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

#### Jean Tate

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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#### DennisN

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.

#### PeroK

Homework Helper
Gold Member
2018 Award
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!

#### mjc123

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...

#### jim mcnamara

Mentor
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.

#### PeroK

Homework Helper
Gold Member
2018 Award
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!

Staff Emeritus
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.

#### jim mcnamara

Mentor
Why hire a tuna as a violinist? They always work with perfect scale.

#### Fig Neutron

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.

#### Jean Tate

Wow, so many cool responses already!

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)

#### Mark44

Mentor
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.

#### nuuskur

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

#### Infrared

Gold Member
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!

#### Ibix

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.

#### Jean Tate

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.

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? ), "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).

#### DaveC426913

Gold Member
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.

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

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