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I know it’s boorish and unsophisticated to ask why it is funny on a joke, but I venture to ask.

New York Times’ theater review (May 20) of “Old Jews telling jokes” carried the following Jewish jokes;

’They’re, going to sell a talking doll of my mother,’ goes a setup, ‘You pull the string and it says, ‘Again with the string?’ Another one: ‘Why don’t Jewish mothers drink?’ ‘They don’t want to dull the pain.’ .

I understand the spirit of the second joke, but I don’t understand what ‘Again with a string’ of the first joke means, and why this line is ‘typically’ funny.

Does it have something to do with the idiom, ‘no string attached’?

It’s always difficult for a foreigner to get an idea of the meaning of foreign jokes, whatever it is Jewish, American, Irish, or Russian. Can somebody tell me what the essence of humor of ‘Again with the string’ is?’

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2 Answers 2

up vote 17 down vote accepted

The joke is a mild and uncomplicated one. The idea is that you pull the string and the doll kvetches (complains) about it. "Again with the x" is just an idiomatically Yiddish way of complaining.

Nothing to do with "no strings attached".

EDIT:

The whole point of a talking doll is that when you pull the string, it says something appropriate to the particular doll. Woody, the cowboy doll from Toy Story, would say things like "Somebody poisoned the water-hole!" or "There's a snake in ma boot!" Mattel Corporation got in hot water for manufacturing a teenaged-girl doll that would say, "Math is hard!"

So, a old-Jewish-lady doll would be expected to say, "Have a piece of fruit" or "Oy, do my kishkes [insides] hurt!" but all humor depends on partial reversal of expectations. If the doll merely complained, that wouldn't be funny because that's what you'd expect; if the old-Jewish-lady doll said "There's a snake in ma boot!", that wouldn't be funny because that just wouldn't make any sense.

To be funny, a joke must both confirm and confound the expectations: the old-Jewish-lady doll complains about your pulling its string, in perfect Yiddish idiom.

Comedy gold, Jerry!

Another powerful aspect of a joke: hyperbole. The doll should really say, "Again with the string? Oy, gevalt. Enough with the string already!"

Yoichi Oishi, no offense meant but I imagine you with a pronounced Japanese accent. If you tell this joke (which is not particularly well-known), aloud and at all well, to any Jewish American, that person will be telling his friends about you at parties for the rest of his life.

About 1985, I saw a Japanese stand-up comic on TV say (in an almost unintelligible accent), "Not many people know this but Japan have velly small army. Velly velly small. That why monsters always attack Tokyo first."

Still cracks me up.

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Does “Again with the x” pass as a joke among Americans other than Jewish Americans? –  Yoichi Oishi May 29 '12 at 11:31
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@Yoichi Oishi: As Malvolio says, "again with the X" is just a stereotypical Yiddish idiom usually meaning something along the lines of "I'm tired of the constant repetition of X". It's not a "joke" in and of itself, but it's often used in humorous contexts. I think the talking doll one is quite amusing, but it wouldn't be if the doll weren't explicitly identified as Jewish. –  FumbleFingers May 29 '12 at 13:05
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@Yoichi Yiddish humour is quite widely recognized and appreciated (as well as repeated, oft-inappropriately) by English speaking North Americans. I don't know about Brits. –  JAM May 29 '12 at 14:09
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@YoichiOishi In speech there is often an exaggerated emphasis on again to signal humorous intent, and in writing it may stand alone. There is nothing inherently funny in saying something like "The recipe calls for molasses and honey. It says to glaze the roast first with the honey, then the molasses, then again with the honey," for example. But to hear "The recipe calls for molasses and honey. Again with the honey!" indicates that the speaker is somewhat irritated by the mention of honey, perhaps rolling his eyes or throwing up her hands while saying it. –  choster May 29 '12 at 14:41

I think the answers given about this joke and why it is funny are spot on. I would only add that the syntax of "Again with the string" is atypical for most English speakers but very typical for most Jewish-American speakers who are either immigrants, or who are first-generation Jewish-Americans...i.e., they lived at home with parents who weren't born here. I never heard my mother say this exactly, but I could almost hear it coming out of her mouth. Even though I'm 51 years old and Jewish, this is the first time I ever heard this joke, and found it really funny. However, my wife is not Jewish, and there is simply no way she would understand this joke based on the context of it.

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