Jokes as Sources of Phrases

Dennis R. Preston preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU
Wed Oct 23 11:33:44 UTC 2002

"Don't make waves" has many variants. They almost all involve a guy
being given choices of which room in hell he would like to spend
eternity in. In one room, a bunch of people are standing around in
shit up to their necks sipping coffee and tea. Compared to the other
rooms (which can make the joke lengthy), this one looks good; he goes
for it and is equipped with cup and saucer. When he remarks to the
guy next to him how easy this is, the guy says:

"Wait til the devil in the speedboat (on water skis, etc...) goes by."

My own favorite is, however, the one in which a devil appears and
says "OK, coffee break's over. Back on your heads."

I'm all for this derivation of catch phrases from jokes; it seems
much more plausible to me. On the other hand, the human drive for
narration makes the other direction not unlikely. I guess we'll have
to stick to our searching.


>On Wed, 23 Oct 2002, Jonathon Green wrote:
>>  1968 Legman Rationale of the Dirty Joke (1972) vol. 1 199:
>>  A little rabbit whose method with his girlfriends is 'Wham bam, thank you,
>>  Mam' [Calif. 1942]
>So it looks like the phrase may have originated in a joke.  I wonder how
>many others had joke origins.  Legman indicates elsewhere that "don't make
>waves" originated as the punchline of a scatological joke.  My researches
>suggest that "there's no such thing as a free lunch" originated as the
>punchline of an economists' joke.
>Fred Shapiro
>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     

Dennis R. Preston
Professor of Linguistics
Department of Linguistics & Germanic, Slavic,
      Asian & African Languages
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824-1027
e-mail: preston at
phone: (517) 353-9290

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