June 07, 2007

Keine Seife; Radio

It's going to be quite a puzzle for future students of our culture, this lolcats phenomenon, isn't it? To say nothing of the extension to philolsophers and the like. Anthropologists are going to ask, why did people way back in the early 21st century find these mangled and misspelled captions so funny? U can haz undRstand lolcats?

I remember back many years ago I was playing piano in a rock 'n' roll band in clubs in Rhineland Germany, and there was a baffling craze for incomprehensible shaggy-dog jokes, sometimes involving gorillas, in which the punch line was always "Keine Seife; Radio" ("No soap; radio"). What did it mean? Why did the bar girls who told us these jokes fall about laughing at them? They admitted it made no sense. The line about soap and radio was just some sort of internal private lolcat for them. Until today I never knew why, but now I do, because after I posted the first version of this it was only an hour before a Language Log reader pointed me to the Wikipedia article on the vein of (anti-)humor involved (in English, it turns out — there was nothing German about it), which anthropologists of humor do seem to have deciphered. Thank you, Dan, for the first pointer, and many others after that.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at June 7, 2007 05:01 PM