Of course making these sort of jokes assumes certain common experiences among your fellow men and women and sadly the ability to a)identify these common experiences and b)be amusing about them is utterly beyond me. But I cannot think of a better illustration of this concept in play than the wonderful Meaning of Liff dictionary, cooked up by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd years and years ago.
For anyone who hasn’t heard of it, they describe it thusly:
“In Life, there are many hundreds of common experiences, feelings, situations and even objects which we all know and recognize, but for which no words exist. On the other hand, the world is litterered with thousands of spare words which spend their time doing nothing but loafing about on signposts pointing at places. Our job, as we see it, is to get these words down off the signposts and into the mouths of babes and sucklings and so on, where they can start earning their keep in everyday conversation and make a more positive contribution to society.”If it sounds a bit dry check out some of the words this dictionary contains.
A liqueur made only for drinking at the end of a revoltingly long bottle party when all the drinkable drink has been drunk.
Of amateur actors, to adopt a Mexican accent when called upon to play any variety of foreigner (except Pakistanis - from whom a Welsh accent is considered sufficient).
The sort of fart you hope people will talk after.
The way people stand when examining other people's bookshelves.
AINDERBY QUERNHOW (n.)
One who continually bemoans the 'loss' of the word 'gay' to the English language, even though they had never used the word in any context at all until they started complaining that they couldn't use it any more.
AINDERBY STEEPLE (n.)
One who asks you a question with the apparent motive of wanting to hear your answer, but who cuts short your opening sentence by leaning forward and saying 'and I'll tell you why I ask...' and then talking solidly for the next hour.
A talk given about the Facts of Life by a father to his son whilst walking in the garden on a Sunday afternoon.
The irrational and inevitable discrepancy between the amount pooled and the amount needed when a large group of people try to pay a bill together after a meal.
BROUGH SOWERBY (n.)
One who has been working at that same desk in the same office for fifteen years and has very much his own ideas about why he is continually passed over for promotion.
Nervously indecisive about how safely to dispose of a dead lightbulb.
The dullest person you met during the course of your holiday. Also the only one who failed to understand that the exchanging of addresses at the end of a holiday is merely a social ritual and is absolutely not an invitation to phone you up and turn up unannounced on your doorstep three months later.
The moment at which two people approaching from opposite ends of a long passageway, recognise each other and immediately pretend they haven't. This is to avoid the ghastly embarrassment of having to continue recognising each other the whole length of the corridor.
Clearly the thing is brilliant but, twenty years on, surely in need of some updating. For instance I’d love to come up with a word to define the furious sound of emails being typed moments after someone in the office has said something either hideous or unintentionally hilarious; the moment in which you smell a truly heinous fart and have to decide whether to confront your suspicious-looking colleague or pretend not to have noticed anything at all; and the sensation of realising you have accidentally sent a bitchy text or email to the person you were bitching about a mere second after hitting ‘send’.
Suggestions for all of the above wanted but in the meantime some lovely person has put the entire dictionary online and you can read it here.