funny isn’t it, or merely strange? You decide.