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How To Play Games with Words: Speech-act Jokes*

Michael Mancher

The essence of all jokes, of all comedy, seems to be an honest or well-intended halfness;
a non-performance of what is pretended to be performed, at the same time that one is giving
loud pledges of performance. The balking of the intellect, the frustrated expectation, the
break of continuity in the intellect, is comedy . .. (Emerson 1875: 157)

One general source of humor is the unexpected and the unconventional. The expecta-
tions set up by the conventions of language form a large and important subclass. For
example, we ordinarily expect that discourse will be univocal. Frustrating that expecta-
tion can make a pun or double entendre, which is the most common and most com-
monly discussed kind of verbal humor. Such joking duplicity of sense or reference
operates mainly at the level of what Austin (1962) identified äs the locutionary act.
This paper calls attention to other kinds of speech-act jokes — other ways of playing
with language than at the level of sense and reference. Many of these involve violating
the felicity conditions on illocutionary acts described by Austin (1962) and Searle
(1969), and the related conversational maxims proposed by Grice (1967, 1975).
Such violations may be thought funny when they are unintentional. They can become
jokes when they are intentional; or when they are reported by a third person; or when
they are made up by a third person.
Austin recognized several very general kinds of illocutionary infelicity over and above
the six that he thought crucial; these general kinds include failure to secure uptake,
play-acting, and duress1. Searle (1969: 57) reduced all these matters to a blanket con-
dition on the successful performance of any illocutionary act; i. e., that 'normal input
and Output conditions obtain'.
This condition can fall in many different ways, and the failure can be funny in äs many
ways. These are a few of them:
The addressee might be momentarily or permanently incapable of hearing o r under-
standing what is said. This covers many cases, from 'You know I can't year you when
the water's running' (Anderson 1967), to jokes about people talking to their plants.
Or the Speaker might be non-human, äs in the recent New Yorker cartoon by Warren
Miller (17 October 1977) which showed a telephone ringing and then saying, 'Good
evening, Oscar Vale is not in at the moment. This is his telephone/
The hearer may for some reason simply fail to pay attention to what the Speaker is
saying. That is the source of the humor, intentional or not, in Wordsworth's poem
'Resolution and Independence', which Lewis Carroll nicely exaggerated in his parody,
'Upon the Lonely Moor'2.
The Speaker and/or the hearer may be mistaken äs to the identity of the other. This
kind of input-output failure is a Standard device of comedy, and no more need be said
about it here — except to add that it is also a Standard device of tragedy.
There may be something ambiguous about the illocutionary point of the utterance.
This is an important and various source of speech-act comedy:

* Presented (in shorter form) to the Sixth Annual Colloquium on New Ways of Analyzing Variation,
Etc. (N-WAVE VI), School of Languages and Linguistics, Georgetown University, 28-29 October
20 1977.
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The hearer may simply mistake the illocutionary point. So, in an old Punch cartoon
(Williams 1955), the officer running in his pyjamas from a smoking barracks, shouting
Tire!1 is met by a barrage of artillery, his warning or alarm having been mistaken for
a command.

In that example the illocutionary ambiguity turns on a locutionary ambiguity or pun;

but it can arise from otherwise unambiguous locutions, thanks to the deviousness of
'indirect Speech acts' (Searle 1975a). So, in an even olderPuncb cartoon (Williams
1955), a housemaid seems to mistake for a boast her mistress's assertion, which actual-
ly implies a complaint or an order: 'Susan, just look here! I can write my name in the
dust on the top of this table!' 'Lor, Mum, so you can! Now I never had no edercation
If this is an ingenuous mistake, it is a funny one. If it is a disingenuous evasion, it is
also funny; Susan may be taking advantage of the surface ambiguity. Austin noted
that illocutionary indirectness and ambiguity 'may have its uses1, and this is true for
the hearer äs much äs for the Speaker. A favorite comic tactic among sub-adolescents
is to pretend to understand indirect requests literally: Q. 'Can you pass the sah?'
A. 'Yes, I can.' Compare Gordon Liddy's flippant reply to a reporter's question, äs he
was leaving prison: 'Can you teil us why you wem into Watergate?' can, but I won't.'
