all flockbinkers are treadknicious… and other salient observations

Forays into Logic, Whimsy, Meaning, Hilarity, and Nonsense.

Tag: joke

Two Offhand Observations Regarding the Joke About Three Scotsmen Sitting on a Fence

In several previous posts to this blog [this one here, for instance, and this other one, and that one over there], the classic joke about three Scotsmen sitting on a fence has come up. Given the somewhat unconventional nature of this joke, some of our readers may have experienced no small level of confusion. In this post, we’ll attempt to address a couple of the tough questions that you, our loyal readership, have no doubt struggled with.

The racial slur angle

“Why Scotsmen?” you may have been wondering. “I’m not really accustomed to jokes about Scotsmen. Are Scotsmen funnier than other ethnic groups?”

Well, now, that’s an excellent question. The Irish, for instance, would find jokes about Scotsmen exceedingly funny, as would the English. In America, we tend not to be as sensitive to these finer distinctions. “Scottish, Irish, whatever,” we might be tempted to say. “They all live way over THERE.”

[Given the quality of our American educational systems, some of us might become a bit disoriented when saying “over there” and suddenly realize that we have no idea what direction Scotland and Ireland are in. We might sort of spin around in a desultory manner, and find ourselves pointing toward (New) California, or perhaps Birmingham, Alabama. But that may be a topic for another post.]

Are Scotsmen really all that funny? That’s the question we’re coming down to. What’s so darn funny about Scotsmen?

After all, the joke isn’t about the consumption of alcohol, which is one direction from which the Scots (according to those who traffic in such lore) might be vulnerable. And the joke isn’t about notorious levels of thriftiness, which is another possible vulnerability the Scots might be subject to (or so i’m told, by people who appear to be well informed). And it’s not about the tendency to pick a fight, which is (according to the experts) yet a third characteristic for which these redoubtable people might be known.

But no: the joke isn’t about any of these themes. It’s about sitting on a fence, a practice for which the Scots are not widely known.

These are deep waters, indeed.

Perhaps what makes the joke work is precisely the fact that (in America, anyway) there are no clearly-drawn stereotypes connected to the Scots. They are a blank slate to us. If we were in England, then a joke referencing the thrift, combativeness, or patterns of alcohol consumption of the Scots might be met with an enthusiastic audience and gales of laughter. But in America, our ethnic prejudices tend to be patterned differently, and many Americans have only the vaguest notion of what a Scotsman is. So a joke about Scotsmen lays before us endless possibilities, an infinity of possible directions.

In short — in an American context, anyway — Scotsmen are a bit like flockbinkers: even if you’ve no idea what they are, they can still be awfully fun to build a joke around.

The number of Scotsmen

Three Scotsmen? Why not two, four, or seven? Does the fence have a maximum Scotsman capacity, kind of like an elevator? If we were to load a fourth Scotsman onto the fence, would it collapse?

Does the number of Scotsmen featured in the joke really matter?

Well, the “Three Scotsmen Sitting on a Fence” joke is part of a joke-telling tradition in which the joke is set up into three parts. You might recognize this form, from such jokes as “A Parson, a Priest, and a Rabbi Go into a Bar” or its cousin, “Politician A, Politician B, and Politician C Are About to Parachute out of an Airplane.” The three-part joke has a character of its own; it has its own center of gravity.

There is a fearful symmetry to the presence of three Scotsmen in the joke, that would be lost if we were to add another Scotsman, or (horrors!) subtract one.

Think about it. If we were to say, “So, there were these five Scotsmen sitting on a fence, see…” your automatic gut response would almost certainly be, “No! That’s not right! Stop it! GO NO FURTHER!” You would sense, at an intuitive level, that there are not, cannot be, five Scotsmen sitting on the fence. There are three. Three Scotsmen sitting on the fence. And all is well with the world.

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Perhaps, in a future post, we can address some more questions that you have doubtless struggled with regarding our three Scotsmen. For instance, the vexing issue of the incomplete character of the joke. Why must the joke remain unfinished? Why not just go ahead and complete the darn thing, so that everyone can heave a sigh of relief and go to bed?

And, furthermore, why a fence? Must it be a fence that they’re sitting on? If the three Scotsmen were sitting on anything else — a Volkswagen, for instance, or an overturned canoe — would the joke be so rip-roaringly funny?

Good questions indeed, dear reader, and we shall address them in due time.

 

Here’s Another Philosophy Joke: Confucius, Aristotle, and a Flockbinker Go into a Bar

“So, Okay: Confucius, Aristotle, and a flockbinker go into a bar, see….”

And the bartender says, “We don’t serve your kind here.”

