The anaphor joke

From a site with “20 Jokes That Only Intellectuals Will Understand”, one that I had not heard before, appealing to both linguists and programmers.

The set-up:

19. The programmer’s wife tells him: “Run to the store and pick up a loaf of bread.. If they have eggs, get a dozen.”

Ok, there’s an ellipsis, of an indefinite: a dozen of something. But what? There are two candidates in the context: the close eggs, and the discourse-topical loaf of bread. In the joke, the programmer’s wife intends the first, but the programmer supplies the second, as the punch line indicates:

The programmer comes home with 12 loaves of bread.


3 Responses to “The anaphor joke”

  1. Victor Says:

    There’s a variant with a secondary punchline. Replace bread with gallons of milk and dozen with half-dozen. When the husband comes home, the wife asks, “Why did you get 6 gallons of milk?” The programmer responds, “They had eggs.”

  2. Billy Jo Darden Says:

    There’s a principle of locality in parsing, which is violated here.

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