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Friday, July 9, 2010

Dimensions of a Blonde Joke

This post begins with a joke that I heard long ago. Blondes are the butt of it, but that barely figures in the interest of the joke for me. Here is the joke:

A blonde was walking along until she came to a river. She wanted to cross the river but no boat or bridge was available for her. Just then, she saw a blonde on the far riverbank. The first blonde called over to the second, “How can I get to the other side?” The second blonde shouts back a reply: “You are already on the other side!”

Don’t get caught in stereotypes here. This joke is less about dumb blondes than you might expect. Rather, it concerns language, perspective, and context.

The language that the first blonde used seems clear enough. Her mistake lies in how the word other relies on context. Don’t feel superior, you have committed similar errors.

Had the first blonde said your side, the joke would not exist. The second blonde inhabited a different context than the first. From her perspective, where the first blonde stood was the other side. I explain this because the ostensible humor of a blonde joke is a red herring. That stereotype conceals an important message in the joke.

To communicate well depends on rigor. One must understand one’s own context and perspective, and that of the audience with whom one communicates. Failing that, one falls into the trap of stereotypes. And that is no joke. To communicate well takes serious attention and mindfulness, but we can do it.

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