Confucius say,[*] “I take offense at that completely inappropriate racial slur!”

And the bartender says, “No, look, I wasn’t talking about you.  I was referring to…that.”  And he points at the flockbinker.

“Oh,” say Confucius.  “Well, alrighty then.”

All eyes in the room turn toward the flockbinker.

Aristotle says, “Let us be clear. You are saying that it is the policy of your restaurant not to serve flockbinkers?”

“What?” says the bartender.

“This,” explains Aristotle, indicating the flockbinker, “is a flockbinker.”

“I don’t care what fancy name you wanna call it,” rejoins the barkeeper. “We don’t serve it, that’s what i’m saying.”

Aristotle says, “You introduce an interesting question.  Since we are uncertain of the ontological status of flockbinkers, it’s difficult to know what you mean by its ‘kind.’  You said that you don’t serve its ‘kind’ here. In your judgment, what ‘kind’ is he?”

The bartender replies, “Everybody’s gotta be a smart aleck.  Look, all i’m saying, we don’t serve those”—and here he again indicates the flockbinker—“in this here respectable establishment.”

“And why would that be,” demands Aristotle, “if you can’t even categorize him?  How do you know whether he belongs in the category ‘things we don’t serve here’?  Does your policy apply to all entities that are treadknicious?”

“Tred—what?”

“Treadknicious.  All flockbinkers are treadknicious.  Surely everyone knows that.”

The bartender squints at Aristotle, as if looking at a particularly appalling insect that has landed in his bowl of cereal.

“Flockbinkers are treadknicious,” continues Aristotle. “All of them. It is less clear, however, whether there might be other things (besides flockbinkers) that are also treadknicious. So does your policy extend to all members of the class ‘things that are treadknicious,’ whether flockbinkers or something else…?”

The bartender stares at Aristotle, as if studying a worm that has been opened up for dissection in a high school biology class.

Confucius add, “What my distinguished colleague is getting at is this: what is it about our little friend here” — and he indicates the flockbinker — “that makes you want to ban it from the premises?”

“Frockbinger,” says the flockbinker, breaking its silence.

Confucius and Aristotle turn to stare at it. Who knew flockbinkers could talk?

The bartender is losing patience.  “Whatever it is, we don’t serve it!” he spurts.

In the meantime, the patrons of the bar have been taking a keen interest in this little exchange. One of them steps forward and, in a voice that reverberates with passion and antique Roman heroism, proclaims:  “I am a flockbinker!”

Then another customer steps forth, this one obviously an accountant, and says, in a tremulous voice, “I am a flockbinker!

One by one, just like in the famous scene from Spartacus, each of the bar’s patrons steps forth and states, “I am a flockbinker!”

Understandably, the bartender finds this turn of events perplexing. What’s he supposed to do, kick out all of his customers?

“The problem with basing policy decisions on poorly-conceived taxonomical frameworks,” explains Aristotle to the hapless bartender, “is that your categories can shift on you and ruin your plans.”

“Frockbinger,” explains the flockbinker, helpfully.

The bartender is just standing there, his hands hanging helplessly at his sides.

“You are going to meet an interesting stranger,” Confucius say.

“I beg your pardon?” says the bartender.

“I said, ‘You are going to meet an interesting stranger’,” repeat Confucius. “You know, it’s the sort of thing you might find in a fortune cookie. I suppose i ought to introduce myself. My name is Kung Fu Tzu, better known to the English-speaking world as Confucius.”

“Name’s Fred,” replies the dazed bartender, extending a hand.

“Well gee, THAT was somewhat irrelevant,” says Aristotle.

“Sorry,” say Confucius.  “I never go off duty.”

 

[Editor’s Note:  If you’ve not yet heard the one about Confucius and the Buddha meeting for dinner at Chili’s, you can find it right around here somewhere.]

[Another Editor’s Note:  If you were troubled by the grammar in the sections where Confucius is quoted as saying something, perhaps it just means you’re unfamiliar with the “Confucius say” corny joke convention.]

[Yet a Third Editor’s Note:  If, on the other hand, you were troubled by the fact that this blog has made use of the “Confucius say” corny joke convention — because you feel that it represents an inappropriate stereotyping of the speech patterns of ancient Chinese philosophers — then do by all means feel free to leave a scorching comment articulating your concerns. We love to hear from our readers.]

 

Here’s a Philosophy Joke: Confucius and the Buddha Meet for Dinner at Chili’s.

“So Confucius and the Buddha, they go into a Chili’s, see….”

Confucius is dressed in normal contemporary attire, with a nondescript haircut and his beard shaved off — you know, so as to fit into his social surroundings. He’s like that.

The Buddha is dressed… like the Buddha.

