January 5, 2007


chestnut: an old joke or retold story n.
-- Webster's Unabridged New International Dictionary, Second Edition

A stale joke or anything that is trite. n.
The expression apparently comes from a play by William Dimond, The Broken Sword (1816). Recounting a favorite story, one of the characters says, “When suddenly from the thick boughs of a cork tree,” only to be interrupted: “A chestnut, Captain, a chestnut . . . this is the twenty-seventh time I have heard you relate this story, and you invariably said a chestnut, till now.”
-- Wicked Words: A Treasury of Curses, Insults, Put-Downs, and other Formerly Unprintable Terms From Anglo-Saxon Times to the Present, Hugh Rawson.

Sample sentences:
While giving group dance instructions at the senior center, Frank would recite from his trusty book--Jokes, Puns, and Riddles by David Allen Clark--five or six favored chestnuts that invariable drew at least a chuckle or two. Here is one of Frank's jokes:
Customer to diner waitress: “Do you have any pumpkin pies in here?
Waitress to Customer: “Mister, all our pies are punk* in here.”
Bloggin’ John Comments:
*In case you’re not quite sure what Frank meant by the word punk, here are two definitions that should prove helpful:
punk adj. (1) Something inferior or worthless, (2) Having a dry flavorless flesh—applied to fruits and vegetables.
-- Webster’s Webster’s New International Dictionary Second Edition Unabridged.

BTW, Frank’s joke is an example of a form of the pun called paranomasia—use of words alike in sound but different in meaning. A literary example would be Vladimir Nabokov’s quip in Lolita: “The Bustle: A Deceitful Seatful.” Frank’s joke, of course, plays with the similar sounds of “pumpkin here” and “punk in here.”

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