English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Here it is:

It's your brother's MR. T PUPPET, which of course is kept in the apartment with a sense of profound humorous irony. But as usual with your BRO's exploits, this is no ordinary irony, or anything close to a pedestrian TIER 1 IRONIC GESTURE which is a meager single step removed from sincerity. This is like ten levels of irony removed from the original joke. It might have been funny like eight years ago to joke about Mr. T and how he was sort of lame, but that was the very thing that made him awesome and badass, and that his awesomeness was also sort of the joke. But in this case, the joke is the joke, and that degree of irony itself is ALSO the joke, and so on.

The first line is easy to understand, after that I can't make heads or tails of it.

Source: http://www.mspaintadventures.com/?s=6&p=002348

share|improve this question
Please include sources for any quotations. Also, if you cannot understand this paragraph you might be better off asking at English Learners Stack Exchange. – terdon May 16 '13 at 16:28
Please edit the original question to include the source rather than posting it as a comment. – Kyle Strand May 16 '13 at 17:00
This is a duplicate of an ELL question: I can't understand the paragraph given below. It's a complex pun [closed] – jwpat7 May 16 '13 at 19:50
urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=overanalysis .I'm reminded of the Charles Addams joke showing the skier leaving ski-tracks that managed somehow to split around a large tree. (cyberneticinc.com/cgi/the-skier-addams ) If it drove a person mad, they weren't accepted as trainee pilots. (Mind you, Addams was funny.) – Edwin Ashworth May 17 '13 at 8:14
In what sense is this a pun? In any case, as this question is now put, it's a request for literary criticism and so off topic per the FAQ. If you have a specific question that can't be answered using a general reference work and requires expert assistance, please rephrase to make clear what the problem is. – MετάEd May 17 '13 at 22:20

Your quotation from mspaintadventures reminds me of Soren Kierkegaard's "take" on irony. In his The Theory of Irony, With Constant Reference to Socrates, Kierkgegaard uses the phrase "infinite absolute negativity" (see http://www.academia.edu/769198/Hegel_contra_Schlegel_Kierkegaard_contra_de_Man). I am probably over-simplifying, but one application of that mouthful-of-a-phrase is to the type of ironic expression that is difficult--if not impossible--to "unpack."

An illustrations might help. There is a hilarious and at the same time poignant scene in the film "Little Big Man," starring Dustin Hoffman. Prior to the Battle of Little Big Horn, Hoffman (i.e., Little Big Man, in his role as an "Indian" scout in this particular scene) is asked by Custer (played by Richard Mulligan),

"Well, muleskinner"--Custer's nickname for Little Big Man, "Should I go into the valley with my troops or not?"

Little Big Man thinks for a moment and then says (my paraphrase),

"Colonel, you go into that valley, but you'll find more than just hapless women and children there. You'll find brave young warriors who will render you and your army nothing but a big greasy spot."

Of course we all know what happens. Custer's hubris gets the best of him, he goes into battle, and he becomes a greasy spot. Prior to his demise, however, Custer begins talking to himself in the presence of Little Big Man, who has been wounded in the battle. In his little tirade, Custer remonstrates with Little Big Man for giving him bad advice by encouraging him to go into battle. Convinced of Little Big Man's duplicity, Custer says (and I paraphrase):

You wanted me to think that you didn't want me to go into battle by telling me to go into battle. But I saw through you. You thought that I thought you were telling me not to go into battle by telling me to go into battle, when all along you didn't want me to go into battle."

This confusing little tirade points out how the "failure to Commun'cate" (to quote the warden of the chain gang--Strother Martin--in "Cool Hand Luke") can stem from what we infer is ironic communication when in fact it is not.

When someone gives us what we infer to be a "zinger," we might just pause before we lash out and say to ourselves,

"Now, is he just being facetious with me, or did he really mean to insult me? Hmmm. Maybe he wants me to think he's being facetious, when all along he's being quite serious. On the other hand, maybe he thinks that I think he's being cute with me, when in reality he wants me to think he isn't, but he knows he really is. No, that can't be right. If he thinks that I think he's being cute with me, when in fact he is not, then perhaps I should retaliate with a snarky riposte. But what if he is being facetious? If I do return the snarky comment, then he might think that I can't take a joke, which of course I can, unless he really did mean to insult me, in which case my response would be appropriate. On the other hand . . .."

This second-guessing of oneself illustrates what Kierkegaard meant by "infinite absolute negativity." Ironic communication, as I said, can be interpreted this way when taken to an extreme. That's why the writer you quoted says "this is not ordinary irony" but "ten steps removed from the original joke." Where does our analysis of a communication end, if ever? I for one am not willing to go the route of poststructuralism and say that words have no absolute meaning but are subject to an unlimited range of interpretations. I am sufficiently realistic, however, to know that communication is an imperfect medium of "thought transfer," and sometimes there are layers of meaning and sometimes there are not. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and not a phallus, and sometimes a cigar is a phallus!

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.