Big red joke book

Red joke book

Before Hammer and Tickle came

  • Greg Benton and Graham Loomes, Big red joke book (1976).

The jokes come from a wide range of countries, including the USA and Britain, with the Soviet bloc playing a major role. Again there are sadly few from China (see my Chinese jokes tag); still, since it’s not a big book, they might as well have called it The Little red joke book.

We might pair this one with Woody Allen’s Hassidic tales:

“Rabbi,” asks a young Jew, “can you build socialism in one country?”

“You can,” says the rabbi, “but then it’s best to live in another country.”

There are some goodies from the GDR, like

Q. Is it true that Walter Ulbricht collects political jokes?

A. No, but he collects people who tell them.

as well as a version of the Li Peng story I told here, with Ulbricht as the subject.

Here’s another story from Prague (cf. many posts under Czech tag):

A restaurant in Prague started up a strip-tease show. To everyone’s surprise, the public appeared to shun in totally. The Prague authorities, concerned at the loss of takings, summoned the restaurant’s manager and asked him some questions.

“Is there something the matter with the seating arrangements?”

“No”, said the manager, “they’re very comfortable.”

“The lighting?”

“No, the lighting is perfect.”

“In that case, it must have something to do with the women who perform there.”

“Out of the question!” assured the manager. “We hire no-one unless they have been at least thirty years in the Party.”

Of course, many such stories, like folk-songs, travel widely in variant forms.

 

 

 

More Chinese clichés: art

*Guest post!*

Ni Zan

Further to my Chinese clichés (inspired by Flann O’Brien), a young scholar—whose own enterprising fieldwork suggests a radical reassessment of Chinese temple murals—has sent me this telling critique (“On visiting the Asian Art Museum but finding the Indo-Tibetan section closed for renovation“):

New AAM Exhibition Reveals How “Chinese People Used to Like Porcelain Pots that were Glazed mostly White but sometimes Other Colors, and Paintings of Water and Mountains, And Stuff”

April 12, 2019 / Khanat Beg

SAN FRANCISCO
“A lot of people think they know Chinese art,” says curator Adreanne Chao. Slim and straight-backed in a black turtleneck by Japanese designer Yu Amatsu, Chao is sitting on a bench in the second-floor gallery, unrecognized by the stream of museum-goers around us. Together, we watch two women speaking Mandarin pose with a selfie-stick in front of a painting by the 14th-century Chinese artist Ni Zan.

Chao says, “People come in here, and they think they’re going to see monochrome ink-paintings of mountains, water, clouds. Sometimes there’ll be a lonely fisherman out poling across the lake, or a scholar-recluse composing poetry in an old pavilion.”

But Chao’s new exhibition, which opened April 1st at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum, has sent ripples of surprise through the art world. Chao leads me over to inspect a scroll painting, twelve feet long and one wide, by the 15th-century Chinese literatus-painter Wu Liao. “But these artists are really toying with convention. Here you can see the painter has used monochrome ink and brushwork to create the impression of clouds, water, and mountains.” Chao laughs puckishly, “And yes, I’ll admit it—there’s also a fisherman poling a skiff past an old pavilion!”

We haven’t even got to the room with all the little porcelain pots and pans, glazed mostly white but sometimes beige or off-green. […]

 

I may add that the solitary boatman is not to be confused with this tribute to Uncle Xi:

See here for spoof Tang poems that I composed in my own Yoof (“precocious signs of the pointless inanity that was to distinguish my later writings”). Among posts under the art tag, try this, and this.

And for Chinese music clichés, see here.

A diary clash

huiyishi

Now for another linguistic interlude. I’ve already cited several stories from our fieldworkers’ joke manual (note the Chinese jokes tag; and for a roundup, see here). This old one further illustrates the riches of Chinese punning, and has a hint of the underdog vanquishing pompous male privilege…

It thrives on the homophonous pronunciation of the acronyms for Journalists’ Association (jixie 记协) and Sex-Workers’ Association (jixie 妓协), suggesting parallels with our own airline acronyms.

The verbal creativity may work better in Chinese than in English, but here I loosely adapt a version that I found online (see—the riches of the Chinese web aren’t limited to The Thoughts of Uncle Xi):

The Journalists’ Association and the Sex-Workers’ Association are both staying in the same hotel for their respective meetings. Both groups need to use the conference room at the same time. The hotel manager initially suggests they combine their meetings into one, but they argue their cases before him.

