Form, function, fun

« previous post | next post »

In "Pragmatics as comedy" (1/28/2010) I discussed a blog post and two comedy sketches that enact familiar rhetorical structures through a series of self-referential descriptions. Thus Chris Clarke's "This is the title of a typical incendiary blog post" (1/24/2010):

This sentence contains a provocative statement that attracts the readers’ attention, but really only has very little to do with the topic of the blog post. This sentence claims to follow logically from the first sentence, though the connection is actually rather tenuous. This sentence claims that very few people are willing to admit the obvious inference of the last two sentences, with an implication that the reader is not one of those very few people. This sentence expresses the unwillingness of the writer to be silenced despite going against the popular wisdom. This sentence is a sort of drum roll, preparing the reader for the shocking truth to be contained in the next sentence.

This sentence contains the thesis of the blog post, a trite and obvious statement cast as a dazzling and controversial insight.

Jon Wu's "A Generic College Paper", recently published at McSweeney's Internet Tendency, is a worthy addition to the genre.

It starts:

Since the beginning of time, bullshit, flowery overgeneralization with at least one thesaurus’d vocabulary word. In addition, irrelevant and misleading personal anecdote. However, oversimplification of first Googled author (citation: p. 37). Thesis statement which doesn’t follow whatsoever from the previous.

The retention of discourse-structure transitions like "Since the beginning of time, … In addition, … However, …" is especially useful in suggesting the form of a college essay, and would also help get high marks from automatic essay grading software. (Though the software might notice the substitution of noun phrases for sentences…)






  1. Ferdinand Cesarano said,

    September 21, 2014 @ 11:44 am

    I would ask that you read this, the first sentence of my comment. Then, if you would be so good, proceed to read this sentence. As a natural consequence of having read the two foregoing sentences, the reading of this, the current sentence, is strongly recommended. Continue to the next paragraph without pause.*

    This paragraph should be read in the traditional manner, to wit: this sentence first, followed by the subsequent sentence. The present sentence, which immediately follows the previous sentence, should be read now.

    Commence reading the initial sentence of the final paragraph, before moving directly to its next sentence. The careful reader is advised to read all the way to the end of this sentence.

    * except for footnotes

  2. Rebecca said,

    September 21, 2014 @ 12:19 pm

    One pretty effective use of self-referential text: delivery and explanation of formatting requirements, especially for kids with beginning word processor skills.

  3. Piyush said,

    September 21, 2014 @ 3:08 pm

    @Ferdinand Cesarano: I believe anyone following your "program" faithfully would get stuck in an infinite loop after reading the final sentence of your second paragraph. As such, your third paragraph is merely "unreachable code".

  4. Dick Hartzell said,

    September 21, 2014 @ 6:34 pm

    I believe Eric Idle deserves credit for being an early contributor to this meta-genre with his song "The Song That Goes Like This" for his 2004 Monty Python musical "Spamalot."

    Check it out:

  5. Ferdinand Cesarano said,

    September 21, 2014 @ 7:14 pm

    An even earlier example is the theme song to "It's Garry Shandling's Show".

  6. John Finkbiner said,

    September 22, 2014 @ 1:06 pm

    It's Garry Shandling's Show show ran from 1986-1990

    According to TVtropes, this one's from 1982: "This Is the Title of This Story, Which Is Also Found Several Times in the Story Itself."

  7. Paige said,

    September 22, 2014 @ 1:43 pm

    There are three delightful chapters on self-referential sentences (which I believe were originally columns in Scientific American), including an entire story of self-referential sentences, in Douglas Hofstadter's Metamagical Themas. Some guaranteed crowd-pleasers:

    This sentence no verb.

    This gubblick contains many nonsklarkish English flutzpahs, but the overall pluggandisp can be glorked from context.

    This sentence has cabbage six words.

    If I had finished this sentence,

    This sentence is a !!!! premature punctuator

  8. Dan Faulkner said,

    September 22, 2014 @ 2:33 pm

    The user's manual for my Macintosh SE30, circa 1989, had the following two entries in the index:

    Infinite Loop: See Loop, Infinite
    Loop, Infinite: See Infinite Loop

  9. Dick Hartzell said,

    September 22, 2014 @ 5:03 pm

    Dan: cool!

    Since you were a Mac early adopter I'm guessing you know that Apple's headquarters is located at 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, California.

    — Dick Hartzell

  10. Bloix said,

    September 23, 2014 @ 11:33 am

    This is the song that doesn't end
    Yes, it goes on and on my friend
    Some people started singing it not knowing what it was,
    And they'll continue singing it forever just because
    This is the song that doesn't end

  11. Killer said,

    September 23, 2014 @ 10:30 pm

    There's a This American Life episode with a comedy sketch about a young couple on a date that follows this premise.

  12. Geoff said,

    September 25, 2014 @ 6:53 am

    There was an young man of Japan
    Who wrote verses that no-one could scan.
    When told this was so,
    He replied, 'Yes, I know,
    But I always try to put as many words in the last line as I possibly can.'

    There was a young fellow called Wyatt
    Whose voice was exceedingly quiet,
    Until one fine day
    It just faded away

  13. Colin Fine said,

    September 29, 2014 @ 11:53 am

    So Clive only scribbled line five.

RSS feed for comments on this post