Monday, April 13, 2009

"Words Without Meaning"

Last Friday, I spoke about the difficulty of communicating the word mutzuh, the Passover cracker of choice, to a person who, through no fault of his own, had no familiarity with word. Every time I said the word, mutzuh, he looked at me with a mixture of confusion and pity, as if detecting the first step in an affliction where I, someday, wouldn’t be able to be understood at all.

Who knows? This could be an actual medical condition. You speak words you think are words, but to the person you’re speaking them to, they’re just random noises. The condition probably has a name, all conditions do, otherwise, how could you say, “That’s what he’s got”? But if the name is accurate, nobody would understand what it means.

I’ve pondered this on many occasions. It’s just an observation.

SHOOT IT DOWN IF YOU WILL. (ADD DARTH VADER REBERB TO TASTE.)

My observation is this:

I know I’ve repeated ad inching rapidly towards nauseum my belief that there are no “funny numbers”, only “right” numbers. You mention the right number in the right situation, and it’s automatically going to be funny. I’m convinced there are no “funny numbers”, because the same number can be funny in one situation and not in another. On the other hand, a number, which has never been funny in its life – eighteen – can suddenly turn hilarious.

“The baby’s starting to talk? Big deal. I’ve been talking since I was eighteen.”

Okay, so that’s numbers. Now what about words? Are there “funny words”?

I know. Pumpernickel. The hard “k’s”. Yes, there are definitely funny sounding words. But my mind is elsewhere today. I’m back there with mutzuh.

A word is odd, and then, upon repetition, funny, not because of the way it sounds, and not because you don’t understand what it means, but because, to the listener, it doesn’t sound like a word at all.

I’m remembering a scene from the movie, Best Friends, starring Burt Reynolds and Goldie Hawn. Burt and Goldie are getting married. And the person marrying them, played by the magnificent Richard Libertini, speaks with a thick though not easily identifiable accent.

Libertini gets to the “vows” portion of the proceedings where he recites the words…

“And all my earthly goods I thee endow.”

But with his accent, it comes out,

“And all my earthly goods I dee-‘n-doe.”

In turn, Goldie and Burt are required to repeat what the “marrying person” has recited to them. When the first one, Goldie, gets to these words, she is utterly perplexed. The confusion leads to an exchange that goes something like this:

“…And all my earthly goods I dee-‘n-doe.”

“And all my earthly goods I…excuse me, what was that again?”

“I dee-‘n-doe.”

“I’m sorry, I’m not getting…”

“I dee. ‘N-doe.”

“I dee-‘n-doe?”

“I dee-‘n-doe.”

“Okay. ‘And all my earthly goods I dee ’n doe.’”

The situation grew funnier with the anticipation of Burt’s “dee-‘n-doeing” next. If you’re lucky, this scene is on Youtube. Watch it. You’ll plutz. (convulse with laughter.)

Therein lies my observation. Words become funny when their meaning as actual words is taken away.

Take any word at random. Take “random.” Forget that you know what it means. It’s just a two-syllable sound. Now, repeat the word over and over as fast as you can.

randomrandomrandomrandomrandomrandom

It’s starting to sound silly, isn’t it?

randomrandomrandomrandomrandomrandom

Are you laughing? If you’re not, say it again about fifty more times.

I’m telling you, you take away its meaning as a word, and every word becomes funny.

funnyfunnyfunnyfunnyfunnyfunnyfunnyfunny

Put it to the test. Open a dictionary. Okay, I just did. It happened to be from the back. I’ll pick a word at

randomrandomrandomrandomrandomrandom

Okay. “Yarn.”

yarnyarnyarnyarnyarnyarnyarnyarn

“Do you have any yarn?”

“How much is the yarn?”

“How much yarn do you want?”

What the heck is yarn?

And there you have it. Without the comprehension that it’s actually a word, every word is

gibberishgibberishgibberishgibberishgibberishgibberish

You see? It’s not just mutzuh.

It’s every word in the

dictionarydictionarydictionarydictionary

dictionarydictionarydictionarydictionary

dictionarydictionary

dictionarydictionary

dictionary….

Stop it! You’re killing me!

11 comments:

growingupartists said...

Finally a post with an actual conclusion! You've got me thinking about words that aren't the right words, even when you want them to be: cavalcade was today's. Patriot was literally wresting with pioneer this weekend. Never had this type of experience before.

http://essentialbastard.blogspot.com/2009/04/city-never-sleeps-when-jews-cruise.html

For Jew (click on it)

growingupartists said...

Oh sorry, guess you'll have to cut and paste. Enjoy!

A. Buck Short said...

Not exactly the same thing, but I love to hear someone tell a story that starts with nothing to begin with, and the somehow still goes nowhere – because it affords the opportunity to exclaim, “Wow Shirley, that’s a cracking good yarn!” Always a crowd pleaser.

As far as digital humor, since junior high gym class I always looked forward to the opportunity to count off as a way of determining sides or the order of something – or simply being assigned a number. Then I start to complain about having been awarded number nine, or twelve or whatever, and whine, “Oh, oh please, can’t I have my favorite number? Can’t I please have my favorite number?”

The gym teacher then condescends, “OK Buck, what’s your favorite number.” Whereupon I reply either the Beer Barrel Polka, or Unchained Melody, depending upon the situation and audience. Doesn’t get much of a laugh, but never gets old either.

Sometimes you don’t even need the dee ‘n doe repetition – although at least one comeback would probably kill, as in the words of the great Fred Gwynne from the bench to Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei, “What’s a yoot?”

Gnasche said...

twenty-seven

...

okay, maybe I told it wrong

growingupartists said...

A. Buck Short, I think your bad jokes killed Earl. I was really getting into this...thanks a lot!

Or, it's just Too Few Posts Tuesday, and nobody told me. Having nothing to do with doubling the DOW.

You don't think he's out fighting the pirates, do you? Oh, open-ended Earl speculation...should really write my own blogpost on this.

See ya, catholics!

growingupartists said...

Okay, I whipped one out for you faster than Buck Short could say, "hey, I WANT a blog." Not my best work, but fast.

Where's Earl?
http://growingupartists.blogspot.com/2009/04/wheres-earl.html

Cut-and-paste, please.

rms said...

Talk about coincidence: I just clicked over after reading Ken Levine's blog and one of the commenters had a hilarious comment: "Such hurt in the world and you pee on it." by Rory L. Aronsky.

It's definitely funny because of the word "pee." A silly, goofy word and it makes the entire sentence hilarious.

Okay, maybe that's just me. (Rhymes with pee, hee hee. Yes, I'm stopping now.)

growingupartists said...

I find it hilarious that anyone stops by Ken Levine's blog at all. He deletes blog comments like it's going outta style, and something tells me he's a Puritan, not to be rude.

Plus his obsession with baseball, kinda annoying.

rms said...

growingupartists said: "I find it hilarious that anyone stops by Ken Levine's blog at all."

We all have our bad habits!

WV guitu: almost playing a guitar

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