My Favorite One-Liners: Part 56

In this series, I’m compiling some of the quips and one-liners that I’ll use with my students to hopefully make my lessons more memorable for them.

This really awful pun comes from a 1980s special by the comedian Gallagher; I would share a video clip here, but I couldn’t find it. I’ll tell this joke the first time that the Greek letters \alpha, \beta, \gamma, or \delta appears in a course. For the discussion below, let’s say that \alpha appears for the first time.

Where does the symbol \alpha come from?

[Students answer: “The Greek alphabet.”]

Good. Now, where did the Greeks get it from?

[Students sit in silence.]

The answer is, ancient cavemen. The sounds in the Greek alphabet correspond to the first sounds that the caveman said when he first stepped out the cave, so you can tell a lot about human psychology based on the Greek alphabet.

The caveman stepped out of the cave, saw a nice bright, sunny day, and said, “Ayyyyy!”

[Students groan.]

So, “Ahhh.” What’s the second sound?

[Students: “buh” or “bee”]

Good, the second sound is “buh.” What’s the third sound?

[Students: “guh” or “cee”]

Don’t forget, it’s the Greek alphabet. “Guh.” What’s the fourth sound?

[Students: “duh”]

Good. Now let’s put these all together to see what the caveman was saying. “Ah buh guh day.”

“Have a good day!”

[Students laugh and/or groan deeply.]

One year, when I told this story, I had a student in the front row who was carefully taking notes as I told this story; she felt very silly when I finally reached the punch line.

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