I'm pretty confused about a quote I've read on a website. It was written:
I don't suffer from insanity. I enjoy every minute of it.
I'd like to know what it really means when a person says this.
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It's a joke, a play on the word suffer.
The Free Dictionary entry for suffer gives various definitions of the word, but only some of these are suitable to use in the phrase suffer from. Some applicable definitions from that page are as follows.
American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition, has the intransitive sense
- To feel pain or distress; sustain injury or harm: suffer from arthritis […]
Similarly, Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary has
- to undergo or feel pain or great distress.
But to suffer from something may merely indicate the occurrence of an illness or other condition, without implying that the person in question experiences pain or distress. From Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged,
a. to be ill with, esp recurrently
b. to be given to: he suffers from a tendency to exaggerate.
Sense 6a from the Collins definition gives the "plain" reading of the first sentence:
I don't suffer from insanity.
Hearing this statement alone, one would normally assume that the speaker is asserting that he or she is not insane. But the speaker follows this with the second sentence:
I enjoy every minute of it.
One must experience something to enjoy it, and therefore the speaker is insane. In the first sentence, therefore, the speaker meant the word suffer in the narrower senses given by American Heritage and Random House, namely, connoting feelings of pain or distress, which the speaker asserts his or her insanity does not cause. The "plain" reading of the first sentence, which is how we normally would interpret it before hearing the second sentence, is thereby completely contradicted and replaced by a new meaning. This is a humorous effect.
[Yes, I realize that Andrew Leach already identified the quotation as a paraprosdokian. What I've attempted to do here is to demonstrate the effect more directly, with citations.]
It means exactly what it says, but it is a pun.
I enjoy every minute of [my insanity].
This is understandable: the speaker is insane but finds life enjoyable.
I don't suffer from insanity.
In this case — as made clear by the enjoyment — insanity is not something to suffer; it's not a trouble.
The complete quote is an example of a paraprosdokian one-liner joke: the joke is that suffer normally implies a troublesome endurance; compare "I suffer from insanity". Thus "I don't suffer from insanity" would normally mean that the speaker is not insane.
The second sentence in the quote shows that he is actually insane, and highlights the pun on suffer.
"Suffer from" is a common expression for having a disease or condition that most folks would rather not have. Often a person with such a condition is referred to as a "sufferer".
This is a joke where the person is taking the words in the expression literally. Because technically its not "suffering" if you're enjoying it.
Suffer can be used to mean:
To undergo; to be affected by.
To sustain; to be affected by; as, to suffer loss or damage.
For future reference, Affect means:
To act upon; to produce an effect or change upon; as, cold affects the body; loss affects our interests.
To act upon, or move the passions; as, affected with grief.
In the aforementioned senses, the word Suffer is usually applied to undesirable things because it is derived from the predominant meaning of:
- To feel or bear what is painful, disagreeable or distressing, either to the body or mind; to undergo. We suffer pain of body; we suffer grief of mind. The criminal suffers punishment; the sinner suffers the pangs of conscience in this life, and is condemned to suffer the wrath of an offended God. We often suffer wrong; we suffer abuse; we suffer injustice.
The idea is that your insanity is affecting your mind or judgement like a Disease:
In its primary sense, pain, uneasiness, distress, and so used by Spenser; but in this sense, obsolete.
The cause of pain or uneasiness; distemper; malady; sickness; disorder; any state of a living body in which the natural functions of the organs are interrupted or disturbed, either by defective or preternatural action, without a disrupture of parts by violence, which is called a wound. The first effect of disease is uneasiness or pain, and the ultimate effect is death. A disease may affect the whole body, or a particular limb or part of the body. We say a diseased limb; a disease in the head or stomach; and such partial affection of the body is called a local or topical disease. The word is also applied to the disorders of other animals, as well as to those of man; and to any derangement of the vegetative functions of plants.
The shafts of disease shoot across our path in such a variety of courses, that the atmosphere of human life is darkened by their number, and the escape of an individual becomes almost miraculous.
- A disordered state of the mind or intellect, by which the reason is impaired.
1: To interrupt or impair any or all the natural and regular functions of the several organs of a living body; to afflict with pain or sickness to make morbid; used chiefly in the passive participle, as a diseased body, a diseased stomach; but diseased may here be considered as an adjective.
2: To interrupt or render imperfect the regular functions of the brain, or of the intellect; to disorder; to derange.
4: To pain; to make uneasy.
The third sense of the word ties in very well with insanity:
The state of being unsound in mind; derangement of intellect; madness. Insanity is chiefly used,and the word is applicable to any degree of mental derangement, from slight delirium or wandering, to distraction. It is however rarely used to express slight, temporary delirium, occasioned by fever or accident.
Just in order to provide further context briefly Unsound means:
a. Not sound; not whole; not solid; defective; infirm; diseased. -- Unsoundly, adv. -- Unsoundness, n.
And there's my proof to the disease allegory, well that and the phrases mental illness and mental disease found in The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary, 2004-2007 edition. It also means decayed, weak, false, etc. Compare with sound.
Despite lacking firm evidence, I believe this pun is usually given as a response to a setup-question "Are you suffering from insanity?" If we wanted to be more literal for perfect clarity, that should really read "Are you affected by an unsound state of mind?" This context is fairly critical for understanding the joke.
The usual response to question is "I do not suffer from insanity" meaning "I am not affected by an unsound state of mind." The further implication is that if you had an unsound state of mind, it would be affecting you somehow like a disease affects a limb, so it is usually meant to be a denial of insanity.
However that implication is not what the words of the sentence actually signify which is important. In part due to the questioner's lack of caution with the precise meaning of words and perhaps also in part due to the maniac's lack of sensibility, this nominal meaning is not quite the one that is understood by the maniac. Instead, he takes the word suffer in its a more literal or comprehensive sense of implying that he somehow experiences pain caused by his insanity, which is at the most a secondary consideration to what the questioner wants to know in asking this question
The second sentence demonstrates that the first sentence is not meant to deny insanity in the usual fashion. It is meant to demonstrate that the maniac does not perceive it as causing him physical pain or mental anguish. The fact of the matter is actually quite to the contrary, the affects of his insanity, whatever those may be, are actually are rather pleasing. There are a variety of reasons for this such as the inability to reason correctly may free the insane person from any sense of responsibility. There are others which do not as directly follow from this narrative but the exact reason does not matter so much as that it is an implicit admission that he is insane since again, that which does not exist can not truly affect anything.
To prove that enjoyment is opposed to pain refer to the definition of enjoy:
Enjoy 1. To feel or perceive with pleasure; to take pleasure or satisfaction in the possession or experience of. We enjoy the dainties of a feast,the conversation of friends, and our own meditation
And subsequently the definition of pleasure:
Pleasure, n. [F. plaisir, originally an infinitive. See Please.]
- The gratification of the senses or of the mind; agreeable sensations or emotions; the excitement, relish, or happiness produced by the expectation or the enjoyment of something good, delightful, or satisfying; -- opposed to pain, sorrow, etc.
Some people might argue that while the two are opposed, that they are not mutually exclusive and that pain can be the cause of pleasure but that is another topic for another day.
Most definitions are quoted from The American Dictionary of the English Language by Noah Webster, first published in 1828
Unsound and Pleasure are quoted from the 1913 edition of Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary in order to convey the gist of the sentiment more concisely.
That quote seems to be from someone that has recognized that the world of humans in a mad house and he is one more inmate in that house and because of that understanding he is not suffering like everybody else and has decided to be happy no matter what – one could say a spiritual realization, written of in the manner of an old Zen master.