(Minneapolis Tribüne, 9 September 1977.) Searle (1975b: 37) has suggested that a
speaker's commitment to politeness is 'the chief motivation' for illocutionary indirect-
ness. If that is so, a hearer's willingness to be rüde or hostile can be expressed by ex-
ploiting the resulting surface ambiguity. In Gricean terms, this would be one way for
the hearer to Opt out' from the rule of the 'Conversational Principle' that organizes
conversation (Grice 1975: 45, 49).

Of course the Speaker, too, can rudely play on the ambiguity of indirect speech acts.
So Violet equivocated with Charlie Brown (Schulz 1964a): 'Charlie Brown, would you
like to come to a party sometime next weck?' 'Why yes, I'd like that very much.'
thought you would . . . but I doubt if 11 invite you anyway.'
Sometimes the ambiguity will be most apparent to a third party. A recent New Yorker
cartoon by Lee Lorenz (3 October 1977) shows a courtroom witness leering in the wit-
ness chair, the Jury starting from their benches, all aghast at whatever he has just said,
and the judge issuing an order in the Standard indirect form: 'The Jury will disregard
the witness's last remarks.' Of course it will not. The judge's utterance may have been
a felicitous directive, but it looks very much like an erroneous representative (Searle
1975c, 1976).
There can be illocutionary confusion even without illocutionary ambiguity, especially
if one of the participants is an infant. So the four-year-old narrator of Ring Lardner's
The Young Immigrunts (1920: 78) mistakes the illocutionary force of his father's reply
to a solicitous inquiry: 'Are you lost daddy I arsked tenderly. Shut up he explained.'
A fairly common joke involves the real or feigned attribution of propositional content
to an illocutionary act that in fact has none, \ikegreeting (Searle 1969: 67). So Linus
spends a Peanuts strip brooding on the possible hidden meanings of his teacher having
said 'Good morning' to him (Schulz 1971). So a character in a recent novel by Calvin
Trillin (1977: 11) claims always to discount another character's comments for exaggera-
tion: 'Even when he just says hell o, I divide by at least three.' In a similar vein the
moderator of a Symposium about America's next twenty-five years began the event by
saying, 'Good morning. And almost everything you hear from now on will be equally
speculative' (Harvard Magazine, July-August 1977, 82). 21
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'Good morning' is just a greeting now. It once did carry the illocutionary force of a
wish, like the contemporary 'Have a nice day' — which has lost its own optative force
with amazing speed. But expressing any such wish is a very limited and unambitious
Speech act. Lucy, äs usual, misses the point: after Charlie Brown greets her with 'Happy
NewYear, Lucy!1 she retorts, 'Does that make it so? Does your saying 'Happy New
Year' make it happy? Just because you say it, does that mean it willbe? Is this a guar-
antee?'(Schulz 1969a). Evidently Lucy can't teil an expressive3 from a declarative or
a commissive. Which is why Charlie is reduced to muttering, Oh, good grief!'
At the end of Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta The Mikado, Ko-Ko rationalizes äs follows
his omitting to act on the Mikado's order to execute Nanki-Poo: that imperial order
was absolute, which meant that it was äs good äs done; therefore there was no need for
Ko-Ko to do anything further4. Ko-Ko thus handily conflates directives, which look
toward some contingent perlocutionary effects, with declaratives, which do not.
Speech acts can be confused extramurally, äs well äs intramurally (within the illocu-
tionary class). So in a cartoon set in the United Nations headquarters, a technician per-
forming the locutionary act, 'Testing, 1-2-3', drew a quick response from the Soviet
delegate, who said that he was 'prepared to answer' him — äs if one could rebut a mere
locutionary act!5
Such jokes having to do with 'uptake' and related topics make up an important class,
but they are peripheral to those that involve one of the six kinds of illocutionary *in-
felicity' identified by Austin (1962). Any one of four of these would void the illocu-
tionary act: Austin named them non-plays, misapplications, flaws, and hitches. Two
others, insincerities and breaches, amount to venal abuses (not mortal) of illocutionary
procedures. The first four infelicities are violations of what Searle has called the con-
stitutive mies on the performance of an illocutionary act. The last two violate regula-
tive rules (Searle 1969: 33—4). Grice (1967, 1975) has identified a set of Conversa-
tionalMaxims that in part overlap the rules of the Austin-Searle model; all of these, äs
he formulates them, are regulative. Violation of any of these rules can be a source of
humor. What follows is a survey of these various rules and the kinds of humor that can
derive from their violation.
