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Subversion of conceptual mappings

One might well argue that while thought experiments involve a deep form of conceptual subversion, wherein a conceptual construct like a scientific theory in undermined, jokes merely subvert the semantic (or script-based) expectations of an audience. But this kind of expectation-subversion often goes hand-in-hand with a subtle subversion of conceptual viewpoints, as illustrated by the following exchange between two vagabonds:

(4) Tramp #1: ‘ave you seen yesterday’s newspaper?

Tramp #2: Can’t says that I ‘ave. What’s in it, anyhow?

Tramp #1: My lunch, that’s what!

Listener expectations are here based on a number of common metonymies: “to see” a newspaper is usually taken to mean “to read” a newspaper, while the

“contents” of a newspaper usually refers to news stories rather than physical objects. But these metonymies do not, in themselves, provide the humour of the exchange; non-sequitors and nonsense behaviour will also thwart listener expectations, but to produce bafflement rather than humour. The subversion we find here is also conceptual, and works at several levels simultaneously. First we see the subversion of the concept Newspaper, which is demoted from its usual standing as a container of knowledge (an organ of the truth) to a lowly container of food: “today’s news is just tomorrow’s wrapping for fish and chips”. Secondly, we see the subversion of the speaker himself, who is transformed from a consumer of “high” knowledge to a consumer of “lowly” food. And thirdly, we see a subversion of the concept News, or Knowledge in general, where “food for thought” is seen as less important to human existence than food itself.

 
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