I recall teachers who used double entendre humour during my secondary school years. The jokes were PG-13 and relevant to our adolescence, in all its splendour. Voices were breaking, breasts and hair sprouting and does anyone remember the ‘unfamiliar feelings’?
While the students hee-hawed in laughter, the teacher would be scribbling on the blackboard turning around to gaily ask, “Does anyone remember what we learnt on Monday about Pythagoras’ Theory?”
Having grown up and overcoming our ‘unfamiliar feelings’ (probably not and never will), PG-13 jokes have burgeoned into ribaldry and remain a staple amongst the majority.
I have seen many a shy damsel guffaw wildly, at a hint of a bawdy joke. Clusters get together by the water-cooler at the workplace to share giggle-riddled innuendo. Polite jokes do not even guarantee a third of the laughter that sexually themed jokes do.
The Sunday Standard set out to find out what makes bawdy jokes funnier. Psychologists were contacted and none was ready to comment on the subject due to its hint of profanity. It emerged that there is a very fine line between profanity and sexually themed humour.
“I grew up in a very religious family,” a man, who, not surprisingly, requested anonymity, said, “and I never used profanity. I think that is why I now particularly enjoy suggestive jokes,” he proffered with a sly smile.
The entertainment and lifestyle industries have fledged on the statement that ‘sex sells.’ This is evidenced in Lovers Plus’ recently launched campaign, which uses suggestive pictures of close-ups of female lips, slightly open and about to ‘accept’ an advancing banana. Well they are hawking condoms after all.
We also tentatively listen to comedians and musicians whose CD artworks include parental advisory stamps.
We pay to see them in concert, uttering things we would flog our children like donkeys at home for.
“I do enjoy rude jokes a lot, but not at home,” one single mother said during a round of ribaldry. “Just the other day, I snapped at my daughter,” the 5-year-old girl decided to tell mommy about a rude song she heard; she sang it for her too. “I just flared, and said, ‘You are going to get it if I ever hear you sing that again,’”
“BoSister Bertina,” another man spat, “ke morogano wa strata, but if you listen to Ratsie Setlhako, Speech Madimabe or George Swabi and decipher the meanings, it makes you say ‘eish that’s clever.”
Setswana folk music is also freckled with double entendre, “disguised,” he poetically informed me, “from the uninitiated, through mastery of Setswana language.”
Comedian Michael ‘Dignash’ Morapedi said, “What is now profane in our society was once deemed as acceptable in yesterday’s society.” Morapedi said.
“This also differs between ethnic groups; Bakgatla and Basotho are well known to use what other ethnic groups deem as uncouth language. You may find monnamogolo a reta ngwana in such a way that the uninitiated would frown upon.
“Setswana is a rich language,” Morapedi said, “and the tone of voice used uttering the words determines whether they are meant to stimulate laughter or anger.”
However, Morapedi laments that, “Contemporary Setswana culture is a hybrid of indigenous, religious and western cultures.” Which brings censorship of what in the past was discussed openly, which includes issues of sexuality.
Young and nubile female traditional dancers performed bare breasted for years, this shocked foreign visiting dignitaries from different cultural backgrounds. Then media and television on the other had started presenting eroticised images of scantily clad women, changing the perception of today’s young Batswana of women’s bodies.
Religion also facilitates self-censorship in language and speech. Christianity, Islam and Judaism, to name a few, frown upon the use of profanity and sexually descriptive and suggestive behaviour and speech.
Another lecturer, who also chose to remain anonymous, says; “Obscene jokes communicate with our subconscious mind, they offer us an opportunity to laugh at ourselves indirectly. These jokes titillate some men (and women) at their mere suggestion of sex.”
One woman concurs, literally whispering to me, ‘My partner and I use obscene jokes and profanity as foreplay,” she giggled, “it really gets us going.”
Humour strips serious issues of the seriousness making them less intimidating. Whether this translates as dirty jokes making sexuality less intimidating or frivolous is another issue.