1. jstackpo says

    OK, I give up. I’m a meteorologist by training and career, so please ‘splain the joke.

  2. PaulBC says

    Me either. Some observations. Both biologists and non-biologists answer “write down a name” by providing a picture instead. Non-biologists (or does “everyone” include biologists?) provide a famous building that is structurally intact. Biologists provide a famous building that is famous for being structurally compromised.

    I think the above should be enough to “get” the joke except that this must be a joke only biologists get. It reminds me of the koan “Does a dog have buddha nature?”

  3. PaulBC says

    PZ@4 Errm, OK. But these are photos, not names. However, I will accept that biologists get it and find it funny.

  4. Oggie: Mathom says

    I need to turn in my historian’s card. I got that one.

    Remember: When you breathe you inspire. If you do not breathe, you expire.

  5. Ridana says

    Both biologists and non-biologists answer “write down a name” by providing a picture instead.

    They do? Why would they do that? I think this is why I still don’t get it even with hints. :/ Well, that, and that my first reaction is, “What animal? I don’t see an animal.”

  6. Reginald Selkirk says

    RE #4: But they’re not the same thing. So if you’re saying that ‘everyone’ and ‘biologists’ use different names for the same thing, you are screwing up.
    Says a biologist who didn’t get it.

  7. Ridana says

    Oh wait, I finally get it. Italics lean. ::groan:: I think of italics as a font style, like bold, not as an orientation of the type.

  8. PaulBC says

    Ridana@9 “They do? Why would they do that?”

    Well, if the “joke” is my only evidence, then I would have to include this.

    It is still bugging the hell out of me that “everyone” is, after all, a superset of “biologists” though I guess it’s true that a biologist may give both common and Latinized names.

  9. marcoli says

    Ok, I get it now. But I don’t think I was not the only one thinking it had to do with the male copulatory organ.

  10. PaulBC says

    marcoli@15 Yeah, I had considered that even if it didn’t make it into my list of salient differences in @5. It just didn’t seem to fit the question.

    I was going wildly off in the wrong direction, thinking that the difference was that a biologist would find an unusual case of a leaning building more interesting than one that stood straight. But that also didn’t make sense.

    The fact that the response is neither a name nor an animal is still the main characteristic that sticks in my head and it works about as well as any koan I have heard.

  11. jrkrideau says

    @ 12 chigau (違う)

    Have to admit I still don’t get it but I am a psychologist by training. We may just have a limited sense of humour.

    BTW is that picture accurate? I do not remember anything like that bad a lean when I was there in the 1980’s.

  12. blf says

    The mildly deranged penguin gets it. One legend (the picture is not relevant) supports the nonsensical hypothesis cheese it is made, the other legend (also attached to an inappropriate picture) acknowledges it is grown. Obviously.

  13. microraptor says

    Reminds me of an incident my college biology professor told me about where he tried taking a 7th grade biology test and failed because the questions were either too generic or too outdated (for example, it asked what order of mammal moles and shrews belong to. He, of course, put down Eulipotyphla while the test listed Insectivore as being correct).

  14. jrkrideau says

    The mildly deranged penguin gets it. One legend (the picture is not relevant) supports the nonsensical hypothesis cheese it is made, the other legend (also attached to an inappropriate picture) acknowledges it is grown. Obviously.

    Ah that’s it. My browser is not showing those lines. Blast it.

  15. Ridana says

    17) @ jrkrideau:
    The premise is that laypeople will provide a common (domestic) name written (assuming a non-oral response) in plaintext, herein represented by a modern, aggressively vertical building. Biologists ostensibly will provide a Latin (foreign) name written in italics which “lean” to the right, represented by a classical Italian building famed for its lean. And Italian evokes Latin, sort of. Hope that helps!

    I don’t remember the building leaning that much either. I know they’ve been doing some work to keep it from falling over as the lean has increased over the years, but I didn’t think it had gotten that bad.

  16. dianne says

    My interpretation was that “everyone” thinks that an animal (species) is a specific thing with clear margins and definite boundaries. Solid, upright, stable. A biologist thinks that an animal (species) is fuzzily defined with doubtful cases at the margins and is prone to change over time. Tippy and built on unstable ground, like the leaning tower. Example: “Everyone”: That’s a dog. Biologist: That’s a wolf which has been naturally and artificially selected for certain traits, but is capable of cross breeding with standard wolves as well as multiple other canines.

  17. John Morales says

    I certainly didn’t get it, and even after it’s supposedly explained it falls flat for me.

    (The actual difference is the binomial nomenclature, for mine, so one tower, two towers would have worked)

    In passing, I don’t know anyone who uses italics when writing something by hand.

