Strategic cockroach

Yesterday, my husband thought he saw a cockroach in the kitchen. He sprayed everything down and cleaned thoroughly. Today, I’m putting the cockroach in the bathroom.

That’s one of the cute little reports included in a paper called Funnies, which has been circulating here at Holladay Park Plaza. This one caught my attention particularly. You have already enjoyed it (or not) so all I’m going to try to do here is speculate about why I liked it so much. [1]

There are certain words that control this little fantasy and they might not be the ones you noticed on your first time through. I want to pick “a cockroach” and “the cockroach” as our first stop. The wife, from whose point of view this is being told, knows all about the cockroach from the beginning. She is deliberately misleading us when she says her husband saw “a cockroach.” The deception is enhanced by “thought he saw.”

Why is that deceptive? “A cockroach” reflects the husband’s perspective. It would absolutely not work if the husband were to say, “Honey, I saw the cockroach in the kitchen.” It would sound as if it were a pet. But the husband is mistaken. He saw “the cockroach” and didn’t know it. “The cockroach” is a tool, we later learn. He was in the kitchen on assignment and will be deployed in the bathroom tomorrow.

The second point follows directly from the first. There is not so much as a hint of disapproval in the wife’s assessment of the husband’s behavior. It could even sound laudatory. “He sprayed everything down and cleaned thoroughly.” What a guy! My hero! I’m so lucky to have a husband who takes care of things like that.

In fact, the husband is a chump. He is being manipulated shamelessly by the wife. That means that his cleaning may very well be first rate, but he is a fool. [2]

Finally, like a lot of good jokes, everything in the beginning—in this case, that is the first two sentences—points in one direction. The last part turns it around entirely, and it does so without using the kinds of words we ordinarily use to change the direction of meaning. There is nothing like “on the other hand,” or “nevertheless.” It’s just cold, as if the second part flowed directly from the first part, which it does not.

I really like this joke and it is this kind of thing that I had in mind when I called the blog “the dilettante’s dilemma.” Jokes like this just delight me.

[1] I have friends who cluck gravely at me when I do this because they think it is the opposite of enjoying the humor of it. Not at all. When I have added to my enjoyment the extra enjoyment of knowing just how it works, I get twice as much.
[2] I think it would be really cool—not very funny, unfortunately—if the husband were to confide in a friend, “My wife put her cockroach out in the bathroom today. It’s her was of asking me to clean the bathroom. I’ll get to it as soon as I can.”

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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