'Matter of Laugh or Death,' a humor column
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
DIFFERENT JOKES FOR DIFFERENT FOLKS
Comedian Jim Gaffigan describes a situation where you have two separate groups of friends who have never met each other. One group is, say, the people you went to school with, and the other group might be your current co-workers. Then there is an event where both groups are present. According to Gaffigan, you try to prepare one group to meet the other by nervously saying, “Hey, uh, these people over here…they don’t think I drink. And, uh, don’t be thrown by my British accent. Just go along with it.”
He makes a good point. Often we present ourselves a bit differently depending upon the people we are with. For example, when the average person wants to express himself in the affirmative, he usually says, “Yes.” For emphasis he might say, “Yes indeed!” Well, where I work the language is a tad salty. I’m not sure if that’s the way it is at most companies, or if it’s particular to an environment with a lot of contractors, truckers, and warehouse workers. When someone at my office wants to express himself in the affirmative he’ll say, “Yeah.” For emphasis he will say, “Sh** yeah!”
I don’t know why we say that. Even if it wasn’t profane, it doesn’t make a bit of sense. “Bodily excrement, agreed!!” Hmm, not exactly a brilliant use of the English language. But that’s what we say, and the funny thing is, whenever anyone at work says it, everyone else immediately knows the meaning is, “Yes indeed!” or, “Affirmative with emphasis!”
So I was thinking about this the other day at Bible Study. During a discussion I wanted to say, “Yes indeed!” or maybe even, “Affirmative with emphasis!” But I almost blurted out what I would normally say at work. I caught myself at, “Shhhh—” and some of the other people thought I picked an odd time to impersonate a librarian.
However, a friend of mine at the Bible Study, who used to work with me and so knows me from both realms, leaned over and whispered, “Did you just almost say what I think you almost said?” I whispered in reply, “Sh** yeah! Wow, that was close!”
There are two things we can do to prevent these awkward situations. First, we can limit our contact only to our most profane group of acquaintances—kind of the least common denominator plan. But this really won’t work. There are a lot of different people we are required to come in contact with periodically: neighbors, co-workers, customers, family members (especially prudish Aunt Penelope), fellow parishioners, probation officers, etc. It would be impossible to limit our social interaction only to, say, our six favorite drinking buddies from college. (Impossible because two live out-of-state, two are in prison, and one never lived long enough to see the 21st century. The sixth became an ordained minister and now makes Aunt Penelope look like Andrew Dice Clay. I’m sure he would not appreciate my salty version of, “Affirmative with emphasis!”)
The other option to avoid awkward situations is to clean up our acts. Rats! I knew there was going to be heavy lifting involved. My speech patterns have been ingrained through five decades of steady usage, especially the way I instinctively express surprise (“Holy blank!”), confusion (“What the blank?”), or displeasure with an inattentive motorist (“Hey blank-blank, get a blankin’ clue!”).
It’s not going to be easy to change, but change I must. So from now on I will speak only with dignified, classy language. And don’t be thrown by my British accent. Just go along with it.
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