What is a Shaghoot?
Actually, it is a "Shaggy Dog Story," from a subgenre of the feghoot. Feghoots are long stories that end in a dreadful pun, like the Bertram Chandler novel whose alien character at the very end expresses puzzlement that Terries (us) have only two sexes instead of five and they're so hard to tell apart. His Terran friend assures him there is a vas deferens between the two.
Two breeds of shaggy dog
The feghoot breed of shaggy dog story is not to be confused with another style of long rambling yarn that fizzles out with a lame, pointless punch line, whose complete lack of humour is perversely funny.
Typical of the latter breed of shaggy dog story is the prototype about a rich man who advertises for a shaggy dog, and the second chap, a trapper living in a remote location, who, seeing the ad and believing his dog will do, undertakes a long and arduous journey (taking ten minutes to relate) to present the dog, only to be told by the butler "not shaggy enough" or "too shaggy."
Here's a second example:
A very rich man determines to construct the ultimate status symbol. After much consultation, he decides on a solid gold barbecue. He hires a contractor, who calculates for him how many gold bricks to purchase. [Here insert a long description of the construction.] To the contractor's utter horror (for gold bricks are rather expensive) he has one brick left over at the end. After giving the matter much thought, he checks to ensure no one is watching, then, standing in the middle of the rich man's lawn, he throws the brick straight up in the air.
[The teller and an accomplice laugh hilariously at this point, assuring their baffled audience they'll get it some day, but there's nothing funny here; they've been shagged.]
Short-haired shags (to get you in the mood)
Did you hear that the RCMP surrounded the Eaton's store the other day? They heard an employee remark that Bed Linen was on the third floor.
Purebred shaggy dogs
Shaggy Dog stories of the more refined kind are feghoots with two important characteristics: The pun with which they end is a spoonerism, the latter being a mangling of some common saying or bit of folk wisdom that is easily recognizable. [Reverend William A. Spooner, one time the Dean of New College, Oxford supposedly once referred to Queen Victoria as "our queer old dean."] The canonical shaggy dog story of this Spooneristic variety is a variation on:
The ancestral shaggy dog story
In days of yore, so many knights wanted to join Arthur, Lancelot, and the others that they not only ran out of room at the round table, there was a severe shortage of horses to send chaps off on quests. As a result, the last knight allowed to join, Sir Milquetoes, (a rather small man) was given a large shaggy dog for his mount. For years Milquetoes was seen about the kingdom rescuing damsels, righting wrongs, and generally adding to the fame of the table at which he seldom sat. One dark and stormy night (comments on the severity of the weather go well here) Sir Milquetoes arrived at the castle of Baron Barnaclebreath in the teeth of a violent downpour. Milquetoes pounded on the back of the drawbridge with his lance, but several attempts were required to rouse Barnaclebreath from his slumber. At first he refused Milquetoes admission, being no great fan of the diminutive knight and his substitute horse. But after many entreaties, he relented, though not, he observed as the soaking wet Milquetoes rode into his courtyard, because he was kindly disposed toward his new guest, but rather, he mumbled, because, "I can't leave a knight out on a dog like this."
Incas and shaggy dogs
Many years ago in the days of the conquistadors, a wealthy Inca village found itself being reduced to penury by repeated Spanish raids. In an effort to protect their gold and gems, they constructed a jewelled, solid gold throne for their headman, reasoning it would be easier to hide one valuable item than it would be many. The following spring, as expected, the conquistadors were spotted riding toward the village. A rope was attached to the throne, it was hoisted to beneath the hut's roof, and a ceiling was hastily thatched under it from the long grasses that grew so abundantly in the area. Juan Carlos Ironsides, the leader of the raiders, was most frustrated when he searched the village and found none of the usual gold and jewels he was sure the natives had mined since his last visit a year before. Forcing the chief into his own hut, he began to threaten him with dire consequences if he didn't produce what he saw as his rightful loot. Unfortunately, before the chief could reply, the rope broke, the throne fell on top of the pair, and both were killed. The moral of the story: people who live in grass houses shouldn't stow thrones.
