"Does this come in a boot?"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Apr 3 19:55:44 UTC 2003

At 2:09 PM -0500 4/3/03, James A. Landau wrote:
>In a message dated 4/3/2003 1:12:38 PM Eastern Standard Time,
>jan.ivarsson at TRANSEDIT.ST writes:
>>  MATTHEW: [TO JACK] Does this shirt come in anything besides cranberry?
>>  Because I just don't think it will go with my gooseberry pants. Uh,
>>  gandaberry, lingonberry, Halle Berry?  <snip>
>>  JACK: [TO HIMSELF] Me! I'm the fruit that would go with those pants.
>>  WILL: Nice try. Tell me. Does this come in a boot? [WILL HOLDS UP A
>The only likely interpretation of "Does this come in a boot?" that would make
>the audience laugh is the straightforwards one, "Can I find a pair of boots
>in this color and/or pattern?"  This interpretation also fits with the rest
>of the quoted dialogue, which is about trying to find color matches to
>Matthew's trousers.
>The humor seems to lie not in the dialogue itself

Well, it's partly the interesting use of what Geoff Nunberg calls
"deferred reference", the fact that you can hold up a sweater and say
"this" and, in the context, refer to the sweater but (only) to one of
its salient properties, here its color.  Nunberg has examples like
holding up a copy of the Times and saying "Murdoch is trying to buy
this" or pointing to the headquarters of IBM and saying "That just
fell 2 5/8", meaning IBM's stock.  I'm not sure the humor comes from
the color of the sweater but from the attenuated nature of this
particular instance of deferred reference.

>but rather in what the
>sweater looks like---to get a big laugh the sweater will have to have colors
>or a pattern that is quite implausible to find in pair of boots.
>A speaker of British English might interpret "in a boot" to mean "in the boot
>of a car" but I can't see how that would be funny.
>                     - Jim Landau
>PS. Am I imagining things, or did you find a television program about a
>homosexual menage a trois?

Not exactly.  "Will & Grace", which is the original name of the show
in question ("Love plus one" must be its trans-Atlantic sobriquet)
does not posit any romantic or sexual involvement between Will and
Jack, both of whom are gay--they're just friends.  I assume from the
above context that Jack may have been coming on to Matthew, who is
not a regular character on the show.  I assume this partly because
Jack comes on to most males of the right age and physical appearance.


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