2011-01-26

Half Wit

"If a train station is where a train stops, what's a workstation?"
-- Anon
OK. It's not exactly bad. It should raise a titter here and there. But I'm not surprised the source is anonymous. The humour depends upon an analogy which is true only half the time. We know the principle that it's funny because it's true (I'd go further and claim only if it's true). A moment's thought would have one thinking "hang on - trains also start at train stations, and - come to think of it - just as often as they stop. All Anon has said is that a workstation's where work is equally likely to stop and start. I haven't learned anything from that joke!". Bew.


It's as if the success of the analogical quip depends on an absence of the ambiguity necessary for something to be funny. In the analogy, the precedent of the analogy should not be ambiguous. There can be only one idea associated with it in order to force only one correspondingly possible interpretation on the subsequent. And that's where the ambiguity is - in a word which ought to be given an additional interpretation. What's more, the one to aim for is the best kind of ambiguity for humour - a contradiction. The quip illustrated cannot change the meaning of workstation to its opposite, which is what it's trying to do, because there's too much latitude in the first part.

So you see, zees iss how ve kill a choke.