They are seated quickly and begin looking at their menus.  The waiter comes to their table.  “Hi, i’m Martin and i’ll be your server. What can i start you guys out with?”

Buddha:  The self is an illusion. To say ‘i’ is to be mistaken.

Martin the Server:   . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Confucius:  Uh, Martin, it looks like i’ll be ordering for both of us.

Martin the Server:  What’s with the Dalai Lama over here?

Confucius:  He’s kind of hard to explain.

Martin the Server:   O… Kay.  So can i get you guys something to drink? Water?

Buddha:  True Mind flows out of emptiness, like the water flowing out of the spring.

Confucius:  [To the Buddha] Not now, dude!  Sorry, Martin. Water will be fine.

Martin the Server:  [Skitters off, shaking his head]

Confucius:  Sid, you’re gonna need to tone it down. Not everyone’s likely to get you in a place like this.

Buddha:  To have one’s senses ensnared by time and place is to be far from enlightenment.

Confucius:  Sure, okay. Fine. Look at your menu and decide what you want.

Buddha:  It is our cravings that separate us from the knowledge of the Way.

Confucius:  One more comment like that, and so help me….

Buddha:  Sorry. I was not exercising self-restraint. And self-restraint, as you know….

Confucius:  Stop. Stop it now.

Buddha:  Oops. Sorry.

Martin the Server:  Your waters, gentlemen. Here’s yours [to Confucius], with lemon, and here’s yours [to the Buddha]. I added some True Mind to yours.

Buddha:  [looking down into glass]  No, you didn’t!

Confucius:  I’m glad you resisted the impulse to leave it empty.

Martin the Server:  Clever, sir. I wish i’d thought of that. Okay, so i’ll let you fellows look at your menus for a couple more minutes.  [He takes off]

Confucius:  He’s a good kid.

Buddha:  Reminds me of one of my monks, about 1500 years ago. He was always….

Confucius:  Just look at the menu.

Buddha:  Right.

Confucius:  They have a ‘healthy’ section. There appear to be vegetarian options.

Buddha:  Yum!  Er, i meant to say, you do me a disservice, stirring up my fleshly cravings.

Confucius:  Whatever. Mmm. Let’s see, the Cobb salad’s lookin’ mighty good.

Martin the Server:  [returns to table] Okay, you guys ready?

Buddha:  To rest in stillness and silence: This is the way of…

Confucius:  Ignore him. I’ll have the Cobb Salad, and he’ll have one lettuce leaf with nothing on it that might even remotely introduce flavor or pleasure.

Buddha:  Wait. That’s not what i want. I’ve decided what i want.

Martin the Server:   . . . ? . . .

Buddha:  Make Me One With Everything.

Martin the Server:   . . . ? . . .

Confucius:  I was SO hoping you wouldn’t say that.

Martin the Server:   . . . ? . . .

Confucius:  [to Martin the Server]  He always says that, and he always thinks it’s funny.

 

 

An Attempt to Get to the Bottom of This “Three Scotsmen Sitting on a Fence” Thing

Greetings, gentle readers.  (As well as those of you who are actually reading the blog.)  (Ba – dumm – chh.)

Several posts ago, i fraudulently claimed that the upcoming post would involve more information about the joke about three Scotsmen sitting on a fence.  I meant well!  I really was intending to talk about that next.  But then i went off on a tangent about my PechaKucha presentation, and then it was Christmas, and what with one thing and another, the Scotsmen got put on a back burner.

As you might well imagine, they were MUCH happier when they were sitting on the fence.  (Ba – dumm – chh.)

Which is where they find themselves once again, because this is the post you’ve been promised, o gentle readers.  (And those of you who are actually reading the blog.  Ba – dumm – chh.)

By way of reminder, let me refresh you on how the “three Scotsmen” joke goes.

“So there were these three Scotsmen sitting on a fence, see.”

That’s it.  That’s the joke.  That’s as far as it ever gets.  That’s all there is.

We-e-ell… that’s not exactly true.  There have been some attempts to finish the joke.  Here’s one of the more noteworthy examples:

So there were these three Scotsmen sitting on a fence, see.

And the first one says,
“All flockbinkers are treadknicious.”

Then the second Scotsman says,
“All wamwams are flockbinkers.”

And the third Scotsman says,
“Would ye rather find y’rself confronted by a self-referential absurdity,
or a non-sequitur disguised as a joke about three Scotsmen?”

A respectful silence followed.

Ahhhh.  Yes.  Now we’re talkin’ ’bout the good stuff.

But, you see, not everyone has been endowed with the philosophical equipment to fully appreciate a joke like that.  Perhaps that’s one reason why the standard form of the joke is the incomplete version, just the opening line.  Because if i try to finish it, the end product will end up just a wee bit too philosophically rich for your average taste.

