Saturday, June 07, 2008

On Australian ironic humour

I had an interesting email from a reader about my article, How to make a sundial for your ceiling.

My reader politely took umbrage at my sentence "They make very small ones [spirit levels] that can be shoplifted very cheaply", and she wrote, "I don't appreciate somebody encouraging others to do something that's wrong".

Of course shoplifting is wrong, and I don't encourage it. However, Australian irony is a beast all on its own, as I tried to explain by the following reply:

Dear (name witheld),

Thanks for your comment and I'm glad you brought your views to my attention. I'll consider them fully, to the best of my ability.

At the moment, I feel that 'shoplifted very cheaply' sounds OK to me especially because the adverb 'cheaply' makes it plain that it is ironic (because nothing stolen can be cheap, and therefore can only be free).

I don't know where you're from, but I'm an Australian and our sense of humour is markedly and rather notoriously ultra-ironic. It's a well-known cultural attribute. Oftentimes, Australian ironic humour is read differently by non-Australians, and just as often misunderstood. I hope this is not a criticism of Australians and non-Australians. It's just the way things are. Americans, for example, in particular, are said to have trouble understanding Australian jokes a lot of the time. It is not that Americans are unintelligent, it is that the Australian sense of humour is on a somewhat different wavelength.

For example, if an Australian meets a friend on the street, he might say, "Of all the rotten luck, I had to bump into you, you rotten bastard". This will probably invoke a smile and be seen as a sign of endearment. In some countries it wouldn't.

Having said that, I will think on your polite comments for a while and if I decide a change should be made, of course I'll change it.

I always appreciate reader feedback, thank you.



Pip Wilson

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