Mathematicians and shaggy dogs
Many generations after this incident, Thomas Joseph Primrose, captain of HMS Doubtful, having already visited and traded in darkest Africa (note the frequent introduction of irrelevancies in such stories) was exploiting for the British Crown on the west coast of North America, when he came across one of the many villages in the area. Located on Gertrude sound (which he named after his wife) the Haida settlement was prosperous, secure, and replete with trade goods from expeditions to the east and the south. The enterprising Haida chief, George Rainmaker, quickly organized a grand trading session and potlatch, inviting representatives from many surrounding tribes in hopes of obtaining valuable manufactured goods from his unsuspecting visitors in return for a few cheap copper trinkets and a several flea-bitten skins that were no longer in daily use. But to his dismay, Primrose turned out to be a rather sharp fellow himself, and the bargaining was long and arduous, with various piles of trade goods being bartered only after protracted negotiations. [These can be described at some length here. I omit the details for the sake of brevity. After all, this is only an example, and one mustn't include too many distractions.] Toward the end of their session, it developed that Primrose was willing to trade one of only two novelty hippopotamus hides he had obtained a couple of months earlier in Africa for two Buffalo hides Rainmaker had recently purchased from his cousin on the Prairies. But shortly after the hides were arranged, with associated odds and ends piled atop to balance out perceived inequities, a furious coastal rainstorm validated the chief's prophetic surname by blowing suddenly up the sound, forcing everyone to take shelter in the longhouses. Unfortunately, the hides were left out in the rain, and were quite damaged when the parties emerged into the sunshine some hours later. [I omit the details of the party they held while the rain thundered on the roof.] Rainmaker, noticing that the hippopotamus hide had sustained as much damage as the other two combined, sourly observed that the situation was, after all, mathematical, for "the effect of the squall on the hide of the hippopotamus was equal to the sum of its effects on the other two hides."
My niece does used to do a terrific rendition of the following while dressed in a rabbit costume, complete with long ears and a fluffy white tail, and rendering the story in sing-song. I provide it in more mundane text form.
All day Monday, little bunny Fufu danced about the forest teasing the owls, who were unable to sleep. At the end of the day, the owls' parliament (note the literary borrowing from C.S. Lewis) met and after much to-do, complained to who?--the fairy godmother. On Monday evening the fairy godmother visited little bunny Fufu and warned her there would be serious consequences if she continued with her irresponsible and immature behaviour. Little bunny Fufu agreed to behave, but...
All day Tuesday, little bunny Fufu danced about the forest teasing the owls, who were unable to sleep. At the end of the day, the owls parliament met and after much to-do, complained again to who?--the fairy godmother. On Tuesday evening the fairy godmother visited little bunny Fufu a second time and warned her there would be serious consequences if she continued with her irresponsible and immature behaviour.
[several more days of further irresponsibility and the fairy godmother's escalating warnings omitted.]
On Saturday evening the fairy godmother visited little bunny Fufu one last time. "Right, you rascally rabbit," the wrathful wraith related, I've had enough of this. There'll be no more hopping about the forest all day pestering the owls for you." And so, she waved her magic wand (purchased at an exorbitant price from a travelling druid with whom she'd attended fairy school in the old days) and turned the unfortunate bunny into a shriveled, wizened, and (to tell the truth) rather ugly gnome. The speaker of the Parliament of owls, wise beyond his years, reported back to his colleagues with the sage observation, "hare today, gnome tomorrow."
