There was a shoemaker in Paris, which was a widower, and he was not very wise. Of him Scogin bought all his shooes, and on a time Scogin came to the shoemaker’s house to speak with him. The shoemaker was at dinner, and bad his maid say that he was not at home. Scogin, by the maid’s answer, perceived that her master was within, but for that time dissembled the matter, and went home. Shortly after, the shoomaker came to Scogin’s chamber, and asked for him. Scogin, hearing the shoomaker enquire for him, said aloud: I am not at home. Then sayd the shoomaker: what, man, think you that I know not your voice? Why, said Scogin, what an unhonest man you are! When I came to your house, I beleeved your maid that said you were not at home, and you will not beleeve me mine owne selfe.
– Scoggin’s Jests, 1626
This is an appeal by the Crown by way of a stated case from a decision of the magistrate acquitting the accused of a charge under the Small Birds Act, R.S.O., 1960, c.724, s.2. The facts are not in dispute. Fred Ojibway, an Indian, was riding his pony through Queen’s Park on January 2, 1965. Being impoverished, and having been forced to pledge his saddle, he substituted a downy pillow in lieu of the said saddle. On this particular day the accused’s misfortune was further heightened by the circumstance of his pony breaking its foreleg. In accord with Indian custom, the accused then shot the pony to relieve it of its awkwardness. The accused was then charged with having breached the Small Birds Act, s.2 of which states:
2. Anyone maiming, injuring or killing small birds is guilty of an offence and subject to a fine not in excess of two hundred dollars.
The learned magistrate acquitted the accused holding, in fact, that he had killed his horse and not a small bird. With respect, I cannot agree.
In light of the definition section my course is quite clear. Section 1 defines “bird” as “a two-legged animal covered with feathers.” There can be no doubt that this case is covered by this section.
Counsel for the accused made several ingenious arguments to which, in fairness, I must address myself. He submitted that the evidence of the expert clearly concluded that the animal in question was a pony and not a bird, but this is not the issue. We are not interested in whether the animal in question is a bird or not in fact, but whether it is one in law. Statutory interpretation has forced many a horse to eat birdseed for the rest of its life.
Counsel also contended that the neighing noise emitted by the animal could not possibly be produced by a bird. With respect, the sounds emitted by an animal are irrelevant to its nature, for a bird is no less a bird because it is silent.
Counsel for the accused also argued that since there was evidence to show accused had ridden the animal, this pointed to the fact that it could not be a bird but was actually a pony. Obviously, this avoids the issue. The issue is not whether the animal was ridden or not, but whether it was shot or not, for to ride a pony or a bird is of no offence at all. I believe counsel now sees his mistake.
Counsel contends that the iron shoes found on the animal decisively disqualify it from being a bird. I must inform counsel, however, that how an animal dresses is of no consequence to this court.
Counsel relied on the decision in Re Chicadee, where he contends that in similar circumstances the accused was acquitted. However, this is a horse of a different colour. A close reading of that case indicates that the animal in question there was not a small bird, but, in fact, a midget of a much larger species. Therefore, that case is inapplicable to our facts.
Counsel finally submits that the word “small” in the title Small Birds Act refers not to “Birds” but to “Act”, making it The Small Act relating to Birds. With respect, counsel did not do his homework very well, for the Large Birds Act, R.S.O. 1960, c. 725 is just as small. If pressed, I need only refer to the Small Loans Act, R.S.O. 1960, c. 727, which is twice as large as the Large Birds Act.
It remains then to state my reason for judgment, which, simply, is as follows: Different things may take on the same meaning for different purposes. For the purpose of the Small Birds Act, all two-legged, feather-covered animals are birds. This, of course, does not imply that only two-legged animals qualify, for the legislative intent is to make two legs merely the minimum requirement. The statute therefore contemplated multi-legged animals with feathers as well. Counsel submits that having regard to the purpose of the statute only small animals “naturally covered” with feathers could have been contemplated. However, had this been the intention of the legislature, I am certain that the phrase “naturally covered” would have been expressly inserted just as “Long” was inserted in the Longshoreman’s Act.
Therefore, a horse with feathers on its back must be deemed for the purposes of this Act to be a bird, and a fortiori, a pony with feathers on its back is a small bird.
Counsel posed the following rhetorical question: If the pillow had been removed prior to the shooting, would the animal still be a bird? To this let me answer rhetorically: Is a bird any less of a bird without its feathers?