  18. jrkrideau says

    @ 23 Ridana
    Thanks. I still do not understand the joke but that helps. But after 4 or 5 years of Latin I do not even understand that Latin “leans” to the right. I may know just too much Latin to understand the joke.

    A little like my cycling club riding along and a companion commenting on the hay crop. I am from a farming family and could not see any hay. It turned out that he was commenting on the straw. To someone from my background, they are not even close to similar.

  19. hemidactylus says

    This reflects badly on me but I was thinking Slick Willy, Porky’s, and distinguishable tallywackers.

  20. psanity says

    Okay. Okay, if it said “biologists and lawyers”, I would totally have gotten it.

    After dismissing the obvious phallic connotation, I was considering architecture, which was not getting me anywhere.

    Now my ridiculous brain is stuck thinking of other representative pairs nobody would get, either:
    Chuck Berry/Tito Puente
    saltbox New England Protestant church/Basilica of St. Peter
    or, for John M, Diana Ross/ The Supremes, except there were three Supremes, but otherwise it’s perfect because, see, Diana Ross derives from The Supremes! Get it? Ha!

  21. royhilbinger says

    An example – domestic dog canis lupus familiaris. Some of y’all are way overthinking this!

  22. Owlmirror says

    One legend (the picture is not relevant) supports the nonsensical hypothesis cheese it is made, the other legend (also attached to an inappropriate picture) acknowledges it is grown.

    If you hear your cheese groan, you might not want to eat a Pisa it.

    Yon penguin might imperially disagree.

  23. brain says

    Anyway the image of Torre di Pisa is not correct. Nothing -for sure nothing made out of stone- could survive such a tilt.

  24. Ridana says

    28 @ jrkrideau:
    Italics leans to the right, not Latin, per se. Although some stylists would have you italicize any words or phrases from a foreign language. Capisce?

  25. birgerjohansson says

    Felis catus feels more apt than canis lupus familiaris, at least for the right image, since cats leave a calling card of increased entropy.

  26. lumipuna says

    I feel odd about these kind of very nerdy jokes.

    Maybe it’s because the joke had to be explained, but I hardly found it funny at all in conventional sense. Instead, I feel moved by its cleverness, and aspire to achieve something similar myself.

  27. steve1 says

    This is more like a riddle than a joke.
    I didn’t get it but after it was explained to me, I did understand it but did not think it was funny.
    I guess it could be amusing if you think making lay people scratch their heads is amusing.

  28. PaulBC says

    luminpuna@38 steve1@39

    Right, it’s a riddle, not ha-ha funny. I sometimes like riddles though I’ll concede this one leaves me cold. To “aspire to achieve something similar myself” is a very normal response to puns and other word-play. Just don’t expect anyone to mistake it for comedy. It’s a puzzle, like Rubik’s cube, etc.

    I would not consider the use of italics a defining characteristic of biological terminology, and I bet it was pretty common not to worry about it when most of us had to write using typewriters with one fixed-pitch character set. The capitalization of the genus (such as in Escherichia coli) seems to matter more. Maybe that could be worked into a pun. I’m not a biologist and won’t speculate.

  29. Jazzlet says

    You’re all over thinking this, it doesn’t matter if you dont find it funny, but it gives some of us a laugh. Do none of you have private jokes with friends that no one else would get?

  30. PaulBC says


    I’ll accept that biologists (some at least) find it ha-ha funny. To me, the main “joke” is the over-thinking it evokes. I am left looking for some kind of “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” point to it. Doesn’t it bother anyone else that pictures of buildings are not names of animals or that biologistseveryone?

    I get more of a dada feel from this than the usual nerd pun like “What’s the difference between a mosquito and a mountain climber?”

  31. woozy says

    Okay… it doesn’t work for me because the Empire State Building with the busy Manhattan skyline and reinforced girders and art deco design is a lot more complicated and ornate and detailed than the sparse background and simple design of the Tower of Pisa.

  32. Rob Curtis says

    That building on the right leans to the right only because of the perspective from that camera angle. 😉

  33. Ed Peters says

    OK even with the joke/riddle explained I am having trouble finding any satisfaction in it. OTOH, the joke about what you get when you cross a mosquito and a mountain climber was wonderful. I guess I’m just not as appreciative of all humor as I thought.

  34. imback says

    @jstackpo #1: I’m pretty sure I remember you from the now abandoned World Weather Building.

  35. John Harshman says

    For the record, I’m a biologist. Heck, I’m a systematist. And I didn’t get the joke until PZ explained it. Also: not all that funny.