“I was just looking at my ceiling. Not sure if it’s the best ceiling in the world, but it’s definitely up there.” ~ Dad
A couple of years ago Ashley Fetters, a writer for The Atlantic took a good long look at dad jokes. If you want to see what a serious journalist can do with a serious subject, this is your go-to article. You won’t finish it.
Many varieties of jokes that get called dad jokes. Many dad jokes operate on “anti-humor,” or the deliberate denial of a clever punch line: “What did the farmer say when he lost his tractor? ‘Where’s my tractor?’” Others boil down to just playful, willful misunderstanding of a situation, for seemingly no reason. My granddad, for example, liked to pretend he thought my name was Mildred. (It is not.)
But if there’s one feature that can immediately categorize a joke as a “dad joke,” it’s wordplay, especially of the unsophisticated variety. Examples: “Hey, do you know what time my dentist appointment is? Tooth-hurty.” “You know why they always build fences around cemeteries? Because people are dying to get in.” The purposeful confusion of “smart feller” and “fart smeller.” This famous exchange: “I’m hungry.” “Hi, Hungry. I’m Dad.”
We interrupt this blog post to give you a break. Don’t worry. We’ll put you back together.
Stanley Dubinsky, an English professor at the University of South Carolina and the father of two young-adult sons, is a frequent deployer of dad jokes, mostly of the non-pun variety; he likes to deliberately mispronounce words sometimes, just to hear his kids groan and scoff exasperatedly. Dubinsky’s also a linguist and the co-author of the book Understanding Language Through Humor, and as he explains it, there’s a particular type of wordplay that gives a joke the dubious distinction of being a dad joke.
Polysemy, derived from the Greek terms for “many” and “signs,” is the coexistence of several meanings or uses for the same word. And as Dubinsky explains, dying to get in demonstrates the polysemy of the word dying by implying that someone is eager or desirous rather than in the act of perishing. “Most jokes rely on some semantic ambiguity or grammatical ambiguity,” Dubinsky says. “The things people call ‘dad jokes’ are the ones where the ambiguity is crushingly obvious.”
Fetters helpfully provides sources for dad jokes.
The Reddit page r/dadjokes, a forum where users go to share and enjoy “the jokes that make you laugh and cringe in equal measure,” has more than 1 million subscribers and amasses several new posts every hour. The online video series Dad Jokes, which pits comedians and celebrities against each other in dad-joke-telling competitions where “if you laugh you lose,” launched in 2017 and today has some 999,000 followers on Facebook. Twitter users, meanwhile, frequently call each other (and themselves) out for their simplest and squeaky-cleanest puns by tweeting “#dadjoke.”
There you go: public service journalism
“My wife is really mad at the fact that I have no sense of direction. So I packed up my stuff and right!” ~ Dad