– Anonymous, collected in Amicus Humoriae, ed. Robert M. Jarvis, Thomas E. Baker, and Andrew J. McClurg, 2003
John-a-Nokes was driving his Cart toward Croydon, and by the Way fell asleep therein: Mean time a Thief came by and stole his two Horses, and went quite away with them; In the End he awaking, and missing them, said, Either I am John a Nokes, or I am not John a Nokes. If I am John a Nokes, then have I lost two Horses; and if I be not John a Nokes, then have I found a Cart.
– The Jester’s Magazine, February 1766
Publicity hound Jim Moran brought a sealed case of playing cards to a meeting of magicians. One randomly chosen audience member opened the case, a second chose a deck, a third opened the deck, a fourth cut it, and a fifth chose a card.
Moran said, “It’s the six of diamonds.”
It wasn’t. “But if it had been the six of diamonds,” Moran said later, “those bastards would still be talking about it.”
An Irishman was crouching on the border of a copse with an old, rusty, broken fire-lock in his hands, and his eyes intently and slyly fixed on a particular spot. A neighbor, happening to pass there, asked him what he was about.
‘Hush!’ said Pat, ‘a rabbit is coming out there presently, and I’ll pepper it, I tell you.’
‘What! pepper it with that thing! Why, you fool, your old gun hasn’t even got a cock.’
‘Hist, darling! the rabbit don’t know that.’
– Charles Carroll Bombaugh, The Book of Blunders, 1871
“I think, therefore Descartes is.” — Saul Steinberg
René Descartes is sitting in a bar. The bartender asks him if he’d like another drink. He says, “I think not” — and vanishes.
There was a young student called Fred
Who was questioned on Descartes and said:
“It’s perfect clear
That I’m not really here,
For I haven’t a thought in my head.”
– V.R. Ormerod
A lady who was flattered to have a rose named after her changed her mind when she saw the description of the rose in a gardener’s catalogue. Against her name it said: ‘shy in a bed but very vigorous against a wall.’
– Leslie Dunkling, The Guinness Book of Names, 1993
Why are old bachelors bad grammarians?
Because when asked to conjugate, they invariably decline.
– James Baird McClure, ed., Entertaining Anecdotes From Every Available Source, 1879
Paul Erdös claimed to be two and a half billion years old.
“When I was a child, the Earth was said to be two billion years old,” he said. “Now scientists say it’s four and a half billion. So that makes me two and a half billion.”
Recipe to keep a person warm the whole winter with a single Billet of Wood. — Take a billet of wood the ordinary size, run up into the garret with it as quick as you can, throw it out of the garret window; run down after it (not out of the garret window mind) as fast as possible; repeat this till you are warm, and as often as occasion may require. It will never fail to have the desired effect whilst you are able to use it. — Probatum est.
– Oracle and Public Advertiser, Nov. 24, 1796
There was a young man from Darjeeling
Who got on a bus bound for Ealing;
It said at the door:
“Don’t spit on the floor,”
So he carefully spat on the ceiling.
Dr. Franklin, when a child, found the long graces of his father before and after meals very disagreeable. One day, after the winter’s provisions had been salted, ‘I think, father,’ says Benjamin, ‘if you said grace over the whole task — once for all — it would be a vast saving of time.”
– The Washington Almanack, 1792
A scholar, a bald man, and a barber, travelling together, agreed each to watch four hours at night, in turn, for the sake of security. The barber’s lot came first, who shaved the scholar’s head when asleep, then awaked him when his turn came. The scholar scratching his head, and feeling it bald, exclaimed, ‘You wretch of a barber, you have waked the bald man instead of me!’
– The Town and Country Alamanac, 1799
On Twin Earth, a brain in a vat is at the wheel of a runaway trolley. There are only two options that the brain can take: the right side of the fork in the track or the left side of the fork. There is no way in sight of derailing or stopping the trolley and the brain is aware of this, for the brain knows trolleys. The brain is causally hooked up to the trolley such that the brain can determine the course which the trolley will take.
On the right side of the track there is a single railroad worker, Jones, who will definitely be killed if the brain steers the trolley to the right. If the railman on the right lives, he will go on to kill five men for the sake of killing them, but in doing so will inadvertently save the lives of thirty orphans (one of the five men he will kill is planning to destroy a bridge that the orphans’ bus will be crossing later that night). One of the orphans that will be killed would have grown up to become a tyrant who would make good utilitarian men do bad things. Another of the orphans would grow up to become G.E.M. Anscombe, while a third would invent the pop-top can.