Austin's first rule, requiring the existence of 'an accepted conventional [verbal] proce-
dure having a certain effect', is more honored in the observance than in the breach:
even in comedy people rarely try to invoke illocutionary-act procedures that don't
exist. When they do, the effect will be a bit surreal, äs in the Punch cartoon of the
woman wielding a spade next to a small hole in the ground at what looks to be a ground-
breaking ceremony, and saying, now declare this hole open' (Punch 1977). Two
existing procedures have here collapsed into a procedure that does not exist — which is
probably just äs well.
Much more common are violations of Austin's second rule, which requires that 'the
particular persons and circumstances in a given case be appropriate for the invocation
of the particular procedures invoked'. Austin first formulated this rule, like the other
five, to describe 'performative' utterances; but it, like them, applies äs well to 'consta-
tive' utterances. I cannot make zfelicitous assertion (regardless of its actual truth-value)
if I am not in a position to know something about its truth; if I don't, that is, have
evidence or reasons for the truth of what I assert. (Searle makes this the first prepara-
tory rule on assertions; and Grice has a similar 'maxim'.) This means, among other
things, that I can't felicitously make assertions about certain kinds of mental pheno-
mena; i. e., the unevidenced content of other persons' consciousness. Any effort in that
22 direction is likely to seem peculiarly inane. For example, in a George Price cartoon
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(New Yorker, 8 August 1977) the wife says to her hen-pecked husband: 'You say you're
sorry. You act sorry. And you look sorry. But you're not sorry.' Or in Bernard Shaw's
play Candida (1905 : 97), Morrell and his father-in-law Burgess argue about every-
thing, including what their early impressions of each other were: Morrell: thought
you an old scoundrel.' Burgess: 'No you didn't.1 This is Wonderland logic, and it is no
surprise to find Alice running up against it in Through the Looking-Glass (Carroll
1971: 145):
'He's dreaming now', said Tweedledee [about Tweedledum]: 'and what do you
think he's dreaming about?'
Alice said 'Nobody can guess that.'
'Why, about you !' Tweedledee exclaimed, clapping his hands triumphantly.
As we shall see again, one of the reasons that Alice so rarely gets to triumph in these
situations is that she has internalized the Austin-Searle-Grice speech-act rules6.
Assertions about wow-mental phenomena, too, can fail for lack of evidence. A recurrent
motif in Peanuts has Lucy instructing Linus in natural science, or driving home some
contentious argument, with wholly empty assertions. For example, she confronts
Schroeder at his piano: 'Schroeder, why don't you give up this classical music thing?
Don't you know there are over eighty million piano students in this country? And less
than one percent of them ever make a real living at it.' When challenged, 'Where did
you get those figures?' she answers, just made them up' (Schulz 1964a). This is no
isolated case. In general, Lucy plays fast and loose with all the speech-act rules. She is
the sociolinguistic antithesis of Alice.
Naturally one of her favorite holidays is April Ist, the day when all the rules on assert-
ing are suspended. Charlie Brown is her favorite victim, forever willing to believe that
that little red-haired girl wants him to come over and eat lunch with her — even if Lucy
first warns him that she is about to play an April Fool's trick on him (Schulz 1975).
'Just like shooting fish in a barrel!' she comments.
She is versatile at this game, once calling out to Linus, desperate at the loss of his
security blanke t, 'Linus! Your blanket came back! Hurry up! It's here! It came back!'
Linus: 'Where? Where? Where's my blanket? I knew it would come back! Where is it?
Where? Where? Where is it?' To which Lucy replies with considerable inventiveness and
a triumph an t smile, 'July Pool!' — which sends Linus off screaming in anguish (Schulz
In both of these examples Lucy's representatives blend into and overlap with directives
— telling Charlie Brown to go over there, telling Linus to come here. We now think of
April Fool's Day äs a holiday from the rules on assertions; but in fact it began äs a holi-
day from the rules (or at least some of them) on directives. On the first of April pranks-
ters would traditionally send their victims, usually children, on what were literally
'fool's errands', telling them not to come back until they had found some memory
powder, or pigeon's mük, or had seen the lions being washed at the Tower of London
(Wright 1938: 171—76). Children still send younger children in search of sky-hooks,
wind-shifters, and the like. All of these strategems violate, or rather suspend, the pre-
paratory rules on directives (Searle 1969: 66: is able to do A. S believes H is able to
do A1). Somewhere along the centuries the characteristic April Fool's joke shifted from
deviant directing to deviant representing; but there is continuity in the basic mechanism
of suspending constitutive speech-act rules.
