What does it tell if you can (or can't) get this joke?

  • Thread starter Jean Tate
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In summary, this conversation is centered around a joke that plays on the different meanings of the word "why." The joke is that an elephant is big, grey, and wrinkly because if it were small, round, and white, it would be an aspirin. This joke relies on the idea of defining something by its properties, and the confusion that can arise when there are multiple meanings for a word. While some people found the joke humorous, others did not and the conversation delved into the deeper meaning and implications of the joke.
  • #1
Jean Tate
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4
Why is an elephant big, grey, and wrinkly?
Because if it were small, round, and white it'd be an aspirin.

I'll say something about the background later; for now, did you laugh uproariously? chuckle? scratch your head? something else??

Do you know any other jokes like this? What does it tell you if you can get this joke? If you can't?
 
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  • #2
Jean Tate said:
What does it tell you if you can get this joke? If you can't?
It could say a lot.
It could say I don't know English, I don't know what an elephant is or I have not had any headaches.
Or it could say I know English, I know what an elephant is, but since I have a headache but no Aspirin, I did not pay enough attention to get the joke.
 
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  • #3
Jean Tate said:
Why is an elephant big, grey, and wrinkly?
Because if it were small, round, and white it'd be an aspirin.

I'll say something about the background later; for now, did you laugh uproariously? chuckle? scratch your head? something else??

Do you know any other jokes like this? What does it tell you if you can get this joke? If you can't?

I liked it. It made me smile.

Here's one:

How do you get down off an elephant?

You don't. You get down off a duck!
 
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  • #4
The point of the joke is the confusion of different meanings of the "why" question. It may be inviting a causal explanation along the lines of "it has evolved in an ecological niche for which being big, grey and wrinkly is advantageous". Or it may be about definitions, like "Why does a triangle have 3 sides?" "Because triangle is the name we give to a figure with 3 sides; if it didn't have 3 sides we would call it something else." The joke is that the asker of the question appears to be asking the first kind of question, the responder giving the second kind of response.

See for example this closed thread: https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/is-there-any-phenomenon-capable-of-replacing-light.944035/ The answer is that if something was indistinguishable from light, we'd call it light, not "matter that behaves like light".

The confusion can arise because most cases are not as clear-cut as that of the triangle. For example, the question "Why is water wet?" could be answered "Because if it was dry, it wouldn't be water" - wetness is of the essence of water. But it is perfectly reasonable to inquire why water has the properties it does, such as the feeling we call wetness, and answer by talking about intermolecular forces, surface tension, heat conduction etc.

The point of view that something is defined by its characteristic properties ("if it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's a duck") is something most of us probably take for granted without thinking about it, and I as a practising analytical chemist use it all the time, but it has not been universally held. It is incompatible with the Aristotelian doctrine of substance and accidents, and the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation (formulated in Aristotelian terms). But I'm probably straying into forbidden territory now...
 
  • #5
I thought it would be easier to get down off a goose ...

These jokes depend on polysemy, or so it semy-ies to me. Ex: time flies like an arrow, some flies like a banana. Wm Shakespeare made extensive use of this kind of humorous word play.

Good (if there is such a thing in this case) candidates are identically spelled or pronounced words that are both verbs and nouns/adjectives.
 
  • #6
jim mcnamara said:
I thought it would be easier to get down off a goose ...

The best down does in fact come from the Polish goose, I believe!
 
  • #7
What do you get when you cross an elephant with a grape? Elephant grape sin(theta).

What do you get when you cross an elephant with a mountain climber? Nothing; a mountain climber is a scalar.
 
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  • #8
Why hire a tuna as a violinist? They always work with perfect scale.
 
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  • #9
People often tell me that I over think this kind of joke. While I did smile, I instantly started thinking of other small, round, and white objects. I was also thinking about what it would be like if elephants were small, round, and white, and if elephants were small, round, and white they would still be elephants. They would still be elephants because that is what an elephant would be. It would still have the necessary structures of an elephant just in a small, round, and white body. Then after arguing for a while about the validity of a joke like this one, my friend would give up and I would probably have one less friend and in this case a strange image of an elephant in my head. My life is a constant battle between wanting to argue and correct people's grammar or have friends:smile:.
 
  • #10
Wow, so many cool responses already! :smile:

Not so many on what your responses were, however; did you laugh?

Here's my experience, over many years and with many different people: I laughed uproariously, instantly. No one else I've told this to had that reaction, although I did get one person who laughed a bit after a second or two. And several smiled ... though I'm not 100% sure they "got" the joke, or were merely being polite. Mostly, however, I got reactions to the effect that it wasn't funny or was just plain ridiculous.

I like all the "similars" posted so far, but none are quite like mine, in a key detail.