The Secretary-General of the Journalists’ Association observes proudly, “We journalists are uncrowned kings—how can a gang of women dependent on men compare with us?”

But the Secretary-General of the Sex-Workers’ Association retorts, “What’s the big deal about you journalists? A gang of guys sneaking in to see us—you’re all talk! How can you compete with us? Huh!”

The journalist goes on, “So we’re adversaries with different weapons, eh? We use the pen (bi), and we’re looking for manuscripts (gao).”

The sex worker points out, “Well, we use pussy (bi), and we’re looking for a shag (gao)!”

“We welcome both long and short manuscripts.”

“We’re fine turning both long and short tricks too.”

“We offer preferential rates for our manuscripts.”

“And so do we for tricks.”

In the end the hotel manager can only allow the Sex-Workers’ Association to use the conference room.

记者协会与妓女协会同在一个宾馆召开会议,同样要用会议室。记协秘书长联系会议室,妓协秘书长也在联系会议室。宾馆老板一听,都是开会,也都是叫一个名字,也不管是妓协和记协,对两位秘书长说:《干脆把两个会议合在一起开吧。》

记协秘书长坚决不答应说:《我们记协的记者是无冕之王。你们妓协是什么,你们是一帮女人,靠男人生活,能和我们比?》

妓协秘书长不服气地说:《你们记协有什么了不起。你们的记们,那个暗地里不来找我们的妓,一帮男人光是嘴上的劲。怎能是我们的对手。哼!》

记协秘书长说:《是不是对手,武器不一样,我们用的是笔,要的是稿。》

妓协秘书长说:《我们用的也是×,要的是搞。》

记协秘书长说:《我们长稿短稿都欢迎。》

妓协秘书长说:《我们长搞短搞都能行。》

记协秘书长说:《我们稿费从优。》

妓协秘书长说:《我们搞费也优。》

年轻漂亮的妓协副秘书长在一旁帮腔说:《我们怎样搞都适应,反正比你们强。》

这话气得记协秘书长《唉唉》直叹息。看来记协还得归妓协领导。因而再不言语。宾馆老板一看没法,只得把会议室让给妓协先开会了。

I note en passant that the present incumbent of the White House seems to have more time for sex workers than for journalists.

Classical erudition

baozi jiaozi

On the “Four Classics and Five Scriptures” (sishu wujing 四书五经), I’ve already quoted the fine saying (At home with a master Daoist, n.1)

孔子孟子包子饺子,都学过了!
“Confucius, Mencius, various dumpling shapes, I’ve studied them all!”

So it’s good to see another old favourite at the end of a conversation between Ai Weiwei and Liao Yiwu, no less:

老装孙子 laozhuang sunzi,

which is a common expression for “always playing the fool” (cf. the more recent, and rather different, zhuang B). But it can also be handily pressed into service when satirizing one’s supposed education in the classics, subtly revising the zhuang character to 庄—the Daoist sages Laozi and Zhuangzi (Lao–Zhuang), followed by the ancient military strategist Sunzi.

Breaks the ice at parties, in the words of Monty Python.

 

Bonking in Chinese

or
Tut-tut, a boo-boo

Victor Mair’s posts on the languagelog site are always worth reading. He’s just done a wonderful one on seemingly impenetrable Chinese sentences with the same character repeated numerous times—not unlike our own “Buffalo buffalo…” and “had had had had…” constructions.

This reminds me of a similar anecdote from rural Shaanxi, where the word bu is used to mean “bonk”, along with the duplicated form bubu “bonkety-bonk”. * It remains to be seen if the character 不 (“not”) is correct—the written forms of such dialectal terms are often hard to ascertain—but I’ll give the story in the version transcribed by my Beijing colleague.

This doesn’t quite work in English, but from a rough translation you can appreciate the linguistic beauty of the original (I’ve underlined the pinyin where they’re using bu in the, um, technical sense):

A woman wonders why his brother’s wife still hasn’t got pregnant two years after their marriage. She doesn’t quite know how to ask, so one day while they’re sewing in the courtyard, she asks her sister-in-law:

嫂,你跟俺哥不吗
Sao, ni gen an ge bu ma?
Sister-in-law, do you do it with my bro?

不不
Bubu!
Sure, all the time!

不不咋还不呢
Bubu, za haibu ne?
If you’re at it all the time, how come there’s nothing?