Being three-quarters Irish, I have always enjoyed this one:
Famous Italian pianist Riorgioni was playing his first gig at Dublin's famous opera house. In preparation for the notoriously fussy meistro, Stage Manager Rory O'Reilly engaged the services of Ireland's most famous (and equally persnickety) piano tuner, Patrick O'Phernochaty, who spent several hours on the grand, ensuring it rendered each note to perfection. (O'Phernochaty also played a mean game of baseball, and had perfect pitch.) Alas, O'Reilly hadn't reckoned on the extent of Riorgioni's difficult temperament. Even though the piano was indeed perfect, he found imaginary faults with the tuning and insisted it be re-done. But O'Reilly refused, declaring,"Don't you understand? O'Phernochaty only tunes once."
(submitted by James Leno; origin unknown)
A long time ago, in a land far away, there was a group of little people that called themselves the Trids. For as long as anyone could remember, the Trids spent their free time tormenting the giant in the forest. Whenever the Trids would torment him, he would kick them away, and they would go flying through the air, landing hundreds of yards away. Sometimes the Trids landed without getting hurt, but all too often, they did.
One day the Trids were visited by a friendly, idealistic young Rabbi named Josh Lowenstein. Rabbi Lowenstein told them that they could avoid all of their injuries and suffering if they could just show some kindness to the giant, instead of continually tormenting him. The Trids listened, and decided to give the Rabbi's idea a try.
The next morning, the Trids went to see the giant, wanting to show him that they had changed for the better. They brought gifts, sang songs to him, and generally just tried to make him feel good. But it seemed that all of their attempts were futile. With each passing moment, the giant got more and more upset at the very presence of the Trids around him. It was not very long until the giant was swinging his huge, smelly feet at the backside of every Trid that he could reach.
When the Trids returned to their village, they told Rabbi Lowenstein what happened. "We did what you said, but he started kicking us again like he always does." With that, the Rabbi decided to go see the giant for himself, so he immediately set out to see the giant.
He walked right up to the giant's door, and immediately the giant poked his great big face out of his doorway to see who was there. When he saw Rabbi Lowenstein, he greeted the Rabbi with a great big smile and a handshake and invited him into his house for lunch.
The Rabbi and the giant became fast friends, eating, swapping stories, and enjoying each other's company. Soon Rabbi Lowenstein wondered why he was getting such nice treatment, so he asked his new friend, almost jokingly, "Say giant, why haven't you started kicking me yet?" The giant laughed loudly and responded "Ha! Silly Rabbi! Kicks are for Trids!"
Here are a few of my own. Note that if you quote these you ought to attribute them, not because I claim copyright, but so you won't be blamed.
The work of a coal miner is long, arduous, dirty, and quite dangerous. Those who toiled at the black gold mine were particularly cautious about safety. Besides having a canary in a cage, they also planted a herb garden, for they discovered that buildups of certain gasses would cause the more sensitive of these plants to wither quickly. A dispute arose with management concerning the garden, and tensions rose over the issue at the bargaining table (which, by the way, was round.) When a strike loomed over whether the herbs would be retained, the parties finally agreed to call in a consultant. After a lengthy study, this worthy (who had grown up on her parents' farm and was quite conversant with the vagaries of vegetables and the efficacy of herbs) confirmed the utility of the garden and vindicated the entire project, forcing management to back off. The only suggestion she made was that one particular herb be switched for a slightly different and more sensitive variety. This was done. Weeks passed, and one day, though the canary was perfectly healthy, an entire section of the garden withered and sagged. Immediately the mine was evacuated, the gasses were pumped out, and there were neither injuries nor damage. Next morning, the local newspaper bore the headline "A switch in thyme saves mine."
City-bred shaggy dogs
Boss Twerds ran the principal gang in the great city of Gotham. The protection rackets were running smoothly, the numbers games brought in big revenue, and the local flatfeet were well bribed, and stayed that way. Twerds gradually gave up hands-on operation of his mob to subordinates so as to concentrate on philanthrophy, public relations, and his family--of whom young Bridgette was the apple of his eye, the centre of his life, and the loveliest colleen you could imagine.