More later ... (promise)
 
  • #11
Jean Tate said:
Why is an elephant big, grey, and wrinkly?
Because if it were small, round, and white it'd be an aspirin.
The outside corners of my mouth turned up slightly. I heard this joke/riddle many years ago, and probably thought it was funnier when I first heard it, especially since it appealed to my fondness for absurd humor.

From a logical standpoint, the answer to "why" doesn't necessarily follow.
Something can be small, round, and white without being an aspirin. For one counter example, a cue ball as used in the game of pool is small (relative to an elephant), round (or spherical), and white (or at least whitish), but isn't an aspirin. In other words, aspirins are a subset of the set of things that are small, round, and white.
 
  • #12
How many moves it takes to put a giraffe in a refridgerator?
Three, you open the door, put the giraffe in and close the door.

How many moves it takes to put an elephant in the fridge?
Four, open the door, take the giraffe out, put the elephant in and close the door.

How many giraffes does a sedan fit?
Four, two in the front, two in the back.

How many elephants does the sedan fit?
None, there are giraffes in the way.

..ok I'll show my own way out :sorry:
 
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  • #13
Vanadium 50 said:
What do you get when you cross an elephant with a mountain climber? Nothing; a mountain climber is a scalar.

What do you get when you cross a mosquito with a mountain climber? Nothing- you can't cross a vector with a scalar!
 
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  • #14
nuuskur said:
How many giraffes does a sedan fit?
Four, two in the front, two in the back.

How many elephants does the sedan fit?
None, there are giraffes in the way.
Variant:

How do you get four giraffes in a Mini? Two in the front, two in the back.

How do you get two elephants in a Mini? Take two of the giraffes out.

How do you get two whales in a Mini? Straight up the M4.
 
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  • #15
Mark44 said:
The outside corners of my mouth turned up slightly. I heard this joke/riddle many years ago, and probably thought it was funnier when I first heard it, especially since it appealed to my fondness for absurd humor.

From a logical standpoint, the answer to "why" doesn't necessarily follow.
Something can be small, round, and white without being an aspirin. For one counter example, a cue ball as used in the game of pool is small (relative to an elephant), round (or spherical), and white (or at least whitish), but isn't an aspirin. In other words, aspirins are a subset of the set of things that are small, round, and white.
This may come as a surprise ... you are the first person I've met who said they'd heard this joke before. :smile:

For me, the appeal of the joke has nothing to do with two words which have some similarity (e.g. spelling) but are actually very different (e.g. part of speech, meaning). Rather, it's like part of the exchange between Alice and Humpty Dumpty (link), "When I use a word, [...]". And something else in one of the Alices, where a character says (to the effect) that they can tell the name of something (someone?) merely by looking at it (I haven't yet been able to find where that is).

So to parse this a bit more (is there anything worse than trying to analyze jokes? :rolleyes:), "big, grey, and wrinkly" are key attributes of things we call "elephants"; the first line of the joke sets you up to not expect this at all. The second line reveals the linguistic/semantic truth.

Vanadium 50's jokes show another aspect which I think lurks below the surface in the joke in the OP: in science and mathematics, many of the terms we use have rather precise, narrow meanings, sometimes quite different from the same word used in everyday speech ... for example: theory, energy, force, and (one of my pet peeves) exponential.

Putting these two together ... (later).
 
  • #16
jim mcnamara said:
time flies like an arrow, some flies like a banana.
This was always one of my favorites, rephrased slightly as a question:

If time flies like an arrow ... why do fruit flies like a banana?

You can actually hear the gears grinding as their brain tries to shift gears.
 

Related to What does it tell if you can (or can't) get this joke?

1. What does it mean if I can't get a joke?

If you are unable to understand a joke, it could mean that you are not familiar with the cultural references, wordplay, or irony used in the joke. It could also mean that you have a different sense of humor or that the joke simply isn't funny to you.

2. Does not getting a joke mean I am not intelligent?

No, not being able to understand a joke does not necessarily indicate a lack of intelligence. Humor is subjective and can be influenced by various factors such as cultural background, personal experiences, and individual preferences.

3. Can someone learn to understand jokes better?

Yes, just like any other skill, understanding and appreciating humor can be improved with practice and exposure. Surrounding yourself with different types of humor and being open to new perspectives can help expand your understanding and enjoyment of jokes.

4. Are there any benefits to being able to get jokes?

Yes, having a good sense of humor and being able to understand jokes can have various benefits. It can improve social interactions, relieve stress, and promote creativity and critical thinking skills.

5. Is not getting jokes a sign of a larger issue?

Not necessarily. While difficulty understanding and appreciating humor can be a symptom of certain cognitive or developmental disorders, it is not always the case. If you are concerned, it is best to consult a professional for an evaluation.

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