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I have encountered a pun in a novel by Terry Pratchett that I cannot wrap my head around. I'm not a native English speaker, and any assistance with this would be highly appreciated. The pun seems to have nothing to do with the story and everything to do with the English language, which is why I'm asking here.

To give context for the pun, I have to give a light spoiler for Jingo, directly, and Men at Arms, indirectly, from the Discworld series of novels, so skip this post if you're planning on reading either novel.

At one early point in Jingo, two main characters, Carrot and Angua, visit a room rented by a landlady. The landlady mentions that no pets or women are allowed on the premises. While alone in the room, the below exchange takes place between Carrot, a human male, and Angua, a female werewolf:

"Carrot? Why are we whispering?"

"No wimmin, remember?"

"And no pets," said Angua. "So she's got me coming and going. Don't look like that," she added, whens she saw his face. "It's only bad taste if someone else says it. I'm allowed."

I can tell from context that "coming and going" is some kind of pun, and possibly a lewd one, but I cannot figure out what the word play is based on. Is it an existing English phrase that's being reused with a different meaning, because of Angua being a werewolf?

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    I think it's just a play on the fact that technically Angua falls foul of both rules; no women (in human form), no pets (in werewolf form). Jul 12, 2022 at 15:20
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    No, you got it. The joke is really about how Carrot is upset at her calling herself a pet, but she asserts that she's allowed to say it about herself if she wants. Jul 12, 2022 at 15:41
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    The usage [She's got me] coming and going is perhaps a little unusual in this context, where I might have expected ...both ways [round]. But who am I to imply criticism of Terry Pratchett? I'm sure he wouldn't have intended any allusion to coming = climaxing = experiencing orgasm, though. Jul 12, 2022 at 16:10
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    No pun. Means in both categories. The expression suggests "You can't win!" Jul 12, 2022 at 16:17
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    It isn't a lewd reference. Farlex has "have (someone) coming and going": Catch someone both ways, give someone no way out. Jul 12, 2022 at 16:59

2 Answers 2

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As mentioned in the comments, the "has me coming and going" part is not a pun but a normal English idiom meaning that no matter what choice you make, the outcome will be something you don't want. So it is really just a reference to the fact that Angua has two different forms available: she can be a female human or a female wolf. But the rules of the room state that no women are allowed, and that no pets are allowed, so if Angua tries to get past one rule by taking her other form, the second rule applies instead, and she is still excluded.

The additional bit about "it's only in bad taste if someone else says it" is referring to calling a werewolf (an intelligent and often highly dangerous being) a pet. As a werewolf herself, Angua can refer to werewolves however she wants; only a non-werewolf calling a werewolf a pet would be offensive.

See the idiom's definition at idioms.freedictionary.com for some more explanation.

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  • This answer would be perfect if you could add WeatherVane's comment at the start, i.e. a clear mention that the expression "coming and going" actually is an English idiom, and what the definition is. Going from the idiom, the joke is then fairly easily understood, and your explanation of the joke makes the answer as exhaustive as possible.
    – Dirk101
    Jul 12, 2022 at 21:09
  • @Dirk101 I dressed it up a little more.
    – Hellion
    Jul 12, 2022 at 23:05
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    +1, and also note "It's okay if I say it" has very strong N-Word Privileges overtones. In fact this exact scene is listed under the Examples.
    – randomhead
    Jul 13, 2022 at 2:44
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    I think that second paragraph should be adjusted slightly—Angua is saying it’s OK for her to say that about herself. She isn’t making a claim to it being OK for her to say it about any other werewolf, and another werewolf saying it about her would be included in the “someone else” so per her statement that would still be “in bad taste.”
    – KRyan
    Jul 13, 2022 at 20:41
  • @randomhead Derp, so you did, no idea how I missed that.
    – KRyan
    Jul 13, 2022 at 20:54
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It is a common English expression, and by that i mean its common in England, not English as in the language... Having someone "coming and going" generally means giving someone no option out, other similar expressions or sayings are "your damned if you do, and damned if you don't" and "caught between a rock and a hard place". Although the last two imply that a decision has to be made... the "coming and going" expression means basically that she loses out either way with the conditions applied. Oh and the last statement "its only bad taste if someone else says it" (referring to the "pet" clause), think of a bad racial slur that you could call yourself with no problem, If someone else calls you it... that's a different matter. Like black guys in the american movies and rap songs using the "N" word about themselves and to other black guys. if a white guy uses it to a black person, its seen as derogatory and a racial slur. She can use the term herself with no problem.

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  • Since Joseph Heller published his book it's also known as a "Catch 22" situation.
    – BoldBen
    Oct 8, 2022 at 7:22

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