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Part I: Esperanto Grammar

Chapter 18. Verbal Play

*-For more on Esperanto humor, see my 1988 article, “Esperanto: the international language of humor; or, What's funny about Esperanto?” Humor: International Journal of Humor Research 1(2): 143-157.

Because language is a particularly salient issue for most Esperanto speakers, and therefore often surfaces as a topic of common interest, there is a good deal of self-consciousness in Esperanto speech, leading, of course, to verbal gaming.*

Some jokes involve extending the paradigms of Esperanto to create implausible but (often) theoretically possible forms:

Vi kiomas? Ni trias.
= How many are you? We’re three.
Vi kieis dum tiom da tempo? Subetaĝis mi.
= Where were you all this time? I was downstairs.
Kies estas la libro? Johanes.
= Whose is the book? John’s.
Kio jenas en mia poŝo? Ĉu melaso? Diable! Daĉjo!
= What’s this in my pocket? Molasses?! Damn! Davey!

Some of these forms even attain a kind of concise elegance:

Eĉ pafote silentadus li.
= He would remain silent even if he were about to be shot.

Others are silly because of their deliberately unmanageable length:

Li estas bibliotekistinidetaĉo.
= He is the brattish little son of a lady librarian.

A particularly common (if childish) game is the ridiculous over-extension of the prefix mal-. The creation of frivolous “opposites” has been invented over and over in the course of Esperanto history.

Vi volas sendi dek elefantojn al Usono? Maljen problemo!
= You want to send ten elephants to the United States? No problem!
Maliru malnek malfeku! Malprenu la maldian malelefanton malel la malhundo
= Come and eat! Leave the damned mouse to the cat.

Other jokes satirize individuals or organizations prominent in the Esperanto movement. They are funny or not depending upon how stuck-in-the-mud you are, but they fall beyond the scope of this book. The point is that jokes abound, and if something seems jarring, offensive, or even unintelligible, one possibility is that it is a well-intentioned joke. When nothing makes any sense at all, a vague smile is probably your best defense. (But then, you already knew that.)


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