Greg Hill

Greg Hill

No matter your opinion about the governor’s budget, it’s certainly engaging, as well as astounding, mind-boggling and even astonishing. Those adjectives are included in “26 Feel-Good Words” from “Awesome” is bled dry from overuse, so instead utilize words that better provide heightened senses of emotion, like staggering, memorable or stunning. Aristotle claimed that stimulating emotion in your audience is the key to persuading them, but too great a shock to the emotions can boomerang that effect.

Gentle humor’s a far better persuader than mere demagoguery but good jokes have elements that make them more effective communication. Incongruity “is the central feature of humor,” according again to, and “a joke needs to present its subject in an unexpected way.” For instance, “Bacon and egg walk into a bar and order a drink. Bartender says, ‘We don’t serve breakfast.’” Specific humor works better than general, as in, “Why are the latest Volvos so aerodynamically designed? It improves the mileage of Chevy tow trucks.”

Effective jokes are also short. What, for example, did the green grape say to the purple grape? “Breathe!” They’re also respectful, unlike the shaggy dog jokes that are “incongruous but not funny because they don’t make sense or respect their audience.” Shaggy dog story punchlines “don’t justify the time spent hearing it … because the punchline isn’t funny, these jokes are themselves practical jokes. The teller gets perverse amusement from his bewildered audience.”

Few words bemuse, confuse, or amuse like the so-called “f-word,” and for that we can thank the farming community. According to “Ancient Switch to Soft Food Gave Us an Overbite — and the Ability to Pronounce ‘F’s and ‘V’s,” a recent article, “When humans switched to processed foods after the spread of agriculture,” it stated, “they put less wear and tear on their teeth. That changed the growth of their jaws, giving adults the overbites normal in children. Within a few thousand years, those overbites made it easy for people in farming cultures to fire off sounds like ‘f’ and ‘v,’ opening a new world of words.” Such consonants are termed “labiodentals, and it’s thought that being able to use them in ancient Rome and India were status symbols. Peasants chewed “gritty, fibrous foods (that put) force on the growing jaw bone (and that) wears down molars,” causing jaws to grow larger and making the upper and lower teeth align. They couldn’t pronounce “father,” for instance, which evolved from prehistoric, and prelabiodental Proto-European “pater” that became the Old English “faeder” 1,500 years ago.

Now we’re seemingly force-fed vociferous f-wording at every turn, but clever wordsmiths like Patrick O’Brian can make even that amusing. O’Brian’s novels are renown for his use of unusual words and his deep-set historical allusions, and he apparently bore a grudge with the banking profession. In the first of his 20-book Aubrey-Maturin series, set in the early 1800s, the protagonist says, “‘Give your father my compliments and tell him my bankers are Hoares’ … ‘Hoares,’ he repeated absently once or twice, ‘my bankers are Hoares.’”

Hoares’, according to Anthony Brown’s “Persons, Animals, Ships and Cannon in the Aubrey-Maturin Sea Novels of Patrick O’Brian,” was a London banking house founded in 1672 by bullion dealer Sir Richard Hoare. The Hoare crowd included some good names, with Richard’s charismatic son Henry acquiring the nickname Henry the Good, and Good’s son, another Henry, was known as “the Magnificent” due to his lavish patronage of the arts. Capability Brown, the master landscaper admired Magnificent’s gardens, and his bank was embezzled by one William Christmas.

The Austrian Fuggers are another banking family O’Brian’s mentioned. Fugger’s pronounced “fugeh,” and Jakob Fugger, aka Jakob the Rich, established a European copper monopoly and by 1500 controlled most of Europe’s overall economy. He also underwrote the 850,000 florins it took to get Austrian Charles V elected emperor of the Holy Roman Empire over France’s Francis I back when florins were solid gold. They’re worth $1,290.20 apiece today, and Jakob’s considered one of the world’s wealthiest people ever.

Americans are the richest people in history, intellectually speaking, by virtue of near-limitless information available at their numerous public libraries. But if you don’t use your public library to exercise your mind, then the joke’s on you.

Greg Hill is the former director of Fairbanks North Star Borough libraries. Contact him at 479-4344.