FW: Jokes as Sources of Phrases

Fred Shapiro fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Wed Oct 23 11:23:51 UTC 2002

On Wed, 23 Oct 2002, Frank Abate wrote:

> It seems unlikely to me that the punchline of a joke would be the
> source/first citation for a phrase/idiom.  Punchlines very often pick up an
> existing phrase or cliche and use it in a novel or surprising way (hence
> part of the humor), but some of the humor is lost if the punchline does not
> play off of an established expression.
> Of course, a joke may well serve to popularize an expression -- but to
> originate it?  The evidence of a joke would make me want to look further
> back.

Frank's point makes sense.  In the case of the "don't make waves" joke,
the punchline would still work if it were not playing off an existing
expression, but it works better if it was.  In the case of the "no such
thing as a free lunch" joke, the punchline is kind of weak if it is not
playing off an existing expression (but I have not found any pre-joke
usage despite very extensive researches!).


Fred R. Shapiro                             Editor
Associate Librarian for Public Services     YALE DICTIONARY OF QUOTATIONS
  and Lecturer in Legal Research            Yale University Press,
Yale Law School                             forthcoming
e-mail: fred.shapiro at yale.edu               http://quotationdictionary.com

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