By Sharon DelVento
By Sharon DelVento

     I never knew Steve all that well; mostly I ran into him at the library computers. But he always, without fail, had a joke or a horrible pun for me, and he always picked ones at which I wouldn’t take offense (I think we were at opposite ends of the political spectrum), and by which I would not be scandalized. 

My father was a sailor during World War II, and my parents spent fifteen years tending bar on Chicago’s South Side, so I know some pretty scandalous jokes myself, but I didn’t tell him that, because the “inappropriate line” is pretty thin, and sometimes you give a guy an inch and he’ll take a mile. I didn’t want to get him started down that path, because then it would have been my own fault if he totally grossed me out. Call me chauvinistic, but I think guys generally have a higher gross-out tolerance than gals.

I don’t know if Steve made these up himself, or got them off a website or from a book, but here are some of my favorites:

“I just finished reading a book on frogs.” “Really?” I would say. “Yeah,” he would say. “It was ribbitting!” (He would say the opening line with such a straight face that I was suckered in every time at first, thinking that the little schnook was serious. I gradually became warier, but he could still fake me out, on occasion.)

“What do you get when you cross a parakeet with a centipede? A walkie-talkie!”

“I’m at the metallic age: silver in the hair, gold in the teeth, and lead in the butt!”

“What do you get when you cross a snowman with vampire? Frostbite!”

“What do you call a grizzly without teeth? A gummy bear!”

My sister recently sent me a joke that I was waiting to spring on Steve when I saw him next, but he passed away before I could. Damn it. So this one’s for you, Steve:

“What does a thesaurus eat for breakfast? A synonym roll.”

People who hate puns think that they are the work of Satan, but I’ll bet you anything that Steve is floating around the Pearly Gates, making the seraphim giggle and the cherubim snort.

CORRECTIONS:  My previous article - the one on saying “Merry Christmas” - had one definite error on my part, and one debatable error on not-my-part. The quote at the end should have begun, “And therefore, uncle...”, not “And so, uncle”. That’s what happens when this old gal gets lazy and tries to quote from memory instead of looking things up.

The other - well, it involves the infamous Oxford comma. The original read, “...God, Mom, and apple pie,” which is exactly how I wanted it. It got changed to “God, Mom and apple pie,” likely because the newspaper’s auto-correct didn’t like the Oxford comma after “Mom”, and took an unwelcome hand (yes, it corrects punctuation too).

In all fairness, the Oxford comma is a bone of contention in many circles, for many grammarians and writers feel that it is quite unnecessary. But I would like to put forth in its favor this hypothetical book dedication from the Chicago Manual of Style: “With gratitude to my parents, the Pope and Mother Teresa.” Without a comma to separate them, you always run the risk of erroneously linking the two items on either side of the “and”; in this particular instance, it appears as if the Pope and Mother Teresa are the author’s parents. 

In a list of sandwiches, I am happy to leave out the comma in “peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” because those two do go together as a unit (and quite well, I might add), but I would be loath to yoke my mother to any culinary reference whatsoever without a barricade of some kind, because she disliked cooking in general and baking pie crusts in particular.

This year, be nice to your mom, and treat your Mother Tongue with respect, too.