This is one of my favorite – fairly clean – jokes that I’ve had in my little joke arsenal since I was a pre-teen:
In Arizona, there is a ranch where people come from all over the world to play charades. Why? Because the game of charades there is serious. If you guess right, you win a million dollars. So brilliant people, scientists, and Mensa members come from all over to figure out what the charade is so they can fund their projects and lifestyles.
Before hundreds of the most brilliant people in the world, a man positions 7 women, all naked, lined up in a row across the stage. They stand there, doing nothing, facing back, front, back, front, back, back, and back.
The miracle minds guess and guess and no one has an answer. Time goes by and still no answers.
The door at the back of the theater opens and a drunk from the bar stumbles in. He takes one good look at the naked women on the stage and cried out, “The Lone Ranger!”
Afterward, everyone crowds around him and asks how he could know the answer to this most complex puzzle. One which all these brilliant minds could not figure out.
He says, with a belch, “It was easy. Rump, titty, rump, titty, rump, rump, rump!”
Now, if you are a US citizen, born before 1990, the odds are that you got this immediately and are probably still giggling. Just a little. Or groaning.
However, if you were born more recently, or not a US citizen, the odds are you have no idea what I’m talking about and are still trying to figure out the joke.
While living in the Middle East, a friend of mine wanted to practice telling jokes, since, truth be told, she couldn’t tell a joke without cracking up in the middle of it, or screwing it up at the end. This is a no fail joke. So I told it to her. She went into hysterical laughter. For a few seconds I laughed with her, and then realized that her laughter was the kind of laugh you laugh when you are supposed to laugh. Not when you are really laughing.
I realized that growing up in the Middle East, where television didn’t arrive until the 1970s, and even then, there were only a couple channels until the late 1990s, the chances of her growing up watching the original or even re-runs of The Lone Ranger, screaming “Hi-Oh, Silver!” and riding an imaginary horse with friends and school mates, were rather slim. In fact, they were none.
The Lone Ranger, famous black and white adventure of the “good guy”, with the white horse and white hat, a cowboy western, fought against the “bad guys”, with black horses and black hats, to “fight for the day and let right prevail”, wasn’t part of their culture. A lot of American television gets exported, often dubbed in with foreign language voice-overs (In Spain, I saw a John Wayne movie where he sounded like a 15 year old squealing girl.), but not all. The Lone Ranger just didn’t make it to the Middle East.
Not much later, I was joking with my neighbor and heard myself making a joke about Ovadia Yosef. I cracked myself up so hard, I almost fell down the stairs. I realized I’d been in the country too long if I could make a Ovadia Yosef joke. He is a heavily bearded, radical Orthodox rabbi who thinks he’s the spiritual soul of Israel. His Hebrew is so bad, he actually has a Hebrew translator for his popular radio show. When he’s talking on television, they sometimes use subtitles. He makes great public political and relgious statements, and many just shake their heads and consider the source. To combine Israel and American humor, I’d say that he is kinda like the Pat Robertson of Israel.
But trust me, no one outside of Israel would get the joke.
Blog for Your Cultural Recognition
Have you ever tried to explain American baseball to a Russian? Or anyone who has no familiarity with baseball? I did and it was a nightmare. Americans, even those who don’t understand the game at all, use baseball terminology as part of our daily dialog.
“So, did you get to third base last night?” “Oh, gees, I struck out again.” “You know the law. Three strikes, you’re out.” “Hey, take a walk.” “Well, that came out of left field.” “It was a home run, baby!” “It was a line drive I didn’t see coming at me.”
Just like Ovadia Yosef, baseball, and the Lone Ranger, these are cultural icons and expressions people within their own culture and society instantly recognize. On a post recently, I commented “Houston, we have a problem.” How many of you recognized the reference? These icons and catch phrases are part of our daily life. They are so ingrained, we think nothing of them. Our reading audience might.
As you write on your blog, do you think about the words and phrases you use, ones you normally say when talking to friends and family? Do you think about how they might be interpreted by people who don’t know what you are talking about?
In a taxi in Israel driving through the mad house traffic in Tel Aviv, I was speaking to the driver who spoke fluent English. Suddenly, some wacko cut right across us and the taxi driver slammed on the brakes. Without thinking, I said, “What a maniac!” The taxi driver wheeled around in his seat and wagged his finger at me with a warning to NEVER use that word in Israel again. “What word?” It took a while for him to let me know that the worst thing I could ever call anyone was “maniac”. To this day, I still don’t know what it means, but it is a “bad word” there. They don’t have problems with saying the English “f” and “s” words between every third word, but “maniac” is totally out. In fact, I’m probably in trouble right now!
That’s a pretty specific reference, but I want you to think about how you use fad phrases and references that could be misunderstood in your blog writing. It’s important for most bloggers to be understood by their audience. You don’t want to talk above them or beneath them, but to them. Therefore, you want to be understood, on all levels.
Keep an eye out for colloquial phrases and asides that don’t add to your blog writing. The occasional pop culture reference won’t hurt, and adds color, just be conscious of it. Consider the phrase and how you use it. If it helps, leave it. If it doesn’t, consider taking it out or changing it to something less society specific.
If you are writing for a very specific audience, be it a specific age or generation, or society, then definitely use terms and phrases they will recognize. It’s part of the appeal.
Growing up in Washington State, I recently overheard someone saying they went to school at the “U-Dub”. I rushed over and said, “Me, too!” Instant connection. “U-Dub” is a term heard all over Washington State, immediate recognizable as the abbreviation for University of Washington, but unknown to people outside of the area.
Identifiable cultural colloquialisms connect people. They can be critical to your blog’s success if it serves your audience and their expectations.
Have you had a situation where someone misunderstood what you were blogging about because of a cultural expression or phrase? Do you think about the expressions you use when you write and if they will be recognized by your audience?
Oh, for those still shaking their heads over the Lone Ranger answer to the charade, the theme music for the Lone Ranger, and the music used to represent the charge of the hero to the rescue, was the 1812 Overture by Gioachino Rossini. That probably would have also been the right answer to the charade puzzle. ;-)
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