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SHAGGY DOGS BARK AGAIN

We're pleased to see that Pat Solley, who runs the super soup site Soupsong, has successfully revived shaggy dogs, after they had been lying asleep for donkey's years. In last month's issue of her newsletter, Pat posted several amusing entries in a soup-inspired shaggy dog contest. First prize went to Etta Long, for this tale:

My husband and I spend many hours every day preparing meals for our three darling pooches. They all love soup, and we do our best to cater to their national tastes.

Murphy's a Great Dane, so naturally he enjoys my home-made Danish pastry, dipped in fiske suppe (fish soup) or hønsekødsuppe (chicken soup), with plenty of spuds (we call them murphies).

Our French poodle Fifi just dotes on French fries swimming in a velouté, a potage that has been thickened with a roux, moistened with a broth and then finished with butter and/or cream.

Fritz the dachshund fancies zwei-bohnenensuppe (two bean soup), gulaschsuppe (goulash soup) and Frankfurter Bohnensuppe (bean soup with frankfurters).

Whenever I feed our adorable pets their favorite foods they are truly grateful. If they were cats they would be supercilious, but dogs are different. Sometimes I wonder why they wag their tails when I feed them. Is it because of the soup or silly us?

Many younger readers (those under 50) have probably never heard of a shaggy dog story, but anyone above that age will know them, since they were all the rage shortly after World War II. All the rage describes them: some readers loved them, others groaned at the often outrageous puns (that's why they're sometimes called groaners).

A shaggy dog story is "a long-drawn-out circumstantial story concerning an inconsequential happening that impresses the teller as humorous but the hearer as boring and pointless; also: a similar humorous story whose humor lies in the pointlessness or irrelevance of the punch line." (Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary. 1977, G. & C. Merriam).

One of the world's leading shaggy doglovers is Alan B. Combs, of the College of Pharmacy at the University of Texas, who founded a hilarious website, Tarzan's Tripes Forever, eight years  ago. "A modern shaggy dog is one that tells an entertaining tale in its own right, and which ends in a ripping pun as the punchline," he wrote in 1996. "When done properly, there are clues given through the story that make trying to guess the punchline part of the pleasure and challenge."

Alan's son Brian now runs The Shaggy Dog Web Archive, which contains more than 1100 very clever stories, highly recommended to those who enjoy excruciatingly awful puns. Here's one of our favorites, written by Chris Cole, and copied by kind permission of Alan and Chris:

Having recently returned from a foray deep into cannibal country, famed explorer Angus MacDonnegal was asked by a hometown newspaper reporter whatever became of his trusted companion and ever-present protege, Heathcliff.

Angus sighed and replied, "Well, there we were, standing in front of this fierce-looking cannibal tribe's chief. Looking around at the band of imposing warriors all around us he asked me why I brought along such a seemingly frail-looking young man with me on such a perilous journey. I smiled, put my arm around Heathcliff and proudly said those fateful words..." Here Angus' voice trailed off into soft sobs.

"Poor Heathcliff!" he groaned, dabbing his eyes with his handkerchief.

"I say," said the reporter, "Whatever did you say that now seems so dreadful in retrospect?"

Angus composed himself and, with an ironic smile, said, "What do you suppose? I had the misfortune to tell the chieftain, 'Well, he's such a fine broth of a lad!' And the next thing you know..." his voice trailed off.

"Pity," noted the reporter.

"Quite," nodded Angus.

Chris Cole lives in Virginia, U.S.A., "not too far from the Emerald City, otherwise known as Washington, DC."  Giving us permission to copy his story (above) he told us: "Being an incorrigible and thoroughly unrepentant punster, thanks largely due to a father who appreciated a turn of the word (some might say a tortured twist), I've enjoyed both reading and writing the pompadored pups."

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Copyright © 2003

Eric Shackle

Story first posted May 2003

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