Siri-ous business: Apple learns new dad jokes

All in good pun: Siri was also given more Britishisms, like “good grief” and “whoops-a-daisy”.

Are corny jokes the best form of wit? Apple’s AI assistant, Siri, has been updated with new groan-worthy jokes. Some say they are “hilarious”, others “stupid” — a debate with a long history…

“I don’t often tell dad jokes. But when I do he usually laughs…”

Open Siri, ask for a joke, and you might finally get some new material — including the above.

Or how about: “What do you call a Labrador that becomes a magician? A labracadabrador!”

No? Perhaps you prefer knock-knock jokes: “Knock knock!” Siri will say. “Who’s there?” “A little old lady.” “A little old lady who?” “I didn’t know you could yodel!”

Yes, Apple’s AI assistant is trying to keep up with its rivals, Alexa and Google, by adding new jokes to its repertoire. Users on social media have affectionately (and disparagingly) referred to them as “dad jokes”.

Urban Dictionary defines a dad joke as “an indescribably cheesy and/or dumb joke”. Often, they involve puns and wordplay — a form of wit that has been delighting and irritating people for centuries.

For ancient Roman orators like Cicero, paronomasia (or punning) was a sign of intellectual skill. Jesus, too, was known to pepper his sermons with puns in Aramaic. This served a double purpose: he could make a subtle point using just a few words, and it would be instantly memorable to those listening.

Shakespeare was also a fan of wordplay. In Elizabethan times it was a sign of literary finesse, which is why Mercutio is still punning even on his deathbed: “Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.”

However, punning fell out of fashion during the Enlightenment, a time that celebrated reason and sophistication. The 18th century writer Joseph Addison said it had been “banished out of the learned world”.

Two hundred years later, Sigmund Freud was reflecting on the psychological value of jokes and puns. He told the story of a poet who joked that a banker had treated him “quite famillionairely”. Freud appreciated the joke, and concluded that it was a sort of “release” of tension, a way for the poet to respond to the despair of being condescended to.

Are dad jokes the best kind of comedy?

Let the pun shine

I’m with Shakespeare, say some. There is something clever and joyful about a well-executed pun. It shows a delight in language and silliness, and it is not trying to put anyone down. There is no meanness or schadenfreude involved in laughing at a pun; it is a kind of innocence. This is part of what makes them so attractive to fathers (and technology companies).

Groan, say others. Puns are embarrassing, as anyone with a “hilarious” dad knows. They do not stick with you; they disappear as soon as everyone has finished rolling their eyes. As most stand-up comics know, the best humour is observational — jokes which reveal something more about ourselves and the world, and that you remember long after you are done laughing.

You Decide

  1. Are dad jokes funny?
  2. What is the funniest joke you know?

Activities

  1. Have a go at writing your own corny dad joke. Share it with the class, and then vote for a winner!
  2. Who is the funniest person you know? It could be someone in real life, a writer, or someone on TV. Write a short paragraph which explains what makes them funny.

Some People Say...

“The best ideas come as jokes. Make your thinking as funny as possible.”

David Ogilvy

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
In 2002, psychology professor Richard Wiseman researched the world’s best joke, by creating a website where people could submit and rank gags. Here is the winner: Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn’t seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy whips out his phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps, “My friend is dead! What can I do?” The operator says, “Calm down. I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.” There is a silence; then a gun shot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says, “OK, now what?”
What do we not know?
What makes something funny, although there are several theories. Some think it is the element of surprise, or subverting social norms. For more, watch the video under Become An Expert.

Word Watch

AI assistant
Apple’s artificial intelligence assistant was first launched through iPhones in October 2011. Since the release of Amazon’s Echo speakers in 2015, assistants are commonly found in other devices too.
Aramaic
Thought to be Jesus’s first language, although he probably also knew Hebrew. In Matthew 23, Jesus condemns a group of Pharisees as hypocrites: “You blind guides! You strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel!” In Aramaic, the words gnat and camel sound very similar: galma and gamla.
Mercutio
A character from Romeo and Juliet, who is known for his wit. He is one of the only characters in the play who is friendly with both families. He is killed in Act III, Scene I.
Enlightenment
The period between the mid 17th century and the early 19th century, which celebrated reason, science and philosophy.
Schadenfreude
A German word that has now been adopted in English, meaning the pleasure gained from someone else’s misfortune.

Subjects

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