Classic joke #444

We might as well just give them numbers. (This particular joke is 2/3 of a devil.) From Verdant on my Twitter on 7/15/22, this old Shoe strip:

(#1) Body-location (of the tattoo) vs. event-location (of the tattooing); Verdant provides this as a comment on my 2/27/19 posting “Body-location, event-location”, where #444 appears in a One Big Happy strip and is traced back at least as far as the antique Joe Miller’s Jest Book

To which Verdant adds yes-I-said-yes Molly Bloom’s:

confession when I used to go to Father Corrigan he touched me father and what harm if he did where and I said on the canal bank like a fool but whereabouts on your person my child

The 1/31/19 OBH #444 from that earlier posting:

(#2) [2019 caption:] Body-location where (Joe’s intended interpretation) vs. event-location where (Ruthie’s perceived interpretation)

The ambiguity is pervasive in adverbials of location; from the 2019 posting:

OBH has been here before, at least once — in this 2/17/16 strip, the subject of my 3/8/16 posting “Where?”:


Anthony’s place adverbial in two places can have either of two interpretations: as referring to two locations on his arm, or as referring to two locations where the arm-breaking event took place. Anthony intends the first (the body-location interpretation), Ruthie gets the second (the event-location interpretation).

Intuitively, the adverb has narrower scope in the first interpretation, wider in the second, and this intuition corresponds to what happens when a clause has adverbials of both types: when the adverbials are tightly adjoined to the remainder of the clause, the body-location adverbial comes first, inside, closer to the verb, with the event-location second, outside, further from the verb

Another way to think of the ambiguity is as involving inalienable location (for body-location adverbials, bodypart nouns being, with kinship nouns, canonical examples of inalienably possessed nouns) vs. alienable location (for event-location adverbials). See my 7/27/18 posting “Are You My Bottom?”, with a section on alienable vs. alienable possession

#444 is most wonderfully exemplified in the cleverly enjambed lines in the title of my 4/16/19 posting “She got pinched in the As … tor Bar” (body-location the ass, event-location the Astor Bar). And that posting has a link to my 4/5/19 posting “Science, Charity, and adverbial ambiguity”, which starts with this (lame in two senses) joke exchange:

(Patient) I broke my leg in three places — (Doctor) Then don’t go to those places

Yes, #444 is everywhere. For all I know, it occurred in ancient Greek inscriptions about where some warrior was wounded.

But for a bit more about the syntax and semantics of the joke, see those four earlier postings, with pointers to the technical literature.

— Who knows what ambiguity lurks in the heart of joke #444?

— the Linguist knows

One Response to “Classic joke #444”

  1. Mitch4 Says:

    Another example of the where ambiguity, from Andy Capp:

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