If the brain in the vat chooses the left side of the track, the trolley will definitely hit and kill a railman on the left side of the track, ‘Leftie,’ and will hit and destroy ten beating hearts on the track that could (and would) have been transplanted into ten patients in the local hospital that will die without donor hearts. These are the only hearts available, and the brain is aware of this, for the brain knows hearts. If the railman on the left side of the track lives, he too will kill five men, in fact the same five that the railman on the right would kill. However, ‘Leftie’ will kill the five as an unintended consequence of saving ten men: he will inadvertently kill the five men rushing the ten hearts to the local hospital for transplantation. A further result of ‘Leftie’s’ act would be that the busload of orphans will be spared. Among the five men killed by ‘Leftie’ are both the man responsible for putting the brain at the controls of the trolley, and the author of this example. If the ten hearts and ‘Leftie’ are killed by the trolley, the ten prospective heart-transplant patients will die and their kidneys will be used to save the lives of twenty kidney-transplant patients, one of whom will grow up to cure cancer, and one of whom will grow up to be Hitler. There are other kidneys and dialysis machines available; however, the brain does not know kidneys, and this is not a factor.
Assume that the brain’s choice, whatever it turns out to be, will serve as an example to other brains-in-vats and so the effects of his decision will be amplified. Also assume that if the brain chooses the right side of the fork, an unjust war free of war crimes will ensue, while if the brain chooses the left fork, a just war fraught with war crimes will result. Furthermore, there is an intermittently active Cartesian demon deceiving the brain in such a manner that the brain is never sure if it is being deceived.
What should the brain do?
– Michael F. Patton Jr., “Tissues in the Profession: Can Bad Men Make Good Brains Do Bad Things?”, Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, January 1988
‘It wasn’t so very late, only a quarter of twelve.’
‘How dare you sit there and and tell me that lie? I was awake when you came in, and looked at my watch, it was three o’clock.’
‘Well, arn’t three a quarter of twelve?’
– James Baird McClure, ed., Entertaining Anecdotes From Every Available Source, 1879
How do you tell a worm’s head from its tail?
Put it in a saucer of flour and wait till it coughs.
(Purportedly this is a favorite riddle of Prince Charles.)
What Robert Benchley learned in his first year at Harvard:
- Charlemagne either died or was born or did something with the Holy Roman Empire in 800.
- By placing one paper bag inside another paper bag you can carry home a milk shake in it.
- There is a double l in the middle of parallel.
- Powder rubbed on the chin will take the place of a shave if the room isn’t very light.
- French nouns ending in “aison” are feminine.
- Almost everything you need to know about a subject is in the encyclopedia.
- A tasty sandwich can be made by spreading peanut butter on raisin bread.
- A floating body displaces its own weight in the liquid in which it floats.
- A sock with a hole in the toe can be worn inside out with comparative comfort.
- The chances are against filling an inside straight.
- There is a law in economics called The Law of Diminishing Returns, which means that after a certain margin is reached returns begin to diminish. This may not be correctly stated, but there is a law by that name.
- You begin tuning a mandolin with A and tune the other strings from that.
“My courses were all selected with a very definite aim in view, with a serious purpose in mind,” he wrote. “No classes before eleven in the morning or after two-thirty in the afternoon, and nothing on Saturday at all. On that rock was my education built.”
A traveler in the Southern mountains saw an old man sitting at a cabin door and asked: ‘Have you lived here all your life?’
‘Not yet,’ was the reply.
– Ralph Louis Woods, Modern Handbook of Humor, 1967
Oregon attorney general Dave Frohnmayer released this opinion letter on Dec. 23, 1982:
Mr. S.T. Nicholas
1225 N. Pole
Gnome, Alaska 90001
Dear Mr. Nicholas:
This letter is to inform you of our decision in the complaint of improper business practices brought against you by Mr. I.M. Grinch.
In his complaint, Mr. Grinch has requested that the Oregon Department of Justice immediately seek a temporary restraining order prohibiting you from any business-related activities because of the following alleged violations of state and federal antitrust laws:
- That by conspiring with parents you cause confusion or misunderstanding as to the source, sponsorship, and approval of your goods and services (ORS 646.608);
- That by consulting with parents on gifts for children you have furnished them with privileged customer information;
- That by inciting parents to whisper among themselves and hide presents during the month of December, and by compiling a list and checking it twice, you engage in conspiratorial practices (ORS 646.725);
- That by discriminating against naughty persons you have accorded special service to some customers in violation of ORS 646.080, which states that customers must be treated on proportionally equal terms;
- That by linking the receipt of your gifts to persons’ good behavior you violated Oregon law, which prohibits making product sales conditional upon other behavior;
- That by giving away presents you have violated federal minimum price regulations;
- That by claiming to deliver presents all over the world in only one night you are promising delivery of goods while knowing you are not able to fulfill that promise (ORS 646.607 and 646.608);
- That you have conspired with Saint Nick, Santa Claus, Père Noel, and others to engage in an illegal restraint of trade by allocating markets and customers and by fixing prices (ORS 646.725); and
- That you have received kickbacks from your reindeer.
