An odd example of legalese (a criminal or a congressman, and an unwritten comma)

Brian Hitchcock brianhi at SKECHERS.COM
Tue Jan 31 20:00:29 UTC 2012

Lynne Hunter wrote:
This reminds me of the humorous exchange in which a mother, teacher, or
some such authority figure asks a disobedient child something like: "Do
you want to grow up to be a criminal or a Congressman?"
And the kid replies something like: "Sounds good to me!"  Does anybody
know the exact example?
I never heard that joke before, but as I began reading it, I was
anticipating the punch line to be "Of course not!" (or maybe "Hell, no!")
I could also imagine a punch line that construes the OR as disjunctive:
"What's the difference?"

I would like to point out that this joke actually works in print because
of the timing nuance of an omitted-from-print, but possibly voiced, comma,
which, had it been printed, would have dulled the written joke, if not
spoiled it altogether:
.. Do you want to grow up to be a criminal, or a congressman?
This is the flipside to the superfluous presence of a written comma, which
literally makes the joke in the story of the panda  who eats, shoots and
leaves  (kudos to another Lynne. Lynne Truss)

Brian Hitchcock
Torrance, CA

The American Dialect Society -

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