"All seriousness aside"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Fri Aug 5 14:21:49 UTC 2005

At 7:04 PM -0400 8/4/05, Benjamin Zimmer wrote:
>On Thu, 4 Aug 2005 13:17:51 -0400, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
>>At 11:55 PM -0400 8/3/05, Benjamin Zimmer wrote:
>>>"All seriousness aside" apparently started out as a comedian's line-- I
>>>see it credited to Milton Berle, Jerry Lewis, and Steve Allen, so it
>>>probably goes back to the vaudeville era. (The Southern comedian Brother
>>>Dave Gardner even recorded an album called "All Seriousness Aside" in
>>>1963.) As I understand it, the expression often functioned as something
>>>of an ironic metajoke, signaling to the audience that the impending
>>>shift to an ostensibly more serious tone shouldn't be taken very
>>There's also "Seriously, though", another comedian's stock line.
>I'm sure that metadiscursive framing devices like "Seriously, though..."
>or "But seriously, folks..." have deep roots in the vaudeville tradition.
>The thing with "All seriousness aside..." is that it *sounds* like one of
>those framing devices (sharing prosodic characteristics), even though its
>literal meaning is the exact opposite. That's why I called it an ironic
>metajoke, since it plays with the very conventions of comedic discourse.
>But nowadays it seems to be used unironically (perhaps due to a lack of
>recognition of the previous generation's irony?).
>--Ben Zimmer

It strikes me that "all seriousness aside", uttered with real or mock
seriousness, will tend to be processed as if it had been "in all
seriousness" and/or "all joking aside" rather than compositionally.
At least I suspect it may have begun this way (as an intentional
ironic blend) that the comedian "put over" on the audience.  And then
we get the shift Ben mentions, where it becomes a fixed expression in
which irony is no longer necessary (related to, but not identical
with, what arguably occurred with the aforementioned "could care


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