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’m sorry, I’m not getting…”
“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.
It’s starting to sound silly, isn’t it?
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.
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
“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
You see? It’s not just mutzuh.
It’s every word in the
Stop it! You’re killing me!