She was a fine lass, a help to her mother, the light of her community, and greatly appreciated as a pianist at the Killarney Street Baptist church, where she had attended ever since Pastor Fred had done a walkabout in the neighbourhood and collected her into his wake. Bridgette had accepted Christ as her Saviour at a young age, and was distressed that her father seemed uninterested in spiritual things. He refused all invitations to come to the church with the words, "No church for old sinners like your Da, little Bridgette, but you run along and enjoy herself. (He still called her "little" even though she was fully grown, taller than he, and captain of her school's senior basketball team.)
One day, Bridgette brought home a friend. Patrick was a well-cut young lad, star of the school rugby team, and it was all too obvious to Boss Twerds that romance was in sight. This disturbed him, because he couldn't bear the idea of losing his daughter to someone else. But he had no time to investigate the lad, for a new chief of police appointed by a reform city council was for the first time in thirty years cleaning up the city, and Twerds' sources of revenue were being pressed hard. Bridgette had seen the steely gleam in her father's eye, however, and that evening went to his study to discuss young Patrick and offer him reassurance.
But others were there ahead of her, for she heard a meeting going on inside. To her utter horror, she heard her father ordering his men to accompany him to lay a hit on the Gotham chief of police that very night. Suddenly many telephone conversations and side remarks made over the years made sense and she realized her beloved Da was the crime boss the newspapers said the police were closing in on. But worst of all, the chief of police was none other than Patrick's father. Frozen in fear, she came to herself minutes later to realize her father and his men had already left via the study's rear door. Without further thought, she ran to the garage and drove to Patrick's house to warn him.
Leaving the car running in their driveway she rushed in to find a confrontation already in progress. "No, Da," she shouted, and rushed to interpose herself between her father and Patrick's. But she was too late, for one of Boss Twerds' men fired, sending a bullet into her fair bosom. As she lay dying moments later, she pleaded with her Da to give himself up and do no more evil.
He relented from his fatal purposes, sparing Patrick and his father. Afterwards, this touching scene was widely reported, making Bridgette famous as the one whose actions finally brought an end to the rule of crime in Gotham, whence the saying, "famous Lass Twerds."
Kipling and shaggy dogs
Once, a few years ago, I travelled to Israel for a meeting. I knew I would be arriving on a Sabbath (Saturday) when many food outlets would be closed, so I brought along a nice yeasty bagel for my lunch and a book to read while waiting for my train to arrive. I had some time in the quiet station, and as I enjoyed re-reading Tom Sawyer, I pulled out my bunwich for a little snack, nodding, as I did so, at the police officer standing opposite me, machine gun at the ready, and scanning the room periodically. My action drew her attention, and as she took my situation in, her eyes grew wide, her face communicated shock. She pulled out a radio, said a few words to her dispatcher, and marched across to me, threatening me with her deadly weapon.
I complied, knees shaking violently.
"You are under arrest," she stated, for violating statute eighty-seven, section five. Turn around. put your hands on the top of the chair, and step back."
I laid my sandwich and book down, turned carefully, and followed instructions. I heard her holster the gun, and she efficiently frisked me.
"May I ask a question?" I enquired, as politely as my knees would allow.
"What is it?"
"What is my alleged crime?" All I had been doing, after all, this quiet sabbath, was sitting in a railroad station, eating my sandwich and reading my book.
"Don't you understand?" she snapped.
I wasn't obvious to me. "No," I replied, meekly.
"Ignorance is no excuse," she insisted, clamping on the handcuffs. "Everyone knows yeast is yeast and rest is rest, and never the twain shall meet."
My first version of this last one was political, and of no interest here, for it involved a union man and a politician who were at odds, and whose names happened to start with compass directions. I submitted it to the editor of the union paper, but alas that person had no sense of humour so North*** and South**** not only didn't meet, they weren't published either. Many years after the related clanger above came spontaneously to my demented mind, I heard a variation on the theme:
A vet is called to treat a horse, in whose mane a pair of starlings had taken up residence and were busily constructing a home. No effort of the horse or its owner could avail to remove the pesky feathered varmints. The vet easily solved the problem by treating the horse with a box of croutons he had in the car from an earlier visit to the supermarket. After all, yeast is yeast and nest is nest and never the mane shall tweet.
