I come from Des Moines. 'Someone had to.'

newname

Senior Member
Vietnamese
This is an extract from The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson
"I come from Des Moines. Someone had to. When you come from Des Moines you either accept the fact ....(In summary, once you come to DM, you will never leave it.)"

I don't know what the author means by "someone had to"

Thank you.
 
  • owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    This is an extract from The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson
    "I come from Des Moines. Someone had to. When you come from Des Moines you either accept the fact ....(In summary, once you come to DM, you will never leave it.)"

    I don't know what the author means by "someone had to"

    Thank you.
    This is a joke, New Name. By saying "someone had to", Bryson tells us that Des Moines is not a good place to live.
     

    newname

    Senior Member
    Vietnamese
    This is a joke, New Name. By saying "someone had to", Bryson tells us that Des Moines is not a good place to live.

    Many thanks Owlman5.

    I was confused at first. Because Bill later wrote, "Hardly anyone leaves. This is because DM is the most powerful hypnotic known to man."

    Bill probably meant to say that he was born there while somebody (his ancestors and other first settlers) were forced to come to DM. He was perhaps expressing his implicit gratitude?:eek:

    Am I right?
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    If the dishes need to be washed, and no one wants to do it, we say things like, "I'll wash the dishes. Someone has to." It's the way we talk about an unpleasant duty the needs to be done.

    Here, the joke consists of pretending that coming from Des Moines is an unpleasant thing to do, like doing the dishes. Bryson is pretending that he was raised in Des Moines by choice, out of a sense of duty, because "someone had to [be from Des Moines]."
     

    newname

    Senior Member
    Vietnamese
    If the dishes need to be washed, and no one wants to do it, we say things like, "I'll wash the dishes. Someone has to." It's the way we talk about an unpleasant duty the needs to be done.

    Here, the joke consists of pretending that coming from Des Moines is an unpleasant thing to do, like doing the dishes. Bryson is pretending that he was raised in Des Moines by choice, out of a sense of duty, because "someone had to [be from Des Moines]."
    Thank you very much. But I still cannot see what you mean by the underlined phrase. What is so humorous if someone had to be from Des Moines while Bryson comes from it? Our sense of humour is different, don't you think?
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Humour is usually diminished if the joke has to be explained, even for native speakers. If you add on top of that the language challenges for a learner, there will often be no humour left! Then there is a cultural factor where social concepts in one culture do not exist or are different in another: if the humour lies in understanding some aspect of that, the humour may just not work. In this case it is based on the concept that a large proportion of Americans think Des Moines is in the middle of nowhere and is an undesirable place to live (it has that reputation, at least). So, for them it's something unimaginable that people do live there. Often people in such a place are nevertheless proud to be from there, and defy the reputation. Bryson is not proud but rather resigned, almost ashamed, to confess his origin. Some of those concepts may be foreign to you and it's likely you did not know of the reputation, so it would't seem humorous. I'm sure there would be humour in your native language/culture that I would miss for the same reasons. The basic meaning of the sentence is simple logic: Des Moines exists and people live there; therefore, some people must (have to) come from there.
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    Thank you very much. But I still cannot see what you mean by the underlined phrase. What is so humorous if someone had to be from Des Moines while Bryson comes from it? Our sense of humour is different, don't you think?
    I think the issues JulienStuart explains have a lot to do with it.

    I also see that I wasn't clear in my explanation of the phrase "Someone had to do it". When Bryson says this he doesn't mean that someone else had to be from Des Moines. He means that it was an unpleasant thing that had to be done by someone, so he volunteered to be the "someone". He did it so that no one else would have to do such an unpleasant thing.

    (I wonder whether this helps.)

    The joking use of "someone had to do it" and variations on it is something like a fixed phrase.
     
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    djmc

    Senior Member
    English - United Kingdom
    I don't know about Des Moines, In England one might say "I come from Wigan (I apologise in advance to those from Wigan, and indeed I have lived in Swindon which can similarly be defined as a hole). The expression is sometimes used in the reverse way. "Well I work as a restaurant critic (substitute other profession other people can only dream of), I suppose someone has to do these things.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Thanks dj
    I think that illustrates that this is not solely language thing: If someone in the US read "I come from Swindon, someone had to." they would initially be as baffled as someone who doesn't know of Des Moines's reputation but is nonetheless a native English speaker. However, familiarity with the idioms involved would make a lot of UK people think that Des Moines had the US equivalent reputation to Swindon (or wherever one picks on) in the UK, and would be able to appreciate the humour. The fact that the book starts with this sentence makes its appeal, with no preamble or explanation, more widespread - those familiar with Des Moines will already know, and those familiar with the idiom will think of Swindon, or wherever, and both audiences will chuckle.
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    Interesting question. I think that the humour is in the fact that actually no one has to. If it were really that bad then no one would have settled there, or they would have moved away long ago.