Finally, Mr. Grinch has accused you of having violated ORS 646.730, which states:
Every person who shall monopolize, or attempt to monopolize, or combine or conspire with any other person or persons to monopolize, any part of trade or commerce, shall be in violation of ORS 136.617, 646.705 or 646.805, and 646.990.
We find that you have participated in monopoly, but only in the delivery of the game to children, a non-citable practice.
We conclude that the allegations are unfounded and see no reason to convene a special grand jury. We have, however, filed a counterclaim on your behalf against I.M. Grinch under state antitrust laws for contriving a shortage of good will. His action may also constitute the crime of malicious rottenness.
Further, I have instructed our Consumer Protection Section to pay close attention to enforcement of chimney cleaning regulations for the remainder of 1982.
Teacher: “If you have seven apples and I asked for three, how many would you have left?”
– Ralph Louis Woods, Modern Handbook of Humor, 1967
The story about Dr. Abernethy and his lady patient is a classic. He was a man of few words, and the lady knew it. Being shown into his private office, she bared her arm and said simply, ‘Burn.’
‘A poultice,’ said the doctor.
Next day she called again, showed her arm, and said, ‘Better.’
‘Continue the poultice.’
Some days elapsed before Abernethy saw her again. Then she said, ‘Well. Your fee?’
‘Nothing,’ said the doctor, bursting into unusual loquacity. ‘You are the most sensible woman I ever met in my life!’
– William Shepard Walsh, Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities, 1892
The following story has been told, but I have not met with it in its absolute correctness. The Duke of Wellington received a letter, while sitting in the House of Lords, from an eminent landscape designer and great authority on botanical matters, J.C. Loudon. The duke had lost sight of him for some years. It was a note to this effect: ‘My Lord Duke–It would gratify me extremely if you would permit me to visit Strathfieldsaye at any time convenient to your grace, and to inspect the Waterloo beeches. Your grace’s faithful servant, J.C. Loudon.’ The Waterloo beeches were trees that had been planted immediately after the battle of Waterloo, as a memorial of the great fight. The duke read the letter twice, the writing of which was not very clear, and, with his usual promptness and politeness, replied as follows, having read the signature as ‘J.C. London,’ instead of ‘J.C. Loudon.’ ‘My dear Bishop of London–It will always give me great pleasure to see you at Strathfieldsaye. Pray come there whenever it suits your convenience, whether I am at home or not. My servant will receive orders to show you as many pairs of my breeches as you may wish, but why you should wish to inspect those I wore at the battle of Waterloo is quite beyond the comprehension of Yours most truly, Wellington.’ The letter was received, as may be supposed, with great surprise by the Bishop of London. He showed it to the Archbishop of Canterbury and to other discreet persons; they came to the melancholy conclusion that the great Duke of Wellington had evidently lost his senses. The Bishop of London (Blomfield) declared that he had not written to the duke for two years and to receive this extraordinary intimation puzzled the whole bench of bishops. Explanations, however, of a satisfactory kind, followed and the friendship of these worthy men was not changed.
– William Augustus Fraser, quoted in Wit, Wisdom and Foibles of the Great, 1918
An Englishman and an Irishman signed on a vessel to work their passage to the United States. The captain insisted the Irishman produce references but did not ask the Englishman for any. This infuriated the Irishman. One day the two men were washing down the deck. The Englishman threw a bucket overboard to get more water and in the process fell overboard and was swallowed up by the sea. The Irishman went to the captain.
‘You remember,’ he said, ‘that you made me give references but not that Englishman.’
‘Yes,’ said the captain, ‘I remember all the fuss you made about it, too.’
‘Well,’ said the Irishman, ‘I just want you to know that the Englishman has now gone off with your pail.’
– Ralph Louis Woods, Modern Handbook of Humor, 1967
A whimsical traveler on one of the main trails in the State of Georgia painted, on a large rock, the words, ‘Turn Me Over.’ Other travelers heaved and struggled to turn the rock over. On the underside of it they found painted, ‘Now Turn Me Back That I May Fool Another.’
– H. Allen Smith, The Compleat Practical Joker, 1953