leg pulling : Java Glossary

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leg pulling
click to listen A popular Canadian form of humour where you pretend to describe something seriously, and gradually get more ridiculous, seeing how long you can suck people in before they notice. If you are serious about describing a future technology, and you notice your audience is feeling threatened, it is fairly easy to relax them by quickly veering off into an obvious leg pull. This way you can let them get used to new ideas first in the context of humour. You can also use it for gently rebuking people.

The advantage of leg pulling to rebuke someone is they don’t know if you are serious. Are you praising them, laughing at them, criticising them, just drunk? They have to think, which was the original intent, to sneak past their psychological defenses against thinking about their effects on others.

I discovered at talent night at the UN (United Nations) club at UBC (University of British Columbia) that humour is quite national. Only people from the joke teller’s country could understand the national flavour of humour. Pros can have a more international appeal.

Canadians drive Americans nuts with our enjoyment of camouflaging humourous intent. Part of the enjoyment is similar to solving a puzzle, and the one upmanship of knowing you were one of the in people who noticed and understood the joke.

In Canadian humour, you often intentionally pretend to ignore sarcasm, especially when you are not quite sure. With so many points of view flying at you in a newsgroup, it is hard to keep track who has which prejudices. You usually need the verbal and body language clues to pick it up. BIX, a forerunner to the Internet newsgroups, had picons you could use to label or categorise people to help keep track. There was a central database of icons supplied by posters, mostly photos or personal or corporate logos, but sometimes just strange images.

In a similar vein, Canadians may pretend not to notice insults, and pretend to take the abuser literally, as if the insults were intended as serious questions or objections. This can be used to talk down to the abuser as if he were a small child who needed very basic facts patiently explained.

Canadians tend not to be as explicit with humour. Smileys and laugh tracks are an anathema. A good joke should go over the heads of 10-90% of the audience. Part the pleasure of Canadian humor is the one upmanship of being the only guy in the room who gets a joke, or who gets it 5 seconds sooner.

you could drive Canadians wild by just laughing at a random point in somebody’s speech or a movie. Everyone else goes crazy trying to figure out the joke.

I once went to a United Nations talent show. Amateurs from different countries would get up and tell funny stories and jokes. The people from their country would be screaming in laughter. Everyone else sat in stunned baffled silence. Humour tends to be nationally idiosyncratic.


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