[ExI] humor and wit

Damien Broderick thespike at satx.rr.com
Sun May 17 23:40:29 UTC 2009

At 07:25 PM 5/17/2009 -0400, MB wrote:

>I never even *thought* about little kids!  Sorry, Damien. I don't think Asimov
>thought of that either, it was long ago.

I know, I know (and in fact I said so in a later post). But the 
proposition (as it were) Spike raised (so to speak) was: "Made ya 
laugh, didn't it?  Why?" My testimony was, "No, and here's why." I 
thought it an interesting example of the *situatedness* of humor, of 
how context can modify one's reception of a message (to put it 
excruciatingly thuddingly).

And wit is amazingly culture-specific. I sent Spike this offlist, and 
I think it offers an interesting glimpse into a witty 
haiku-like-thingee that can't easily be conveyed to any of us except maybe Jef:

...Perry returned with seven ships and forced the shogun to sign the 
"Treaty of Peace and Amity", establishing formal diplomatic relations 
between Japan and the United States. Within five years, Japan had 
signed similar treaties with other western countries.

The surprise and confusion these ships inspired are described in this 
famous humorous <http://www.indopedia.org/Senryu.html>senryu (or 
Taihei no
Nemuri wo samasu
Tatta shihai de
Yoru mo nemurezu

This poem is a complex pun (in Japanese, kakekotoba or "pivot word"). 
Jokisen is the name of a costly brand of tea containing large amounts 
of caffeine, and shihai means "four cups", so a literal translation 
of the poem is:
Awoken from sleep
of a peaceful quiet world
by Jokisen tea
with only four cups of it
no more sleep possible at night

However, jokisen can also be translated as "steam-powered ships", and 
shihai can also be used to refer to four vessels. The poem has a 
deeper meaning, which is:
The steamships
break the peaceful slumber
of the Pacific
a mere four boats are enough
to make us lose sleep at night.

Damien Broderick

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