It may be even more funny when Speakers seem to be in earnest and yet still violate the
same preparatory rules on directives. So Lucy, äs psychiatrist, hearing Charlie Brown
complain of nervousness, offers her professional advice: 'Learn to relax' (Schulz 1962). 23
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A recent Punch cartoon shows an airline stewardess admonishing an about-to-be-sick
passenger Tm sorry, sir. No vomiting before take-off (Punch 1977).
A common joke target is the propositional-content rule on directives, which specif ies
'somefuture act^ of H' (Searle 1969: 66). Q: When do you want this order? A: Yester-
day! Ira Gershwin once assigned a version of this trope to a woman at a party, who be-
latedly exclaims to her escort: 'Good grief, it's three in the morning! / What's more,
I'm giving you warning: / 1 must be home by twelve o'clock!' (Gershwin and Kahn 1929).
Many directives have an extra preparatory rule that specif ies a certain position of
authority for the Speaker; these, too, are ready vehicles for jokes. A Steig cartoon
(Williams 1965) shows an ageing father, little over five feet tall, pulling himself up to
his f ll height and saying to his strapping six-footer son, Ί forbid it — and that's final!'
Who is in Charge there? Is power authority?
In an early scene of the movie Gone With the Wind, field hands heaf the quitting bell,
one of them shouts Quitting time!' and they all Start to leave the field — except for
one, evidently the foreman, who denies that the other has the authority to dismiss them,
Then s they start to resume work he says 'Quitting time!' This fussy punctiliousness is
supposed to draw a chuckle. An old Hoff cartoon shows a baseball umpire successfully
over-reaching his authority s he gestures all the players off the field and all the specta-
tors out of the Stands, causing one player to remark, Tve never seen him in this bad a
mood' (Hoff 1966).
Of course, the question of authority is basic to Searle's class of declarations, including
the subclass he has dubbed representative declarations — juridical judgements, auditor's
findings, and the like (Searle 1975d: 360—61). One would expect this kind of authori-
ty to be disputed or highlighted in speech-act jokes. So a cartoonist shows two judges
in robes outside their chambers, the one saying to the other, Oh yeah! The decision of
which judge is final?' And another shows a patient assuring her doctor, 'Don't worry,
Γ11 correct you if your diagnosis is wrong' (both Preston 1966).
Commissives too can fail or be problematic because of the inappropriateness of the
'persons' involved. You can't normally make a felicitous promise for someone eise;
hence the Punch cartoon from the Twenties showing a feeble groom and Amazonian
bride before a clergyman, who asks him, 'Wut thou have this woman to be thy wedded
wife?' She answers, 'grimly', 'He will' (Williams 1955). Lucy of course doesn't shy
from the same bold approach. Ά lady from the PTA visited our class today', she teils
Linus; Ί volunteered you to sing "Jmgle Beils" in the Christmas program.' The only
objection that Linus raises is that he can't sing; it doesn't occur to him to object that
his speech-act rights have been violated (Schulz 1971).
Searle's taxonomy needs to be enlarged to provide for a hybrid class that I would call
commissive directives (Hancher 1979). These are speech acts in which the Speaker
undertakes both to direct the hearer's behavior, and to commit himself to a certain
corresponding course of action. Offering and inviting are typical examples. Undertaking
to make an off er in 'inappropriate circumstances1 is what makes the following exchange
bizarre, at least from Alice's rule-governed point of view.
Have some wine', the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.
Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea. Ί don't see any
wine', she remarked.
There isn't any', said the March Hare.
'Then it wasn't very civil of you to offer it1, said Alice angrily.
'It wasn't very civil of you to sit down without being invited', said the March Hare.
24 (Carrolll971:54-5).
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There seem to be two kinds of 'civility1 involved here, constitutive äs against regula-
tive. (Apparently die March Hare doesn't merely violate the preparatory rules on offer-
ing but 'flouts' them, deliberately and rudely Opting out1 of the conversation [Grice
1975: 49], in retaliation for Alice's apparent rudeness.)
