This is not the most appropriate post for so soon after Thanksgiving, but . . . .
I was once at the annual convention of classicists (the American Philological Association, if you're wondering) when a total stranger saw my Alabama name tag and came up and asked "Do you know what a seven-course meal in Alabama is? A six-pack of Miller and a possum."
Unfortunately for him, he was wearing a University of Texas nametag, so right off the top of my head I was able to retaliate with a parallel joke about a sixpack of Lonestar and an armadillo.
I've been wondering how many other versions of this joke are possible. Pennsylvania is easy: Iron City beer and a groundhog. I'm not a big beer drinker, but my nephews tell me that the Maryland version would involve National Bohemian ('Natty Bo') and a muskrat. (Dead, skinned muskrats are on display at the Baltimore market.) Nominations, anyone? Both the brand of beer and the species of animal should be something plausibly depicted as outside the culinary experience of people in other states. Raccoons and squirrels are still available, though more than one state may be associated with each of them. Does anyone in the U.S. eat porcupines? Bears? Beavers? As far as the last goes, yes, and that reminds me of an inappropriate story.
Some years back a rather naive fellow-employee and his wife were having dinner at the boss's house in California. Besides the boss and his wife, several other employees and spouses were present, along with the boss's nine daughters, who ranged in age from six to over thirty. The boss's wife was an Alaskan Indian whose relatives had shot a beaver and shipped it to her. She baked it into a very large pie and served it as the centerpiece of the feast for the whole crowd. When it was placed on the table, my fellow-employee said "You know, I've always heard of 'eating beaver pie', but Iíve never actually done it." At that point, everyone in the room just about fell out of their chairs laughing, except for the younger daughters, who said "Daddy, daddy, what's so funny? Explain it to me." I don't know how he explained it. I actually had not heard the expression before, but I think I would have been able to figure out that it was obscene if I had. Context and tone of voice will usually tell you.
On the other hand, tone of voice doesn't always work with non-native speakers. A Hungarian immigrant once told me that a certain restaurant near American University was full of women "who look like college girls, but they are professional women". I said "You mean they look like they're 18, but they're really 30-something doctors and lawyers?" He said "No, I mean they're hoookers." Of course, I had suspected that he meant that, but didn't want to presume. With a native speaker, it would have been obvious just from the pronunciation of 'professional' which kind of working woman he meant.Posted by Dr. Weevil at November 30, 2002 05:31 PM