Supposed to be a Joke #2

Packard

Senior Member
USA, English
I wrote last week:

One of the most difficult writing tasks I find myself undertaking is writing for non-native speakers.

I have to avoid complex sentence structures, unusual words, and obscure idioms; and all the while I have to sound like I am not speaking down to the reader. Very difficult.

Amongst the most difficult things to write for a non-native speakers (AE or BE) are jokes. Even if the reader understands all the words, they often don’t “get” the joke.

So this is an exercise on my part. I will write out a joke with the intention of reaching the non-native English speakers. If you fit in that category, please comment.

I am making things a bit easier for myself. I have selected a joke that does not rely on word-play or a pun. Here goes:


I heard this joke on National Public Radio (NPR); I am working from memory but I think I can pull this off.


A press release from the U.S. Forestry service:

There have been several confrontations between grizzly bears and campers lately with disastrous consequences.

It is recommended that campers take precautions when camping in bear country.

First, it is important that you never startle a grizzly bear. For that reason it is recommended that you wear small bells on your wrists to let the bears know in advance that you are nearby.

Second, keep some pepper spray on hand. If an attack is imminent, spray the pepper gas in the bear's eyes. This will temporarily blind the bear and allow for your escape.

Additionally campers should know the signs of bears in the area. If you see tree bark scratched of of the sides of trees above 6 feet, you can be sure that there are bears nearby.

Campers should learn to differentiate between droppings from black or brown bears (who rarely attack) and grizzlies which will attack humans.

The droppings from brown or black bears will be smaller and darker than the ones from grizzlies. They will frequently have small wild berries in them.

The droppings from grizzlies, on the other hand, are larger and lighter in color and frequently have small bells and smell like pepper.

(For those who are not certain that they "get" this joke, an explanation is provided here: http://forum.wordreference.com/private.php?do=showpm&pmid=816859)

Please comment on ways that I could improve the writing to non-native speakers.
 
  • Trisia

    Senior Member
    Romanian
    What exactly are we supposed to comment on, again?

    Well, I guess this being a so-called radio announcement, it's supposed to have an official tone, so you're off the hook regarding the contractions issue.

    I personally find this sentence to be redundant. It's funny on its own, but adds little to the joke itself. As a matter of fact, it only makes it longer, therefore, tedious.

    Additionally campers should know the signs of bears in the area. If you see tree bark scratched of of the sides of trees above 6 feet, you can be sure that there are bears nearby.
    Not one I'd tell my business partners, but I guess it is a joke, and you can "get it", yes.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    What exactly are we supposed to comment on, again?

    Well, I guess this being a so-called radio announcement, it's supposed to have an official tone, so you're off the hook regarding the contractions issue.

    I personally find this sentence to be redundant. It's funny on its own, but adds little to the joke itself. As a matter of fact, it only makes it longer, therefore, tedious.

    Not one I'd tell my business partners, but I guess it is a joke, and you can "get it", yes.

    My error. I added this:
    Please comment on ways that I could improve the writing to non-native speakers.
     

    TheAmzngTwinWndr

    Senior Member
    United States
    I don't see how a non-native speaker would not get this. There are no English idioms or anything like that in it. You just have to connect the last sentence with the beginning.

    By the way, I like this one, it's pretty clever.
     

    Trisia

    Senior Member
    Romanian
    I gave this another thought. I'm not sure who you're trying to reach, so I tried to think like an intermediate user. I came up with the following (but I may be wrong):

    I heard this joke on National Public Radio (NPR); I am working from memory but I think I can pull this off.:D


    A press release from the U.S. Forestry service:

    There have been several confrontations between grizzly bears and campers lately, with disastrous/terrible consequences.

    It is recommended that campers take precautions when camping in bear country.

    First, it is important that you never startle a grizzly bear. For that reason, it is recommended/we recommend (Although official documents tend to do this, use of passive voice is not really advisable) that you wear small bells on your wrists, to let the bears know in advance that you are nearby.

    Second, keep some pepper spray on hand/with you [at all times]. If an attack is imminent, spray the pepper gas in the bear's eyes. This will temporarily blind the bear and allow for your/give you time to escape.

    Additionally, campers should know the signs of bears in the area. If you see tree bark scratched off of the sides of trees above 6 feet/trees scrached on the sides, at more than 6 feet [altitude? Hmmm], you can be sure that there are bears nearby.

    Campers should learn to differentiate between droppings from black or brown bears (who rarely attack), and grizzlies which will attack humans.

    The droppings from brown or black bears will be smaller and darker than the ones from grizzlies. They will frequently have small wild berries in them.

    The droppings from grizzlies, on the other hand, are larger and lighter in color and frequently have small bells and smell like pepper.

    (For those who are not certain that they "get" this joke, an explanation is provided here: http://forum.wordreference.com/private.php?do=showpm&pmid=816859)

    Please comment on ways that I could improve the writing to non-native speakers.

    The reason I added so many commas (I think there might be room for more) is that non-natives may be confused. Try reading the phrases one word at a time, you'll see what I'm talking about. I've seen it happen on the forums lots of times. I'm not saying we'd start a thread asking what "additionally campers" means, but it will take a bit longer and that takes all the fun out of a joke.