Hmmm. That word has four descenders in a row. Well, the two yarns in this category are not exactly shaggy-dog stories, because the punch line isn't a spoonerism, but the context creates a similar effect.
The hunchback of Notre Dame was getting on in years and he decided to engage an assistant bell ringer. Unfortunately, the only applicant was somewhat uncoordinated and could not get the hang of grasping the rope and pulling it properly. So, he decided to ring the bell with his head. For each stroke, he would stand across the belfry (near the bats), lower his head, and take a run at the bell, striking it with the top of his skull and coaxing a satisfactory ring. Unfortunately, this did little for his coordination, and by the third day he was quite woozy as noon approached. All went reasonably well until the tenth stroke, where he hit slightly off centre, and fell. The eleventh stroke was a glancing blow that generated little more than a muffled "gong." Aware that his job might be at risk, he collected himself and took a mighty run at the bell for the last stroke of noon. Unfortunately, he missed entirely, and ran out the window of the tower, fell to the ground, and was killed. The hunchback, hearing the commotion, went out to the street to see what was the matter, and upon his late assistant's being turned over, he gasped his recognition.
Do you know him, then?" a policeman asked?
I don't know his name," he replied, "but his face rings a bell."
The hunchback of Notre Dame advertised further for an assistant, and to his chagrin, there was once more only one applicant--the twin brother of the first fellow. He had precisely the same physical limitations, and the hunchback didn't want to hire him, but desperation eventually overcame caution and he took the unfortunate on. Regrettably, much the same outcome ensued, but it took three days this time. Sure enough, on the last stroke of noon, his new assistant also was so woozy from banging his head on the massive bell that he missed, flew out the same window and fell to the ground with a sickening thud. The hunchback, alert for trouble, ran out the cathedral door, to find the same policeman on duty.
"Do you know this one too?" the gendarme asked.
"Not very well," was the response. "But he's a dead ringer for his brother."
Finally, I offer this one, which ameliorates something I already said on this page and transforms an earlier item into something else. But, that's humour.
One day on a flight over the great city of Gotham, a man and a woman (who had no previous acquaintance) found themselves sitting side by side in the cramped quarters typical of air transportation in all its forms. He was a cigar smoker, and she hated tobacco smoke with a passion. She had a poodle on her lap--one of those insufferably yappy little beasts that should never be allowed into polite company (or so thought he, who couldn't calmly countenance caninity in any context.) When he lit up his fifth cigar, (You must remember that this was in less enlightened days, when vile habits such as these could be indulged in public places without remonstrance from local officials and airline hosts) she had had enough.
"Would you please put out your cigar? I can hardly breathe."
He, blowing a smoke ring at the ceiling, contemplated her request and saw his chance.
"I'll dispose of the cigar if you'll get rid of the poodle."
Now, the mangy mutt (a shaggy dog, of course) belonged to her late and quite unlamented husband and was merely being transported to oblivion with his family in a distant Province, so she had no great attraction to the sorry creature, and readily agreed. The two made their way to the port, forced it open, and amidst the clamouring wail of depressurization alarms, forced the door open. She evicted the wildly struggling dog, and he threw the cigar in its wake. Of course, the pilot, now alert to big problems in the cabin, put the plane in a dive for lower altitudes, and down they went, rather sharply. To his utter astonishment, a French poodle suddenly landed on the nose of the plane, right in front of him. And, you'll never guess what was in the poodle's mouth.
Once you tell this apparent Type 1 SDS and your victim gives the obvious and utterly lame answer, you wait a pregnant minute or two, then slowly drawl, raising your eyebrows as if it ought to be obvious,
"Why no, not at all. It was the gold brick out of my earlier joke."
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