When it comes right down to it, most jokes are linguistics jokes, to the extent that they all use the medium of language, and rely on different meanings of words, "garden path" phrases (down which one may be led), and so on. But I have a particular affection for jokes that play specifically with aspects of spelling, grammar, lexicography, and other linguistics topics. Leaving out jokes that depend too heavily on knowledge of linguist jargon, here are a few of my favorites that should be generally intelligible. (Keep in mind that most are designed to be spoken aloud, and may be spoiled by seeing them spelled out instead of heard to begin with.)
First, a few about spelling.
Why is the Panama Canal like the first U in cucumber?
Because it’s between two C’s.
What starts with a T, ends with a T, and is full of T?
It occurs twice in every moment, once in every minute, and yet it never occurs in a hundred thousand years. What is it?
The letter M.
What word remains the same even when you take away all its letters?
Then some jokes based on principles of grammar.
What’s the difference between a cat and a comma?
One marks with the claws at the ends of its paws, and the other marks a pause at the end of a clause.
Past, present, and future walk into a bar.
It was tense.
And a related pun: You can’t run in a campground.
You have to say “ran” because it’s past tents.
Let me tell you a little about myself.
It’s a reflexive pronoun that indicates me.
And finally, one of my all-time favorites, not because it’s so uproariously funny, but just because it reflects what makes me happy.
Where can you always find comfort and sympathy?
In the dictionary.
[Pictures: Still Life II, rubber block print by AEGN, 2009;
Cat Attack, rubber block print by AEGN, 1999.]