Memoir, Uncategorized

Dad Jokes

There is a joke my father used to love to tell.

There’s an astronomer, a mathematician, and an engineer walking through a field in Scotland. They see a black sheep on a hill in front of them. The astronomer looks at the sheep and declares, “I conclude there are many black sheep in all of Scotland.” The mathematician shakes his head disapprovingly and says, “I conclude there is at least one black sheep in all of Scotland.” The engineer shakes her head and says, “I conclude that the sheep is black on the side facing us.”

When I was a kid, he explained it to me, and I didn’t get it. In my twenties, I got it, but didn’t think it was funny. Now, I both get it and think it’s funny.

The engineer can only swear to that which she can verify for sure. You don’t want to build a bridge assuming the pilings are thick enough. You want to measure, design, and plan to be sure. This is how copyeditors look at the words they are paid to edit. Is there a period there? There should be a period there. But is it actually there? Would you bet your paycheck on it?

All day I read scientific papers that might as well had been in a foreign language for all I understand them. This lack of comprehension means there is nothing to distract me from how these sentences are constructed. Eventually I become familiar with the vocabulary and although I do not know what the words mean, I learn what part of speech they are, how they tend to be used in a sentence and how they fit together. I am a structural engineer of language.

Do you think the joke is funny?


10 thoughts on “Dad Jokes”

  1. If we’re going to be accurate about our use of language, then I think the joke is witty, even humorous, but funny might be a bit of a stretch—although the post as a whole made me smile.

    PS. Did I use the em dash properly?


  2. It doesn’t usually work this way, but after you explained the joke and I got it, I smiled. I think I’m predestined to like that sort of thing.

    It reminds me of the one I taught my daughter when she was three. I found it in a newspaper article about a contest for bad jokes written by really smart people. (I wish I could remember the name of it.) An unsuspecting someone would listen to my daughter ask this joke in precise, measured toddler diction: “How many surrealist painters does it take to screw in a light bulb?”

    They’d look at me like I should be ashamed of myself. Then they’d dutifully ask her, “I don’t know. How many?”

    With a broad smile she’d say, “A fish!”

    One time a smartass smirked and asked if she knew why it was funny, as if I wouldn’t have explained it to her somehow. She said, “Surrealist painters don’t paint things the way they look. They paint them any way they want.” The perfect short answer even a toddler could understand.

    Now I’m smiling about that again. Thanks for sparking my memory by sharing yours.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re the only person I’ve met who knows this joke already, or likes it after they hear it! And I love your answer, too!

        Jas remembers the joke, though it had slipped her mind that I taught her why it was funny. (These days her mind is full of Organic Chemistry, graduating, and moving on to grad school soon, so cute kid stuff is probably getting pushed aside for the time being.)

        I just told her the story again while she was taking a little break from homework, and she laughed and gave me a hug. We’ve got the warm fuzzies. Thanks again!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I read a book (Finally It’s Friday) about a man’s work in proofreading newspaper print (in the days of linotype). He said those had had to proofread scientific material got paid more because they couldn’t rely on their unconscious understanding of words and sentences and had to pay attention to every single element. (Another reason I write fiction now: I can make up the rules.)


    1. That’s really interesting. In some ways it makes you a better copyeditor, because if you rely on your unconscious understanding you sometimes fill in words or elements that aren’t there.

      Although I am at a point where I have a subconscious understanding of SOME things. For example there is something in chemistry (don’t ask me what) that requires a small-cap “D,” so when I see a capital D attached to seeming gibberish in a chemistry paper I look around to see if it isn’t small capped elsewhere. It’s like playing Memory in a foreign language.


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