A pun you've probably wanted to make

It’s near the start of the semester (actually beyond the start for some of us in the Midwest), so I thought those of you who haven’t seen this strip need to do so:


(if you see this after August 25, you need to call up the strip for August 11)
I’m sure some of us could improve on it, but still, it might be useful for something…

11 thoughts on “A pun you've probably wanted to make

  1. Eric Bakovic

    Hell, Language Log does this all the time, let’s just copy the strip and post it here:

    [Update, Sept. 24: no, they don’t — or at least, Geoff Pullum doesn’t. And yes, I hereby absolve anyone else but myself, Geoff Nathan in particular, for this potential-though-undoubtedly-minor copyright infringement. Cartoonists of the world, please don’t sue.]

    By the way, the title of this strip is also worth commenting on. My grad school classmate Ed Keer and I used to argue about the pronunciation of the underlined vowel orange (and other words, like Florida): I (from around San Francisco) have something like [ɔ:], Ed (from around Philadelphia) has something like [a:]. Ed had the best argument for the correctness of his pronunciation, though: the following knock-knock joke works better if you pronounce orange with [a:]:

    Knock-knock. Who’s there? Banana. Banana who? Knock-knock. Who’s there? Banana. Banana who?

    [… this goes one for a little while longer, the number of times being inversely proportionate to your age or directly proportionate to the amount of alcohol you’ve imbibed.]

    Knock-knock. Who’s there? Orange. Orange who? Orange you glad I didn’t say “banana” again?

  2. Eric Bakovic

    Almost forgot: I once heard the same pun used in a joke about a Spanish speaker learning English. An English-speaking friend asks the Spanish speaker, “Is your English pronunciation improving?” The Spanish speaker answers, “My consonants, yes, but I still have some problems with my bowels.”

  3. Geoffrey S. Nathan

    I thought about copying the strip, but my other professional hat is computer policy wonk for Wayne State, and so I’m a little cautious with copyrighted material. Not that I didn’t think about it, but just never got around to writing the author (who, I’m sure, would have been glad to give permission–she seems the easy-going sort)
    Or maybe it’s fair use… Anyway, it’s under Eric’s name, so when the copyright cops show up they’ll be looking for him.

  4. Bob Kennedy

    In regards to the first vowel in orange, I have always suspected that there is an implicational relationship among lexical items that contain a non-high back vowel before intervocalic [r]. Now, this isn’t terribly empirical, but this is what I’ve noticed in my wanderings across the continent. I’m theorizing that if you hear someone say maj[a]rity for majority, you can predict they will also say [a]range for orange. Conversely, if you hear someone say [ɔ]range, you can predict they will say maj[ɔ]rity.

    More precisely, imagine a scale along which various lexical sets are located. One end of the scale contains words most likely to have [a], and the other contains words most likely to have [ɔ]. I think there’s at least 4 sets of words along this scale, moving in order from high [a] likelihood to high [ɔ] likelihood:

    {tomorrow, borrow, sorrow}
    {orange, florida}
    {authority, majority, minority, sorority, oracle, thesaurus}

    Varieties of N. American English differ by where they draw a categorical line in this scale. In my Canadian English, everything below {sorry} has [o], and sometimes sorry does too. (The sequence […arV…] is generally non-native for me, so I even say [mɛrio] for Mario.) Lots of Americans place the line below the {tomorrow} set, producing tom[a]rrow but [ɔ]range and maj[ɔ]rity. Another group says b[a]rrow and [a]range but maj[ɔ]rity/. A last group uses [a] across the board.

    I always thought of this as a cool little dialectological trick, but there are some curiosities to discuss. First, I can’t think offhand whether the two vowels can ever contrast before pre-vocalic [r]. Second, the scale is obviously falsifiable, so I fully expect another comment to appear from someone else along the lines of “Wait, I say [ɔ]range but maj[a]rity”. This is fine, because the third curiosity is that (I think) this is an accident of frequency. By no means do I consider this scale to be reified component of any speaker’s competence. Apart from the across-the-board varieties that only use one of the two vowels, the frequency of a word seems to correlate with its likelihood of using [a]. As long as different speakers have similar relative frequencies of lexical items, they will have similar categories of [arV] words and [ɔrV] words.

  5. Eric Bakovic

    Interesting theory, Bob. The line for me is just above {orange, Florida}.

    Ed and I used to make fun of our Canadian buddy Strang Burton, who categorically has [ɔ] in all these words. Strang’s more-or-less effective retort when we’d make fun of his sorry (which he said all the time, because, hey, he’s Canadian) is that sorry with [ɔ] is distinct from sari with [a]. Do you have that contrast?

  6. Bob Kennedy

    As a matter of fact I do contrast sorry and sari, and come to think of it I’ve also got saf[a]ri and sagu[a]ro. Surely no coincidence that these are all borrowed (ha ha). I do know some Canadians who’d say saf[ɛ]ri and sagu[ɛ]ro, though.

  7. Geoffrey S. Nathan

    Of course people who speak properly contrast s[ɔ]rry and s[a]ri. Imagine the confusion that would result if we didn’t keep those words straight! In fact, I seem to have a seven-way contrast:

    merry (also”Gerry, ferry”)
    marry [mæri] (also ‘carry, Barry’)
    Morrie [mɔri] (also ‘sorry, borrow…)
    Maurie mɔ:ri (also ‘story, gory..’)
    Mary [mɛ:ri] (also ‘Gary, scary’)
    sari [sari] (but I can’t think of any others like this)
    starry [sta:ri] (again, this may be a hapax)

    Hmm, I just added these up and it seems a little daunting… But my dialect is a little odd anyway (born in England, raised in Toronto, spent time in Hawai’i…) But then my research associate on our child language acquisition project, who’s Spanish, thinks English has way too many vowels anyway.

  8. Daniel C. Hall

    Well, for me the line goes vertically through the last two sets in Bob’s hierarchy. I have [ɔ] in Florida, oracle, thesaurus, but [ɑ] (more back than central) in orange and the -ority words (as well as in sorry and the -orrow words). However, I have long known that my idiolectal pronunciations cannot be used as evidence for anything (with the possible exception of the arbitrariness of the sign), so I do not consider Bob’s hypothesis to be falsified by them, regardless of how the frequencies work out.

    By the way, Taylor Roberts has a lovely illustration of Canadian [ɔ] at the bottom of his page on “Canadian Raising and Other Oddities.”

  9. Ed Keer

    There’s definitely a frequency or register affect. I’ve got [a] for all the ones on your list, but not moral. I once did hear my uncle say m[a]ral though.

  10. Ed Keer

    And speakng of contrast, there might be one in New Jersey between the two towns named Morristown with an [a] and Moorestown with an open o. Moorestown is traditionally bisyllabic and Morristown trisyllabic. But I here people pronouncing both as bisyllables, but keeping the vowel contrast.

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