Some years ago, reporting a discussion with my then 15 year old Australian son as to his ambitions, an Asian refugee woman said, “He want to go to university and do history degree, then go to New Zealand, join company and “learn rope”.
She came from a S.E. Asian country with no plurals in their speech, as is the case with some English words such as fish or sheep. i.e “Look at that sheep” “Look at those sheep”.
In reporting my son’s “learning rope” comment she had, presumably, without knowing the meaning of the expression, simply repeated what she though she’d heard but missed out the pluralisation “ropes”.
Anyway, we fell about laughing yet try as we did, none of us could explain to her why it was funny.
Ever since I’ve told this story to senior academic friends who burst out laughing, but then comes the challenge. That is to imagine they have an hour to write an explanation why it’s funny, failing which they’ll be shot. They all think about it then admit it’s an impossible thing to do.
Bear in mind, we otherwise ignore new-comers’ language glitches such as saying “fishes”, as part of their learning processes.
Thereafter “learning rope” became everyday dialogue in my circles, as a term for new employees.
Its spread was rapid as reflected by a phone call from my family lawyer a few years back.
He told me he’d run across a fellow lawyer he scarcely knew and hadn’t spoken to in years. They’d had a brief discussion on how busy they were whereupon the fellow had said, “We’ve taken on three new law graduates to learn rope”.
The point of mentioning this is the issue of humour. Things we find funny are often difficult to explain. But, what is tiresome in the modern era is the plague of offence-taking and reading harm, usually an ‘ism such as sexism, racism, ageism ad nauseam into jokes when no such thing was intended or indeed occurred.