Alice suffers from an unorthodox invocation of the inviting procedure, too, in Through
the Looking-Glass:
The Red Queen broke the silence by saying, to the White Queen, invite you to
Alice's dinner-party this afternoon.'
The White Queen smiled feebly, and said, 'And I invite you.1
didn't know I was to have a party at all', said Alice; but, if there is to be one,
I think I ought to invite the guests.' (Carroll 1971: 193)
As always, Alice goes by the book — Austin's book: the Queen's invitations are at
least twice infelicitous, once by inappropriateness of circumstances (no party), and
once by inappropriateness of persons (wrong Speaker).
Now Austin's class of misapplicatiom, the comic results of which we have just been
surveying, is by far the most common and the most various class of speech-act viola-
tions. The next class, flaws, results from violations of the rule that the illocutionary
procedure 'must be executed by all participants correctly'. As Austin notes, the Stand-
ard of 'correctness' is relatively formal, and tends to apply only to relatively formal
and legalistic speech-act behavior. We might expect flaws to matter only in the perform-
ance of declarations, including representative declarations. Over the years The New
Yorker has published at least three cartoons making the same joke out of a flaw in a
Standard representative declaration, the giving of a legal verdict. 'We find the defendant
very, very guilty1, says the Jury foreman to the judge (Cole and Thaler 1966). 'We find
the defendant guilt-ridden, äs charged1, says another foreman to another judge (10 Jan-
uary 1977). find you guilty to the nth degree1, says another judge to another defen-
dant (5 September 1977). In all of these the flaw is the same, the speaker's qualifying
of an absolute, non-scalar predicate. Indictments may be scalar (e. g., first- vs. second-
degree murder; various 'aggravated' felonies), but verdicts may not: guilty äs charged,
or not guilty äs charged. This is one constitutive rule (if not the most important one)
distinguishing verdicts from indictments; and the joke is the breaking of the rule.
Correctness in procedure can matter outside the courtroom. Playing hide-and-seek out-
doors, Lucy shouts Olee olee Olsen free-o! Olee olee Olsen free-o!' until corrected by
Violet: 'In case you don't know it, the phrase is 'Ally, ally out are in free!' Lucy is duly
embarrassed (Schulz 1957). In this case the illocutionary flaw originales at the phonic
level — much like the flaws that routinely infect children's pledges to the flag. For
example, pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the
republic for Richard Stand, one nation, under guard, in the visible, with liberty and
justice for all1 iMinneapolis Tribüne, 7 October 1977). Definitely a flawed pledge.
Austin's next class, hitches, breaks the rule that 'the procedure must be executed by
all participants completely'. This may be an important rule in contract law, but it
seems not to be an important source of humor. There is one Peanuts strip in which
Lucy watches over Charlie Brown's shoulder äs he inscribes a letter: 'Dear Teammates,
I have been thinking of resigning my Job äs your manage r, and I . . . ' — 'We accept!'
Lucy loudly interjects. *Wait 'til Ifinish the letter\ Charlie properly objects (Schulz
We turn now from constitutive to regulative rules on the performance of illocutionary
acts, and first to the most important regulative rule, the sincerity condition, which
requires that the participants actually have whatever thoughts, feelings or intentions 25
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may be appropriate to the performance of whatever illocutionary act is under way.
Needless to say, this rule is often broken. The violation may be either overt or covert.
When the violation is overt, you have an instance of irony, one of the oldest and most
powerful forms of verbal comedy. Brown (1980) has given an excellent account of
how irony can be signalled by flouting the sincerity condition on speech acts. A single
example will do here. Linus says to Lucy, shaking her hand:
My heartiest congratulations! You did itü You have been crabby for one
thousand days in a row! You have just set an all-time record! I knew you could
do it! [Etc., etc.] Let me shake your hand again. I'd also like to present you
with this specially inscribed scroll commemorating this historical event. Again
may I say, 'congratulations!' You are an Inspiration to all the crabby people in
the world! (Schulz 1964b)
These congratulations are not sincere; Linus is not really 'pleased' (Searle 1969: 67)
at the state of affairs referred to. Furthermore, he intends Lucy to recognize äs much;
which means that he must be making some other illocutionary point; and the exagger-
ated circumlocution is funny.
