On the pun patrol

Bizarro on door-to-door proselytizers:

I spent a few moments wondering how you’d explain this to a child. The linguistic part — cheeses for Jesus — is the easy part (without going into voiceless – … – voiced for voiced – … – voiceless), but all the cultural background is problematic.

Nice device for making it clear that these are in fact cheeses in white shirts and black ties, taking advantage of the large holes in what’s known in the U.S. as Swiss cheese.

3 Responses to “On the pun patrol”

  1. Ned Deily Says:

    That pun would likely have fallen flat for my (and perhaps Arnold’s) Pennsylvania “Dutch” (German) grandparents since “cheeses” for “Jesus” was their normal pronunciation. A number of towns in Pennsylvania Dutch country have Biblical names which lead to an old pun about shopping at a fromagerie in one of them: “Jesus of Nazareth”.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Well, no, it wouldn’t have fallen flat. It would just be a phonologically perfect pun. Still a pun, and either valued because of its subtlety or somewhat devalued because it’s not so clever, because it’s too “easy”, requiring in the hearer only the working-out of two meanings for the same pronunciation rather than connecting two different (but similar) pronunciations. (Collections of puns are almost all of imperfect puns, because these are believed to display greater cleverness.)

      Of course, orthographically the pun in the cartoon isn’t perfect at all. So the cartoon works for pretty much everybody, no matter what their pronunciation of CHEESES (with standard final /z/ or with a devoiced final as in German-substratum varieties of English) and JESUS (with the standard voiced affricate, or with a voiceless alternative found in several varietries).

      (I didn’t mention the medial fricative in these words, because though the standard pronunciation, the one given in dictionaries, has /z/ in JESUS as well as CHEESES, many speakers have /s/ in JESUS instead — maybe by anticipation of the final /s/ — but people rarely notice this variation. It’s socially distributed in some complex way, but speakers seem not to have associated a social value to it, and it stays mostly below the level of social consciousness.

      A further dialectal complexity is that some speakers have /z/ for both fricatives in JESUS. A final /z/ rather than /s/ in this word (presumably by perseveration of voicing from the medial /z/) seems, again, to be below the level of social consciousness.

      So JESUS has in addition to the standard /z … s/, variants with /s … s/ and /z … z/. Not, I think, /s … z/.)

  2. bfwebster Says:

    OK, I almost snorted Diet Dr. Pepper through my nose. Full disclosure: I’m a Mormon who spent two years in a white shirt and a tie in Central America. ..bruce..

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