    I know nothing at all about Des Moines (apart from wondering in the past whether it's pronounced like the French or not) but I think I would have got the joke just from the phrase used. I wouldn't necessarily even assume it was such a terrible place - it sounds like a self-deprecating thing you can say about many things. For example, in "I like collecting jam jars, someone has to!"* the speaker is aware of the fact that others will think that this is a weird thing to do, but he likes it and of course there isn't really anything forcing him to collect jam jars - it's purely voluntary!

    *(I don't, this is just an example!)
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Interesting question. I think that the humour is in the fact that actually no one has to. If it were really that bad then no one would have settled there, or they would have moved away long ago.
    Many levels in this opening sentence, I see! If you're born there you have no choice. Undertones of "it IS that bad but people settled there anyway, and I had to be born here".
    I know nothing at all about Des Moines (apart from wondering in the past whether it's pronounced like the French or not) but I think I would have got the joke just from the phrase used. I wouldn't necessarily even assume it was such a terrible place - it sounds like a self-deprecating thing you can say about many things. For example, in "I like collecting jam jars, someone has to!"* the speaker is aware of the fact that others will think that this is a weird thing to do, but he likes it and of course there isn't really anything forcing him to collect jam jars - it's purely voluntary!

    *(I don't, this is just an example!)
    (It's duh moin to rhyme with coin)
    Agreed about other uses, and self-deprecation is often used a humorous activity, but he wasn't a volunteer.

    (So you collect jam-jars in Swindon, huh? :D )
     

    newname

    Senior Member
    Vietnamese
    Bryson is not proud but rather resigned, almost ashamed, to confess his origin. Some of those concepts may be foreign to you and it's likely you did not know of the reputation, so it would't seem humorous. I'm sure there would be humour in your native language/culture that I would miss for the same reasons. The basic meaning of the sentence is simple logic: Des Moines exists and people live there; therefore, some people must (have to) come from there.
    Julian, I agree with you that he sounds resigned, but only from "I come from Des Moines" to "and ever" (The first paragraph)
    But then comes this very baffling one:
    "Hardly anyone leaves. This is because Des Moines is the most powerful hypnotic to man. ... But the place gets a grip on you. People who have nothing to do with Des Moines drive in off the interstate, looking for gas or hamburgers, and stay forever."

    My reasoning is if Des Moines were that bad: that someone had/has to come from it, why would a passer-by want to stay forever?

    I also see that I wasn't clear in my explanation of the phrase "Someone had to do it". When Bryson says this he doesn't mean that someone else had to be from Des Moines. He means that it was an unpleasant thing that had to be done by someone, so he volunteered to be the "someone". He did it so that no one else would have to do such an unpleasant thing.
    Thanks Cagey. I understood you, then I reread and got stuck with my above reasoning. Now that I have remembered we, Vietnamese, also say things along a similar line "I am doing the washing-up. if I didn't, who would " (My mum will say this when I tell her to let my sister do the washing-up. ) I am quite comfortable with this phrase of "someone had to" now.

    Howerver, I would not think it is a joke. It might be merely that he feels he is lucky he lives in a good Des Moines while someone (the early settlers) (had to) lived a hard life there.
     

    Harry Batt

    Senior Member
    USA English
    It goes back to a universal joke and means the same thing. That joke goes like this:
    Texas is a great place to be from, but a terrible place to live in. You can interchange the name of any place you like.
     

    Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    I also think there is an obvious connection with: It's a tough job but somebody has to do it. Because we know the expression, applying it to something new -- like Des Moines -- can have amusing possibilities.

    And as djmc said in post 10: The expression is sometimes used in the reverse way. I'm a photographer for Playboy -- it's a tough job but somebody has to do it.

    I grew up in the Midwest and traveled all over -- but never to Des Moines. Nobody I know has ever been to Des Moines. It has that sort of reputation.

    Another passage to like from The Lost Continent, which I've read three times over the years: I had forgotten just how flat and empty it is. Stand on two phone books almost anywhere in Iowa and you get a view.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    I have concentrated on the first sentences only. There is humour there as we have explained. After that, Bryson gets a bit more serious and explains that it's not as bad as his first joke would lead you to believe. That explanation does not change the fact that we already laughed! You can't unring a bell. This is just how he writes his travelogues.
     

    newname

    Senior Member
    Vietnamese
    There is humour there as we have explained. After that, Bryson gets a bit more serious and explains that it's not as bad as his first joke would lead you to believe.
    Thank you very much Julian and all others who have helped me. (I think I should read more to be able to appreciate your sense of humour.)
     
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