But insincerity does not have to be overt and ironic to be funny. The gull is one of the
oldest comic characters, äs is the braggart; both types try to keep their insincerity to
themselves. It is a help if their victim is unusually gullible, like Charlie Brown. A major
action ofPeanuts is the vaudeville agon of gull against gulled, äs Lucy repeatedly cons
Charlie Brown into believing whatever she says. Her commissives are äs insincere äs her
representatives, and more notorious — particularly her annual promise not to pull the
football away from Charlie äs he tries to give it a place-kick7.
Austin's last class, breaches, are often hard to teil from insincerities. Particularly in the
case of commissives, a person who is insincere in his utterance is likely to commit a
breach after the fact, violating the rule that 'the participants must so conduct them-
selves subsequently'. But it is possible for someone to perform an illocutionary act
sincerely, and then to behave inappropriately afterwards. In an early Peanuts strip Lucy
apparently sincerely offers a cookie to Snoopy, who opens his mouth for it äs requested,
only to have her turn around and say, 'No .. . I've changed my mind . . . I think 11
eat this myself.' The last frame shows Snoopy still sitting there alone, expectantly, with
his mouth open (Schulz 1966b).
There are other regulative rules on speech acts besides Austin's rules against insincerities
and breaches. The 'Conversational Maxims' identified by Grice (1967, 1975) include
several others, such äs 'Be relevant' (the 'maxim of Relation'), and 'avoid obscurity of
expression', 'be brief (avoid unnecessary prolixity)' (two 'maxims of Manner'). The last
two rules restate ancient rules of rhetoric, part of the rhetorical theory of decorum.
And it has long been known that breaking these rules can be funny: the wordy and
highfalutin pedant is a stock comic character. Of course such characters exist in real
life. A few years back millions of Britishers had a good laugh at Walter Annenberg, the
new U.S. Ambassador to the Court of Saint James, who presented his credentials to
the Queen on live television. When she asked Annenberg whether he was living in the
embassy, 'he replied that he was in the residence, "subject to some of the discomfiture
äs a result of the need for elements of refurbishment and rehabilitation" ' (New York
Times, 15 October 1974).
The rule requiring relevance demands some compliance if conversations are not to dis-
integrate into a pile of non sequiturs. Samuel Beckett's plays describe the nihilism that
follows on any general Suspension of this rule (along with other rules of social coopera-
26 tion). But breaking the relevance rule can be more comic than tragic if the break is
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only occasional and the norm is not really called into question. Searle hinted at the
comic possibilities of this type of violation in some off-the-cuff remarks that he once
made about the Gricean rules:
I think there are general rules of conversation like 'Be relevant'. If you go around
saying a lot of irrelevant things, you can wreck any number of conversations, and
people just don't know how to respond to that. (Searle 1975b: 42)
That, of course, is what Lucy does all the time. wish I could be happy', says Charlie
Brown. think I could be happy if my life had more purpose to it. . . I also think that
if I were happy, I could help others to be happy. Does that make sense to you?' To
which Lucy replies, AVeVe had Spaghetti at our house three times this month!' Charlie's
comment is 'Good grief!' (Schulz 1959). What he should have said is, 'Good Grice!'
Sally does the same thing: Linus gives her a maths lesson, and she replies, 'There's a
good program on TV tonight at seven o'clock' (Schulz 1966a). And Frieda, who 'prides
herseif on being a good conversationalist', usually talks like this: 'How do you do,
Charlie Brown. I have naturally curly hair! Do you feel that spring will be here soon?
I belong to twelve record clubs! Now that we're getting a good picture on our TV, the
programs are lousy!' (Schulz 1962).
In their weakness for the non sequitur, Lucy, Sally, and Frieda resemble such comic
characters äs Gracie Allen and the stereotypical 'Dumb Blonde'. Evidently there is a
sexist presumption that women lack skill in observing Grice's maxim of Relation.
Yet somehow Lucy's non sequiturs don't really count against her; she always manages
to dominate the conversation even äs she deranges it. A more wistf ul humor-of-irrele-
vance is the sort in which an outsider tries but fails to keep up with the shifting con-
versational interests if the 'in' crowd. (For one extended example, see Trillin 1969.)
