794: Inside Joke
Title text: I've looked through a few annotated versions of classic books, and it's shocking how much of what's in there is basically pop-culture references totally lost on us now.
Inside jokes occur between friends and family members that live through a shared experience, which makes them laugh when they make reference to it later on. For people not "in the know", these inside jokes can come across as being completely incomprehensible, and in extreme cases just sound like random words strung together.
Randall posits the theory that this has been going on throughout history, and that historical figures probably had the same number of inside jokes as any modern group of high-school students. He probably chose to compare them to high-school students because that's generally the age where a person's social skills start to develop into an adult level - or not, in some cases.
The title text says that there are several classic books - the Odyssey comes to mind - that make pop-culture references to events that no modern reader was alive to see. Topicality sometimes has the unfortunate side-effect of the work being far less understood given time, and many references that would have made perfect sense to a reader at the time of publication now are completely lost on modern readers. Consider, as an example, the Shakespeare play, "Much Ado About Nothing". It is a direct title - much angst and anxiety is had in the play's plot over nothing of any real consequence. The title also has another meaning, however - "nothing" was a slang term for a woman's vagina, and so the title is actually a sexual pun. This fact is completely lost on most modern readers of the play, who are not familiar with the double meaning that that word had at the time.
- [Two men with beards stand at a crude wooden counter, one is wearing a turban. Behind the man without a turban is a woman kneeling on the ground and putting something into a box.]
- Turban man: Nine silvers for a ham? That's too much!
- No-turban: Too much? There's a monk out back with a ladder!
- Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
- There's no reason to think that people throughout history didn't have just as many inside jokes and catchphrases as any modern group of high-schoolers.