Monday, December 8, 2008

Why Telephone is Funny

by Julia Buckley
Remember the game called Telephone? The one where everyone at the slumber party sat in a line, and a message which originated with the first person was whispered to each individual and the last person had to say it out loud? The humor was in the fact that the message recited by the last person was horribly garbled--or it was supposed to be. That was the joke. According to Wikipedia, the game had many other names, including "Chinese Whispers, Russian Telephone, Stille Post, Broken Telephone, Crazy Telephone, operator, grapevine, whisper down the lane and Pass It Down." It is also suggested by this online encyclopedia that "It is often invoked as a metaphor for cumulative error, especially the inaccuracies as rumours or gossip spread, or, more generally, for the unreliability of human recollection."

I was thinking about the unreliability of human recollection today, because I remembered a couple of funny stories about my sons when they were little. Children provide many "telephone" moments because they'll repeat what they think they hear, and adults will giggle over the results.

The most common sources of fun are movies and television. When my son was about five or six, he was enamored with the new movie called TOY STORY. At one point Ham, (the piggy bank character), asks Buzz Lightyear about his cool belt. Buzz says, "Well, slotted pig, it's a standard issue." What my son heard? "Well, slaughtered pig, I have standard issues."

It's interesting that often the garbled version still makes sense, in its own way. :)

When my boys watched the cartoon Zorro, the characters provided much exciting swordplay, during which the hero would yell, "En garde!" Later, my boys reeanacted this with plastic weapons, yelling "I'm God!" at each other.

In another movie, the line "Eat your heart out, Mel Gibson!" became, to my son's untested ears, "Eat your hot dog, Mel Gibson!"

When my niece was young, she had telephone moments with songs on the radio. What Jamie had always sung as "Wah Claire's Got the Doolit" turned out to be "What's Love Got To Do With It," which was a Tina Turner hit when Jamie was four.

And "My Honored Cecile" was actually The GoGos' "Our Lips Are Sealed."

But it's not just children who fall into this auditory trap--oh no! My husband had a friend who not only believed that the Eagles had a song called "Down at the Sausage Grill," but that The Beach Boys had actually penned a tune called "Hep Devonda."

My husband also had a co-worker who had a habit of mangling phrases because they made more sense to him his way. Phrases like "Do my eyes believe me?" and "It never seems to amaze me."

I've got a million of them, but I'll bet you do, too! What are some of your favorite "telephone" stories?

Whisper down the lane and share them with us. :)


Sandra Parshall said...

Like a lot of kids, I sang Christmas carols without the slightest understanding of the words. For example, I was mystified by that line in "Silent Night" about Round John Virgin. Who was he? What did he have to do with Jesus being born? I assumed everybody else in the entire world understood, and I dared not ask and expose my ignorance. Only after reaching adulthood did I learn that I was not alone in my confusion.

Then there was the puzzle of Harold's angels... Thank goodness the first verse of that carol is usually all we hear in the US. My poor childhood mind would never have recovered if I'd had to stumble through the heavy stuff in the second and third verses.

Julia Buckley said...

That's hilarious, Sandra! It reminds me of the story of the kid who said the Pledge of Allegiance and asked who Richard Stanz was.

Or my own son, who liked to dance when he was little to the song "It's a Long Way to Tipperary," and when he heard the line, "Farewell, Leicester Square!" He asked, of course, "Who's Lester Square?"