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This problem has plagued me occasionally, and I'm finally asking: What is the proper grammar (specifically, verb use and capitalization) in the following pun situation?

The only Windows I want to hear about is the operating system.

It's being used in a written place. If I am, in fact, referring to the OS, I should capitalize Windows, but I don't necessarily want to give away the joke at the very beginning of the sentence; additionally, I don't know whether I should use "is" (which would be correct for the OS), or "are" (which would be correct for multiple glass surfaces out of which a person can look).

I realize it's a fairly absurd situation, but I still want to do it correctly.

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+1 for the alliteration in the title. I was hoping for a consistent continuation of the theme when I saw "problem" and "plagued", but I guess I can't get everything I hope for ;-) –  Joachim Sauer Sep 14 '11 at 8:54
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At some point I probably needed to pose the problem properly ;) –  Rae Sep 14 '11 at 13:33
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Completely off-topic but three years ago, Microsoft launched a huge ad campaign called "Life Without Walls". I wonder if anyone but me noticed that in a life without walls, you don't need Windows. –  Malvolio Sep 15 '11 at 8:19
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@Malvolio i've always believed paradise had no fences or walls, thus no need for windows or gates. –  JoeTaxpayer Feb 19 at 1:47

5 Answers 5

up vote 6 down vote accepted

You're correct that capitalizing Windows gives away the joke. Since the joke is the whole purpose of the sentence, leave it in lowercase. I'm sure everyone will forgive you for your laxness in the case of one proper noun.

You should use the verb is because, in the end, the word windows should be understood to refer to the operating system. So it should be kept grammatically correct for that reading. Also, you might consider changing "is the" to "is an." The singular article would reinforce the singular verb.

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I'm thinking lowercase and "is" too. Still contemplating "is the" versus "is an." It's rather tempting to just reword it. –  Rae Sep 17 '11 at 1:36

In your sentence, you only ever refer to the Windows operating system. You never explicitly refer to the common noun "windows"--that reference is only created in the mind of the listener. So to be strictly grammatically correct, I think you would keep your sentence the way it is.

I'm not an expert grammarian, however, and perhaps grammatical exceptions can be made for puns. And of course, it's your joke, so you should feel free to write it however you want to. :)

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This is, I believe, a homographic pun, in which the spelling played with, is the fact that "windows" is a capitonym. A capitonym's meaning changes when the word is capitalized.

Thus, in the sentence you provided, when the author first writes "Windows", the reader immediately believes that the this is referring to the company Microsoft Windows's products, which are often shortened to "Windows"

However, "windows" has an alternative meaning:

A rectangular area on a computer terminal or screen containing some kind of user interface, displaying the output of and allowing input for one of a number of simultaneously running computer processes.

Thus, when the author writes that the only computer terminal or screen he wants to hear about, is the operating system.

That's where the pun lies, the fact that there are several meanings for "windows", and the meaning changes as the word is capitalized.

Edit: The proper grammar is as written up there, and using "is" would be correct, as "windows" is a singular noun (although it looks plural). It's singular because it only refers to one thing.

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So that's the explanation of the pun but where's the answer to the question: What's the proper grammar? –  Hugo Sep 14 '11 at 5:22
    
If I can have several windows open on my desktop or just one window, then clearly it's a plural. It's only singular when you're talking about the MS product. –  Lisa Sep 28 '11 at 1:14

To be grammatically correct, and yet not give away the joke prematurely, say:

The only kind of "windows" I want to hear about is the operating system.

Using "kind" sidesteps the whole is or are issue, and I added the quotation marks because without them the joke sounded rather dry when read.

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I'm not going with this one, but +1 for attempting a rewording to help me out. It definitely works - though I'd skip the quotes, myself. –  Rae Sep 17 '11 at 1:34

How about recreating the pun in a newly minted form so it's not only avoids the problem altogether but may even be mildly amusing:

The only windows I ever get to clean are virus-ridden operating systems.

Or, to be closer to the original

The only windows I want to hear about are Microsoft operating systems.

After all there are many flavours of MS Windows these days.

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