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I've recently come across a phrase unknown to me: "cup and Chaucer". What does it mean?

Obviously it is connected with the popularity and influence of Geoffrey Chaucer as the Father of English literature, and perhaps also with his most known work, The Canterbury Tales.

EDIT: As noted in the comments, there also a appear to be a lot of cafés with the name "Cup & Chaucer", but the context I found this phrase is from the FreeBSD fortune database:

A man was reading The Canterbury Tales one Saturday morning, when his wife asked "What have you got there?" Replied he, "Just my cup and Chaucer."

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    Where did you come across it? "cup and saucer" seems like a more usual combination of words to me; "cup and Chaucer" sounds like a play on words.
    – herisson
    Sep 11, 2015 at 7:27
  • May be this:mycupandchaucer.com/lexicon-by-max-barry
    – user66974
    Sep 11, 2015 at 7:28
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    It's a widespread pun on 'cup and saucer', commonly used as the name of combination tea or coffee houses and bookstores, or tea/coffee houses that offer books for reading.
    – JEL
    Sep 11, 2015 at 7:31
  • In the context you describe, the phrase is the punch line of a joke that relies on the pun for effect. Such labored jokes have been called the 'jokes that killed vaudeville'; for example, the punch line of one is "Halt! Boy-footed bear with teaks of Chan!"
    – JEL
    Sep 11, 2015 at 7:44
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    @JEL: I've always heard it as *boy-foot bear with teaks of Chan". Surely strictly correct grammar should be secondary to the pun here. Sep 11, 2015 at 12:31

2 Answers 2

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I'll make an answer and kill the joke.

A man was reading The Canterbury Tales one Saturday morning, when his wife asked "What have you got there?" Replied he, "Just my cup and Chaucer."

The key to the pun in this case is "Saturday morning", where most cultures it is common practice to relax as a day off. Two common activities for relaxation (in general, and especially at this time and in combination) are reading and drinking a cup of coffee (or tea).

Taking the activities together, the pun is a play on the phrase "cup and saucer", where hot beverages are typically served on a saucer, which "is useful for protecting surfaces from possible damage due to the heat of a cup, and to catch overflow, splashes, and drips from the cup, thus protecting both table linen and the user sitting in a free-standing chair who holds both cup and saucer."

As JEL observes, in a different context the same play on words serves as a clever title for a café that also sells books.

So there you have it, a straightforward and thoroughly deceased play on words. You could also argue that this is an example of a dad joke, as evidenced by your reaction: you seem to have understood it was a pun, but it didn't make you laugh.

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  • I still don't get it... or anything else I've read on this question! Where does the "Ch" come in?? A pun has more than one meaning. This has almost one.
    – n00dles
    Apr 4, 2021 at 21:11
  • Fair enough @n00dles. Puns are a type of word play, but this isn't a textbook pun because as you point out it's substituting one word for another. "Chaucer" evokes the sound – and then meaning – of "saucer". But the wikipedia entry on puns does include "[...] similar-sounding words, for an intended humorous or rhetorical effect" in its definition. If you prefer, this is definitely an example of a play-on-words, of which puns are one type.
    – Patrick M
    Apr 5, 2021 at 19:09
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I agree with all the above answers and will just add that "cup and Chaucer" looks like a typical (albeit low-key) example of Cockney rhyming slang! http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/jun/09/guide-to-cockney-rhyming-slang

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/08/cockney-rhyming-slang-london/401909/

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