I Explain A Joke

23 Mar

This is a sarcastic and bitter blog. Don’t read it if you’re not in the mood for that sort of thing.

I am bored of explaining to people why jokes don’t need to be technically correct (and usually rely on NOT being technically correct for their effect). So I am going to test the limits of my boredom by explaining in detail a joke I tweeted today and which a few people told me was wrong.

The joke, which was one of a series with the hashtag #complicatedrhymingslang, was this:

“Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrndrobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch = sock
#complicatedrhymingslang”.

A few people replied to this tweet to correct me that “…goch” doesn’t rhyme with “sock”.

I think it’s worth pointing out that I know that “…goch” doesn’t ‘technically’ rhyme with “sock”. However, I have to qualify this by saying, I also know that ‘technically’ “goch” DOES rhyme with “sock”. This is called “rhyme in assonance” and is a key feature of much poetry. I’m no expert on the subject, but even I know this. Sorry if you already know this too, but I am explaining things. So, telling me that “goch” doesn’t rhyme with “sock” is, technically, incorrect.

I would further qualify this by saying that it’s difficult to talk about rhyme in spoken English as there are so many variations in pronunciation. Spoken English is a rich and beautiful thing, even within England. In my erstwhile role as an architect I used to work with communities from all across the UK, helping them to develop briefs for community centres, and I have to say that I often encountered accents and dialects so strong that I couldn’t understand what people were saying. I suspect this will gradually change, but the richness and variety within such a small island is an amazing and precious thing. (And that’s just indigenous dialects, let alone the myriad versions of English spoken across the globe). I hope my point is clear. We have to be very careful when we talk about ‘correct’ pronunciation.

My recommendation would therefore be, when presented with jokes which rely on the spoken word (such as puns), to find the ways in which words or sounds are similar, rather than trying to find ways in which they are dissimilar.

I usually write my tweets in my own voice, or something close to it. I speak RP English. I don’t speak Welsh, so my understanding of the correct pronunciation of “goch” is that it is something akin to “loch” and a softer Spanish “j”. That’s my understanding. There are probably quite a few RP speakers out there who would agree with this. So from my point of view “goch” isn’t a strict rhyme with “sock”. But.

This is all by the by. The POINT of my joke, just to explain it (I am explaining), was not the ‘correct’ pronunciation of “goch”, but the long-windedness and absurdity of using a notoriously hard-to-remember British place name as rhyming slang for a one syllable, commonplace word – “sock”. Now, to enjoy the joke to the full, either you can go with the assonance, so feel comfortable with the rhyme and the joke still stands. Or, as a bonus, you can feel that it ‘doesn’t quite rhyme properly’, which IS ALSO PART OF THE JOKE. I nearly followed up the tweet with a comment along the lines of “Some people will take issue with the pronunciation”. But I didn’t want to spoil the possibility that some people might also wring a bit of extra enjoyment from the slight dissonance of the ‘awkward’ rhyme. To be fair, I think a quite a few people got this.

So, setting aside whether the joke is funny or not (which is obviously a matter of personal taste. I for example find it only mildly amusing), there is quite a lot going on in the joke that you should parse carefully before telling me “goch” doesn’t rhyme with “sock”, and I have very kindly in a completely non-patronising way explained it all to you.

Bunch of cochs.

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