So far published analyses of particular illocutionary-act types have tended to focus on
constitutive rules, reflecting what Searle calls the 'necessary and sufficient' conditions
on the successful performance of such acts. But I suspect that at least some illocution-
ary acts have their own regulative rules also, additional both to their constitutive rules
and to the general Gricean regulative rules. It can be äs funny to violate these rules äs
the others. Pratt (1977: 103) has suggested a regulative rule on requesting: don't
request anything of a superior u nies s no one eise can grant it. I take it that such a rule
must underlie thePunch cartoon (1977) of a man and woman facing each other at a
table, sharing a pot of coffee. The man has his hands clasped and head bowed in a
prayerful attitude, and the woman respond s: 'Will you stop annoying Hirn? If your
coffee is cold, 11 heat it up.'
There must be a similar rule governing requests among equals: don't request anything
of an equal if you could äs easily do it yourself. It would be this rule that gives point
to a Syverson cartoon that seems to have been drawn especially for sociolinguists. It
shows two men sitting next to each other towards the far left of a diner counter, with
the salt, pepper and catsup all the way over to the right, many yards away. The man
on the left says to the other: 'Would you please pass the catsup?' (Williams 1965).

Department ofEnglisb
University of Minnesota

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Also, by implication, 'joking' (Austin 1962: 22, 104; cf. Searle 1969: 56). But the point of this
p aper is that such joking is a function of other infelicities.

'Resolution and Independence' (Wordsworth 1965) is Wordsworth's poetic account of bis

chance meeting with an old man on a desolate moor. Brooding over personal problems, he was
too preoccupied to pay attention to the old man's answer to a question about what he was
doing there (which was, gathering leeches from the ponds — to be sold for medical use in draw-
ing blood). So Wordsworth absent-mindedly repeated the question. Carroll's doggerei poem
makes broad nonsense out of both the leech-gatherer's trade and the poet's blank inattention.
Originally published äs 'Upon the Lonely Moor', a revised Version is sung by the White Knight
in Through the Looking-Glass, chapter 8 (Carroll 1971: 187-88, 249-50).
Austin (1962: 159) assumed that 'wish' had a 'strict performative use', and he classed it äs a
behabitive. Searle (1975c: 356 — 58) admitted most behabitives to bis own reformed category
expressives. But bis expressives are supposed to presuppose their propositional content, evident-
ly past or present but not future — which means that wishing and other Optative speech acts
must go somewhere eise.
But they clearly are not declaratives or commissives. Nor are they directives, though some may
have directive analogues (compare '[l wish you] Bon Voyage1, and 'Dear God, I pray that he has
[= that You give him] a safe journey1). They are not mere representatives, either: wish [for]
you a Happy Birthday' is quite unlike '[in so doing] I wish for you nothing less than you
Clearly diese performative wishes do belong in the same class (expressives) with congratulations,
condolences, apologies, and the like. If so, Searle's grammatical test for expressives, which calls
for 'a gerund nominalization transformation (or some other nominal)' is too strict.
Incidentally, Searle also specifies that 'the propositional content of an expressive must. . . be
related to S or H.' In fact it must always be related to H. If it concerns S only it will be a repre-
sentative, not an expressive.
GUbert 1910:215:
KO-KO (to MIKADO) It's like this: when your Majesty says, 'Let a thing be
done', it*s äs good äs done — because your Majesty's will is law. Your Majesty
says, 'Kill a gentleman', and a gentleman is told off to be killed. Consequent-
ly that gentleman is äs good äs dead — practically he is dead — and if he is dead,
why not say so?
MIKADO I see. Nothing could possibly be more satisfactory.
Preston 1966. This example would be purer if the technician had not used the 'testing' formula,
which does preserve a certain illocutionary force — unlike uttering ' 1-2-3', which in this con-
text ismerely a 'phatic act' (Austin 1962: 92).
If it is odd to assert the unevidenced and unevidenceable, it is just äs odd to assert the obvious —
thereby violating Searle's second preparatory rule on assertions. Tm Chevy Chase andyou're
not\ he teils us; but we knew the last part already.
The greatest virtue in Peanuts happens to be sincerity, äs Linus reminds us each Halloween; and
Charlie Brown is at least äs sincere äs Linus; but he is the archetypal loser nonetheless, or there-
fore. 'Good grief, he says, dragging bis bat off the baseball field; don't understand it. . .
one hundred and eighty-four to nothing! How can we lose when we're so sincere?' (Schulz
1969b). If anybody understands it, Lucy Widerstands it.


Andersen, Robert, You know l can't hearyou when the water's running, New York: Random, 1967.