    By the way, I don't think that link works.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I gave this another thought. I'm not sure who you're trying to reach, so I tried to think like an intermediate user. I came up with the following (but I may be wrong):




    The reason I added so many commas (I think there might be room for more) is that non-natives may be confused. Try reading the phrases one word at a time, you'll see what I'm talking about. I've seen it happen on the forums lots of times. I'm not saying we'd start a thread asking what "additionally campers" means, but it will take a bit longer and that takes all the fun out of a joke.

    By the way, I don't think that link works.
    Your comments all make sense. I will watch for them in the future. It is not easy writing for non-natives in business. In the beginning I used just simple, declarative sentences. These were easily understood, but sounded like I was writing "down" to them. This was a problem because it is insulting to write down to someone. I feel my skills in this area have improved, but clearly I need to watch some of the more common idioms.

    The link is a Private Message that I sent to myself with the explanation of the joke. It was the only way I could figure to provide this information without actually posting it here.
     

    Cader Idris

    Senior Member
    Wales English
    This might be somewhat off-topic, but is this meant to be a joke or a "funny story". To my way of thinking, a joke would be a lot shorter. :confused:
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    This might be somewhat off-topic, but is this meant to be a joke or a "funny story". To my way of thinking, a joke would be a lot shorter. :confused:
    There is a entire class of jokes called "Shaggy Dog Jokes". These are long, drawn out affairs with lots of details and usually culminates with a very silly punchline. Some comedians can drag out a shaggy dog joke for 15 minutes or more. The humor is more in the telling than in the punchline. Much like a cruise is more about the trip than the destination.

    In any case, I don't think there is a meaningful difference between a funny story and a joke. To me they are variations on the same thing.
     

    Cader Idris

    Senior Member
    Wales English
    There is a entire class of jokes called "Shaggy Dog Jokes". These are long, drawn out affairs with lots of details and usually culminates with a very silly punchline. Some comedians can drag out a shaggy dog joke for 15 minutes or more. The humor is more in the telling than in the punchline. Much like a cruise is more about the trip than the destination.

    In any case, I don't think there is a meaningful difference between a funny story and a joke. To me they are variations on the same thing.
    I have never come across the phrase "Shaggy Dog Jokes" in BE.
    "Shaggy Dog Stories" certainly, but I think we would call something that went on for 15 minutes or more something different entirely (the whole act, perhaps? :D)
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I have never come across the phrase "Shaggy Dog Jokes" in BE.
    "Shaggy Dog Stories" certainly, but I think we would call something that went on for 15 minutes or more something different entirely (the whole act, perhaps? :D)

    I did a Google search for

    Shaggy Dog Stories - 171,000 entries

    Shaggy Dog Jokes - 105,000 entries


    Here is the defintion from Answers.com


    shag·gy-dog story (shăg'ē-dôg', -dŏg')
    n. Informal.
    A long, drawn-out anecdote ending with an absurd or anticlimactic punch line.
     

    Macunaíma

    Senior Member
    português, Brasil
    Packard, I think it's very thoughtful of you to worry about non-native speakers being able to grasp what you write, but I don't think that's a big issue, really. Our capacity to understand complex language is often understimated because native speakers tend to assess our English by the way we express ourselves, and as every student of a foreign language knows, one of the most frustrating things we have to deal with after we've reached a certain level is understanding complex language, having a reasonable passive vocabulary, but being unable to produce but poor English. Lack of practice, I guess. So, by writing naturally, without worries whether we are following, you'll be giving us your best, and we can always re-read you sentences after all! Having said that, I don't agree that it's offensive if you simplify your language so that you can be more easily understood. We are all here to learn and confusing not knowing with humiliation is something only really, really stupid and arrogant people would do. They will more likely find it kind of you, even though they realize their English is better than you assumed at first. And as for the joke, yes, I got it without having to read twice :)

    Macunaíma
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    Packard, I think it's very thoughtful of you to worry about non-native speakers being able to grasp what you write, but I don't think that's a big issue, really. Our capacity to understand complex language is often understimated because native speakers tend to assess our English by the way we express ourselves, and as every student of a foreign language knows, one of the most frustrating things we have to deal with after we've reached a certain level is understanding complex language, having a reasonable passive vocabulary, but being unable to produce but poor English. Lack of practice, I guess. So, by writing naturally, without worries whether we are following, you'll be giving us your best, and we can always re-read you sentences after all! Having said that, I don't agree that it's offensive if you simplify your language so that you can be more easily understood. We are all here to learn and confusing not knowing with humiliation is something only really, really stupid and arrogant people would do. They will more likely find it kind of you, even though they realize their English is better than you assumed at first. And as for the joke, yes, I got it without having to read twice :)

    Macunaíma

    I recall writing to a customer in "East Africa" as the customer referred to it, although that is not a country at all.

    I wrote, "We are anxious to hear your response". Meaning that we were awaiting his response with great anticipation.

    He wrote back:

    "I would never respond in a way to make you anxious. We wish to be polite and will respond in a polite way."

    Ever since that time I have written to non-natives with greater care.
     
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