The Grammar of Funny

In June ‘09, Emma Kat Richardson interviewed me for Wisecrack: Feminism and Comedy in a piece entitled Jen Dziura: Spelling Out Success in Comedy.

I was reminded of this when I posted on Twitter:

Pedantry lesson: If you are unwilling to end a sentence with a preposition, it’s hard to ask someone if they want to make out.

Before I hit “Tweet,” I seriously paused over the fact that “someone” is a singular indefinite pronoun, and as such can be the antecedent of “he or she,” but not “they.” But “he or she” kind of killed the funny, and I need all the help I can get.

Once I posted, I received the following replies:

Are colloquialisms such as “make out” exempt from the ‘don’t end a sentence with a preposition’ rule?

I’m pretty sure that “make out” acts grammatically as the verb in such a sentence and would therefore be just as correct as a sentence ending in any other verb, i.e. run, walk, etc.

The “out” of “make out” is not a preposition. It’s part of the verb “make out.” It’s a verb particle. You can tell by asking yourself what the object of the preposition is. Make out of what? There is no possible object, thus it is not a preposition.

That’s why you ask to suck face. Problem solved.

(Thanks to Daniel, Daniel, Natasha, and Theda).

Emma Kat asked me a question in the interview about the intersection of comedy and spelling (I co-host an adult spelling bee in Brooklyn). And thus:

W: Is there an inherent relationship between good spelling and good comedy? How are the two connected?

JD: I’m not sure about spelling, but there’s a strong correlation between irregular grammar and comedy. For instance, just take a basic joke form such as the “your mom” joke. Compare:

What I love about your mom are (noun), (noun), and (insulting noun).

What I love about your mom are (noun), (noun), and (insulting independent clause).

Both forms have a “surprise” at the end in that the third item in the list does not actually belong in a list of things the speaker loves about the subject, but the first joke template obeys the principle of grammatical parallelism and, despite the nouns chosen, will likely end up only moderately funny; the second violates the conventions of grammatical parallelism, and is thereby already funnier. Try it!

Another good example — the other day, I made some vegan ravioli for myself, and they were kind of hideously green, due to some kind of spinach pasta situation. Also, they had come apart in the pot a little bit and were leaking things like peas and beans. My boyfriend looked over and said, “Oh look, you made boiled terribles!”

It was such a funny comment because “terrible,” of course, isn’t a noun. I don’t think “boiled disasters,” for instance, would have been as funny at all; a great part of the humor was in the surprising (and technically incorrect) diction.

Do you agree? Does dubious grammar make good comedy?

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • email
  • Twitter
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • RSS
  • Add to favorites
  • Facebook
  • MisterWong
  • Netvibes

Comments (3)


  1. [...] A new post on Ladybits — does violating the rules of grammatical parallelism augment the funny? [...]

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by jendziura, Ladybits Comedy. Ladybits Comedy said: A new post is up! The Grammar of Funny: [...]

  3. [...] a previous post here on Ladybits, I wrote about how, sometimes, phrasing something in its funniest form requires [...]

Leave a Reply