Reduced coordination, joke forms, and sociocultural categories

Two days ago, I set a competition for readers:

Compose a follow-up to the following lead-in to a joke:

Tom, Taylor, and Jonathan Swift walk into a bar…

Three matters, having to do with reduced coordination, joke forms, and sociocultural categories.

Reduced coordination. First, the lead-in has a reduced coordinate subject:

(1) Tom, Taylor, and Jonathan Swift

rather than a full coordinate subject:

(2) Tom Swift, Taylor Swift, and Jonathan Swift

Though (1) and (2) are referentially identical, they are not equivalent in import: (1) comes with an implicature that the three persons referred to in it are significantly connected in some way — that they are some kind of trio, probably a family group

— while (2) lacks this implicature. (It’s not incompatible with the three making a trio; it just doesn’t suggest or convey that.)

(In general, reduced coordinations convey something extra beyond the semantic content of the corresponding full coordinations, and this has long been noted. But the effect is especially striking for binomial proper names, as Geoff Pullum pointed out to me some years ago.)

So (1) is either puzzling or risible, depending on your tastes, since the three persons referred to in (1) and (2) are not related in any way (beyond the coincidence of their family names).

The three Swifts, a quick summary. From Wikipedia about Tom:


Tom Swift is the main character of five series of American juvenile science fiction and adventure novels that emphasize science, invention and technology. First published in 1910, the series total more than 100 volumes. The character was created by Edward Stratemeyer, the founder of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, a book-packaging firm. Tom’s adventures have been written by various ghostwriters, beginning with Howard Garis.

… In his various incarnations, Tom Swift, usually a teenager, is inventive and science-minded, “Swift by name and swift by nature.” Tom is portrayed as a natural genius. In the earlier series, he is said to have had little formal education, the character modeled originally after such inventors as Henry Ford, Thomas Edison,[4] and aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss. For most of the five series, each book concerns Tom’s latest invention, and its role either in solving a problem or mystery, or in assisting Tom in feats of exploration or rescue. Often Tom must protect his new invention from villains “intent on stealing Tom’s thunder or preventing his success,” but Tom is always successful in the end.

From Wikipedia about Taylor:


Taylor Alison Swift (born December 13, 1989) is an American singer-songwriter. One of the most popular contemporary female recording artists, she is known for narrative songs about her personal life, which has received widespread media coverage.

From Wikipedia about Jonathan:


Charles Jervas portrait of Dean Swift

Jonathan Swift (30 November 1667 – 19 October 1745) was an Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer (first for the Whigs, then for the Tories), poet and cleric who became Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

Joke forms. There are a number of conventional forms (formats, schemas) for jokes. The knock-knock joke. Joke verse forms: the limerick, the double dactyl, etc. And there are more open forms, allowing great latitude in their presentation.

The Walk Into Bar form is one of these. The only requirement is the set-up, which has one, two, or three characters (the bar-goers) going into a bar (mostly commonly the verb used is walk, in the jocular simple present tense, though go and other verbs of motion are possible, as is the simple past tense); sometimes the set-up specifies more about the bar-goers — what they look like, what they have with them — or about the bar and its location. The follow-up typically involves conversational exchanges between the bar-goers and the bartender or other patrons of the bar, or else a series of actions on the part of the bar-goers, these exchanges or actions incorporating a pay-off joke.

A few set-ups:

A man walks into a bar with his alligator…

Two iPhones walk into a bar…

Three logicians walk into a bar…

A Mormon, a Muslim, and a Buddhist walk into a bar…

A C, an E-flat, and a G go into a bar…

The past, the present, and the future walked into a bar…

Most Walk Into Bar jokes have ether one bar-goer or three.

Sociocultural categories. In standard three-bar-goer Walk Into Bar jokes, the bar-goers belong to one sociocultural category of significance: three members of the same profession, three adherents of different religions, three notes of the diatonic musical scale, three grammatical tenses, and so on.

The Walk Into Bar set-up in my competition is puzzling or risible because its reduced coordination implicates a significant connection between the three Swifts. But, in fact (as John Baker points out in a comment on my earlier posting), even the version with full coordination is puzzling or risible, because the three Swifts don’t make a sociocultural category: one is fictional, two real; one is a woman, two men; two are American, one not; and so on.

So the task of composing a follow-up is the task of somehow reconciling incompatibles, presumably through absurd juxtapositions.

My first try, which involves viewing Tom Swift as a cheeky sexual predator rather than an earnest young scientific explorer — but still an American teenager:

Tom, Taylor, and Jonathan Swift walk into a bar. Tom swiftly sticks his hand up Taylor’s dress and grabs her ass. She cries out in rage, “I Knew You Were Trouble”. The Dean upbraids Tom and bashes him with a bible. Chastened, Tom uses his fake ID to order a round of drinks: for himself, a Bud Light; for Taylor, a Diet Coke and vodka; and for the Dean, a pint of Guinness.

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