An old resultative joke

From Wilson Gray on ADS-L on the 6th, in a discussion of a joke that turns on a structural ambiguity, a totally different joke of this sort:

A drunk is staggering along the sidewalk muttering to himself, “It can’t be done! I couldn’t do it!” A passer-by comments, “Damn, man, you all fucked up!, It must have been something terrible! What couldn’t you do?!” The drunk answers, “Drink Canada dry!”

The joke doesn’t quite work in print like this, unless you use all-caps, the way artist Richard Prince did in this “joke painting”:


Untitled (Drink Canada Dry), acrylic and silkscreen on canvas, 1998

The joke of course also works fine in speech. (Early occurrences in print have only either Canada Dry or Canada dry, with text that points the reader towards the other.)

Two things: the joke and its history

The joke plays on an ambiguity in DRINK CANADA DRY:

simple transitive (simptr): a BSE-form VP drink Canada Dry — drink has one non-subject argument, a direct object NP, the compound N Canada Dry:

[ drink ] [ [ Canada ] [ Dry ] ]

resultative transitive (restr): a BSE-form VP drink Canada dry — drink has two non-subject arguments, a direct object NP, the N Canada, plus a (predicative) complement AdjP, the Adj dry:

 [ drink ] [ Canada ] [ dry ]

In the restr reading, Canada is treated as a container (cf. drink the bottle dry) and the interpretation involves a partitive rather than holistic reading of Canada: ‘drink from/of the bottle  so that it was / until it became  dry’.

Wikipedia  (amended beyond recognition) on resultatives:

In linguistics, [resultative constructions (there seem to be several)] … express that something or someone has undergone a change in state as the result of the completion of an event. [A resultative construction involves] a verb (denoting the event), a postverbal noun phrase (denoting the entity that has undergone a change), and a [predicative phrase](denoting the state achieved as the result of the action named by the verb) which may be represented by an adjective, a prepositional phrase, or a particle, among others. For example, in the [clause] the man wiped the table clean, the adjective clean denotes the state achieved by the table as a result of the event [of wiping].

The semantics of the man cleaned the table is then a composite of ‘the man worked at table-cleaning’ and ‘as a result, the table became clean’.

The full range of facts about resultatives is very complex. Many verbs in these constructions are quite choosy about the predicatives they occur with, to the point where the combination looks idiomatic. You can laugh or drink yourself sick or silly, maybe helpless or goofy, but anything decidedly positive — happy, wise, well — is notably odd, at least without a lot of contextual set-up.

The history of the joke. Barry Popik, on his blog, has done this one up pretty well. From the entry of 8/24/13, “Drink Canada Dry” (joke):

Canada Dry is a brand of soft drinks owned since 2008 by the Texas-based Dr Pepper Snapple Group. For over a century Canada Dry has been known for its ginger ale, though the company also manufactures a number of other soft drinks and mixers. Although Canada Dry originated in its namesake country, it is now produced in many countries around the globe, including the United States, Mexico, Colombia, the Middle East, Europe and Japan.

The “Dry” in the brand’s name refers to not being sweet, as in a dry wine. When John J. McLaughlin, who first formulated “Canada Dry Pale Ginger Ale”, originally made his new soft drink, it was far less sweet than other ginger ales then available; as a result, he labelled it “dry”.


A vintage metal advertising sign

Early cites of the joke:

11 October 1927, Middlesboro (KY) Daily News, “Allen’s Sawdust,” pg. 4, col. 6:

Waiter—“Would you like to drink Canada Dry, sir?”
Tourist—“I’d love to, but I’m only here for a week.”

29 January 1928, Boston (MA) Herald, Editorial-Social Section, pg. 7, col. 4:

Waiter: “Would you like to drink Canada Dry, Sir?”
Customer: “I’d love to, but I’m here for only a week.”

— Cleveland News.

10 March 1929, Springfield (MA) Sunday Union and Republican, pg. 3F, col. 4:

Canadian (to American)—“How would you like to drink Canada dry?”
American (parched)—“Can’t. Won’t live long enough.”

Plus later occurrences.

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