Austin, J. L., How to do things with words, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1962.
28 Rpt. 1965, New York: Oxford Univ. Press.
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Brown, Robert L., Jr., 'The pragmatics of verbal irony'. Forthcoming in: Language use and the
uses oflanguage, ed. Roger Shuy and Anna Shnukal. Washington, D. C.: Georgetown Univ.
Press, 1980.
Carroll, Lewis, Alice in Wonderland: Authoritative texts of Alice'sadventures in Wunderland,
Through the looking-glass, The hunting of the Snark, Ed. Donald J. Gray, New York: Norton,
Cole, Peter, and Jerry L. Morgan, eds., Speech acts, (^Syntax and semantics, 3.), New York:
Academic Press, 1975.
Cole, William, andMike Thaler, The classic cartoons, Cleveland: World, 1966.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 'The comic', 157-74 in: Leiters and social aims, Rpt. 1904, Boston:
Houghton, 1875.
Gershwin, Ira, and GUS Kahn, Ί must be h rne by twelve o'clock', Recorded performance: 'Bobby
Short is k-ra-zy about Gershwin', Atlantic, 1929.
Gilbert, W. S., The Mikado; or, The town ofTitipu, 175-215 in: Original plays, 3. London:
Chatto, 1910.
Grice, H. P., 'Logic and conversation' (William James lectures, Harvard Univ.), Typescript, 1967.
'Logic and conversation' (Grice 1967, second lecture).41—58 in: Cole and Morgan, 1975.
Hancher, Michael, 'The classification of cooperative illocutionary acts', Language and society, 8,
Hoff, Syd, Learning to cartoon, N. p.: Stravon Educational Press, 1966.
Lardner, Ring, Theyoung immigrunts, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1920.
Pratt, Mary Louise, Toward a Speech act theory ofliterary discourse, Bloomington: Indiana Univ.
Press, 1977.
Preston, Charles, ed., All in a day's work: Cartoons fro.m The Wall Street Journal, New York:
Dutton, 1966.
Punch, Punch diary for 1978, N. p.: Punch Publications, 1977.
Schulz, Charles M., Good l' Charlie Brown, New York: Rinehart, 1957.
— Butwe love you, Charlie Brown, New York: Rinehart, 1959.
— It'sa dog's life, Charlie Brown, New York: Holt, 1962.
— Here comes Charlie Brown!, New York: Fawcett, 1964a.
— We're right behindyou, Charlie Brown, New York: Holt, 1964b.
— You need help, Charlie Brown, New York: Holt, 1966a.
— The wonderful world ofPeanuts, New York: Fawcett, 1966b.
— All thisand Snoopy, too, New York: Fawcett, 1969a.
— You're a brave man, Charlie Brown, New York: Fawcett, 1969b.
- You're the greatest, Charlie Brown, New York: Fawcett, 1971.
- Peanuts jubilee. New York: Holt, 1975.
Searle, John R., Speech acts: An essay in the philosophy oflanguage, Cambridge: Cambridge Univ.
Press, 1969.
— Indirect Speech acts, 59—82 in: Cole and Morgan, 1975a.
— 1975b, 'Speech acts and recent linguistics; Discussion', 27—43 in: Developmental psycho-
linguistics and communication disorders, ed. Doris Aaronson and Robert W. Rieber, (^Annals
ofthe New York Academy of Sciences, 263).
— 1975c, Ά taxonomy of illocutionary acts1. 344 — 69 in: Language, mind, and knowledge, ed.
Keith Gunderson, (^Minnesota studies in the philosophy ofscience, 7).
— 1976, Ά classification of illocutionary acts', Language and society, 5, 1—25.
Shaw, Bernard, 'Candida*. 83—159 in: Plays pleasant and unpleasant, 2, New York: Brentanos,
Trillin, Calvin, 'Barnett F nimm er learns to distinguish packaged paprika from the real article',
13 —20 in: Barnett Frummer is an unbloomed flower, New York: Viking, 1969.
— Runestruck. Boston: Littie, 1977.
Williams, R. E., ed., A Century of Punch cartoons, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1955.
Wordsworth, William, 'Resolution and independence', 235—40 in: The poetical works of William
Wordsworth, ed. E. de Selincourt, 2. 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon, 1965.
Wright, A. R., British calendar customs: England, 2, London: Folk-lore Society, 1938. 29
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