Shaggy dog story
In its original sense, a shaggy dog story
is an extremely long-winded tale featuring extensive narration of typically irrelevant incidents, that usually results in a pointless or absurd punchline. These stories are also known as yarns, coming from the long tradition of campfire yarns.
The canonical story is about a shaggy talking dog, much discussed, much promised, but slow to arrive. When the dog finally shows up and in fact talks, someone in the story says, "That dog's not so shaggy".
Shaggy dog story has come to also mean a joke where a pun is finally achieved after a long (and ideally tedious) exposition. The humor in the punch line may be due to the sudden, unexpected recognition of a familiar saying, since the story has nothing to do with the usual context in which the phrase is normally found, yet the listener is surprised to discover it makes sense in both situations. Therefore, if the audience is not already familiar with the phrase used in the punch line, or is not aware of the multiple meanings of the words in the phrase, the surprise ending of the joke cannot be recovered by "explaining" the joke to the audience (as demonstrated by the italicized note at the end of this article).
Isaac Asimov wrote one named "Shah Guido G".
- The Symphony Orchestra was playing a concert in the park and was in the middle of Beethoven's 9th Symphony. The basses, in the back of the orchestra, decided they had a few minutes to spare before being required to play anything, so they ran across the street to the pub for a few beers. As it was quite a windy day, before they left for the pub they found some string to wrap around their music stands to secure their music while they were gone. Once at the tavern, they could hear the music and keep up with the progress of the piece.
- Rather than leisurely enjoyment of one beer, the basses decided they would actually prefer some hasty enjoyment of multiple beers. After finishing their fourth or fifth beverage they decided that they had better hurry, because the last movement of the ninth symphony was underway. They stumbled back onto the bandstand, but in their inebriated state they found they were fumbling with the string, trying to get it loose, but not having much success. The conductor saw what was happening and instantly sized up the situation: it was the bottom of the ninth, the score was tied and the basses were loaded.
- Note: Don't get it? "It was the bottom of the ninth, the score was tied and the bases were loaded" is a standard description of an exciting baseball situation. "Loaded" is also slang for "drunk" in many English-speaking countries.