不不还不呢,不不不不就更不了吗
Bubu hai bu ne, bububu bujiu geng bulema?
We’re at it all the time, again and again—bonking away, that means we go at it even more, innit!

I think I’ve got that right—in that last line she bangs on with the form bububu. Hmm, there may be room for alternative interpretations, as in the Confucian classics. Of course, to avoid boo-boos, much is clarified by hearing it aloud, with suitable stresses.

Indeed, reduplication, as in Rossini’s “stupefaction ensembles“, has all the more resonance for stammerers like me.

I like the personal reception histories of jokes. Just as I remember Pete McCarthy telling me his jazz bass solo joke on tour in the USA c2001, my Chinese fieldwork companions told me this one in Yanggao (north Shanxi, not Shaanxi!) back in 1991, as we were on the way to Greater Antan village to find the great Li Qing performing the Pardon ritual!

 

* The expression is not included in this fine list of terms and pronunciations in Shaanxi dialect—which also has some jokes.
I choose “bonk” both for its initial consonant and its relative gentility; this quaint UK usage enjoyed a rather brief heyday in my youth, supplanted in popular affection by “shag” and then…
For any “non-nationals” (as Myles had it) unfamiliar with these terms, Barry Humphries helpfully provides a wealth of colourful (if reprehensibly phallocentric—tut tut, one might say) Oz synonyms, also of their time, in the glossaries of his Barry Mackenzie books—such as “dip the wick”, “bury the pork sword”, and “exercise the ferret”.

 

 

 

 

No silver here

Cidi wuyin

Sinologists will know this one, but it’s rather fine, and can come in handy every so often.

Zhang the Third is worried someone will steal his hard-earned 300 taels of silver, so he puts it in a box and buries it in the earth near his house. But he’s still worried someone might dig it up—so just to be sure, he writes a note on the nearby wall:

此地无银三百两 Cidi wuyin sanbailiang
Here there is no silver, 300 taels

His neighbour Wang the Second comes along and sees the note. As he digs up the silver and takes it off, worried that Zhang might suspect him, he too writes a note:

隔壁王二不曾偷
It wasn’t Wang the Second next door that nicked it

Time for a cute kids’ cartoon:

Forms of address

*Not suitable for those of a sensitive disposition!*
[Red rag to a bull—Ed.]

This is one of the classic stories in our Fieldworkers’ joke manual, always coming to mind whenever some formal meeting prompts Chinese people to address me with the honorific nin 您 for “you” rather than the standard ni 你 (for a fine discussion, see here).

Dating from 1980s’ Beijing, the crucial pronouns of the story translate much less naturally into English than into other European languages, which still preserve the distinction between informal singular and honorific plural forms of the word for “you”:

So there’s this factory worker riding his rusty old bike home after his shift, trundling along in a daze. All of a sudden a big shiny Mercedes casually turns right just in front of him [as they do], and with no time to screech to a halt, the worker’s bike bumps into the gleaming car. As the chauffeur stops to inspect the damage, the furious worker leans over into the car and shouts,

“Your mother’s cunt!”
[Ni malegebi!]*

On behalf of the high-ranking Party apparatchik seated in the back, the chauffeur comes back with,

“Hey, comrade! How dare you speak so disrespectfully—don’t you realize there’s a VIP National Leader sitting in the back?”

Feigning an apology, the worker exclaims politely,

“Oh, I’m sooo sorry— I should have said, ‘Your esteemed… mother’s cunt!’
[Nin malegebi!]”

In Italian the variants might go “La fica di tua madre” and “La fica di vostra madre” (cf. the vocabulary of Burlesque-only—Oh, and La vaca t’ha fat, also featuring posh car…).

On an Academy of Ancient Music tour of the States around 2002, a couple of my mates enjoyed the story, and wanted to hear me telling it in Chinese. Rodolfo, amazing fiddle player from Brazil, thought it would work well in Brazilian Portuguese, so I talked him through it, and one evening as the band was gathered in an unsalubrious pub after a gig in Nebraska, he did a near-simultaneous translation while I told the Chinese version—which, beautifully, had ’em rolling in the aisles. It’s not the joke, it’s the way you tell it.

Among my Chinese mates this story is such a classic topos that now if I want to swear at one of them, all I have to do is mutter, “NIN…”

 

*For Miles, Keef, and Listen with motherfucker, see here. For some reason, Chinese bi is a tad less offensive than its English equivalent: see here.