But there is another finished version of the joke: one which, like the one above, is going to end up on the back of a t-shirt one of these days.

(I hear you tentatively snickering, o less-than-gentle reader.  You thought that was a joke, didn’t you.  Hah!  Note the conspicuous absence of either boldface print or a “ba-dumm-chh” following the statement.  It was most assuredly NOT a joke; it was the condensed form of a business plan.  I would advise you to learn the difference.  But i fear we digress.)  This other version of the joke is of particular interest as we seek to understand just what the joke is all about.  And here it is:

So there were these three Scotsmen sitting on a fence, see.

And the first one says,
“Blah blah blah blah blah.”

Then the second Scotsman says,
“Mumble mumble mumble.”

Then the third Scotsman says,
“Yada yada yada yada.”

Your mistake, of course, was in thinking that just because something is a joke, it’s going to be funny.

You’re what, how old? You should know better by now.

All that was the joke, including the last part.  Well, no: technically, the last part was the part that will follow the joke as it is displayed on the back of the t-shirt.

Man, these t-shirts are going to be something else.

But note what this version of the joke does for us.  It strips the joke down to its constituent elements.  It reveals the underlying skeleton of the joke.  And the joke turns out to have the same form as a great many other three-part jokes.  That form is as follows:

So there were three [entities] [engaged in some activity].

And the first [entity] [A] [says or does something].

And the second [entity] [B] [says or does something that is closely parallel to what A said or did]

And the third [entity] [C] [says or does something that is a startling departure from what A and B said or did, from which dissonance arises the humor value of the joke].

In keeping with that analysis, our joke above about the three Scotsmen is true to form.  The first Scotsman says, “Blah blah blah blah blah.”  The second Scotsman says, “Mumble mumble mumble.”  These are the usual sorts of things that you expect to hear a Scotsman say, when you encounter him seated on a fence.  But then!  Ah!  The third Scotsman!  When we get to him, we are treated to a delightful surprise: he says, “Yada yada yada yada.”

The third Scotsman turns out to be Jerry Seinfeld!

But let’s get back to the pure, unadorned, basic version of the joke.  “So there were these three Scotsmen sitting on a fence, see.”  There is something classic, lean and lovely about the basic version, the default version.  It doesn’t say too much.  It says just enough.  It’s thrifty and economical, in much the same way that Scotsmen are reputed to be.

You can almost mentally supply the rest, if you’ve ever heard a three-part joke.  You can envision the first Scotsman saying something, then the second Scotsman saying something, then the third Scotsman saying something surprising that causes your diaphragm to begin spontaneously leaping up and down, and a sort of staccato wheezing sound come out of your mouth.  All you need is that opening line, and you can experience the joke’s potential all by yourself, with no adult supervision.

It’s almost as if everything the joke was ever destined to be is wrapped up in that opening line, and once you’ve heard the line, the joke’s inner essence begins to unfold within you, like the fruit of the Banyan tree.  Or the flower of the lotus.  Um, or something.

Interestingly, the same principle would likely not work with a different opener.  Observe closely:

“So there were these three kittens in a pet shop window, see.”

Who cares?  No one wants to hear the rest of the joke.  You can just tell it’s not going to be funny.

Or this:

“Okay, so there were these three disgruntled postal workers shooting up a McDonald’s right?”

Nope.  Too risky.  If your listeners are nervous about whether the subject-matter is politically correct, they’re not going to laugh.  They’ll be looking over their shoulders to see if anyone else is laughing.

Or this:

“So there were three intransitive verbs, and they walk into a bar, see.”

Nope.  Too abstract.  Maybe if you’re at a cocktail party with a bunch of grammarians, that one would go over uproariously.  You really need to know your audience.

The point i’m making, the Scotsmen joke has a kind of universal appeal.  As soon as that opening line hits, you’ve got the crowd in the palm of your hand.  They don’t need to hear any more.  They’re happy.  You’ve succeeded.  “So there were these three Scotsmen sitting on a fence, see.”  Just sit back and watch the magic happen.  One business-looking fellow in the middle of the room is thinking, “Now here’s a joke that a man can sink his teeth into.”  And over near the punch bowl, a woman is thinking, “Oooohh, Scotsmen, i bet they’re wearing kilts and everything.”  And off in the corner, a young guy in wire-rims and a turtleneck is thinking, “Golly, i wonder if this joke is going to turn out to have been a self-referential absurdity, or…” (and here he chuckles to himself) “…a non-sequitur disguised as a joke about three Scotsmen?”

See?  Something in it for everybody.

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