24 July, 2009

When you obviously mean the opposite of what you say

I was at my son's school the other day, obtaining his schoolbooks and filling out the obligatory paperwork that requires you to write the same thing three times on one page (how many times do they need my address, anyway?), never mind on several pages. While doing that, my son looked through his books, and seeing his religion book, read aloud one of the questions that decorates the cover,

Does God care for us?
To this I snorted, tongue firmly in cheek,
Of course not. If he did, then I wouldn't be stuck here with you.
This was followed by a long, uneasy silence as the other parents around the table asked themselves whether I really meant what I had just said.

Today, my wife was talking with my dad, who asked how I was doing. She replied,
Well, I've been trying to make his life miserable, but I haven't yet succeeded.
You couldn't say that to some people.

Civilization seems to have lost a capacity for reading between the lines. Humor these days seems to fall into three categories:
  • unsubtle vulgarity;
  • mean-spirited mockery; and
  • name-calling.
Gabriel Iglesias is a rare exception—and now that I've said that, someone's going to write in and tell me that he's turned into a foul-mouthed, mean-spirited name caller, too.

It used to be that people routinely said things and meant the opposite, and everyone took it for the comedy it was. If you don't mind stealing from Voltaire, the classic example is "the Holy Roman Empire." If you prefer to be more current, you look instead to "the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea" or any of the similarly named Democratic or People's Republics that depopulated much of the 20th century.

So maybe I shouldn't have said that, but my son got the joke, and a few moments later, the other parents breathed calmly.

At least I think he got the joke. Watch: in 20 years he'll tell me I scarred him for life.

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