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Sorry, Ma’am

Two readers (so far) don’t “get” a tagline from this week’s issue, so I thought I would explain the joke — even though I do understand “Explaining the joke makes it not funny.” Well, they don’t think it’s funny anyway, so let’s get to it. First, the story, from the 5 November 2017 issue:

A Wrinkled Suit

Jack and Patricia Mulkeen were asleep in their Yarmouth, Mass., home when their dog started barking at around 2:00 a.m. Patricia figured the dog saw a raccoon through the window, so she grabbed a flashlight and went to investigate. She sleeps in the buff, and didn’t bother to put any clothes on — why bother, for a raccoon? But when she got to her dining room, she spotted an intruder there. “I wasn’t frightened, I was just surprised,” she said. The man could see her, too: “Sorry, ma’am,” he said, and went out how he came in: via the cellar. Jack points out his wife is 91 years old, and not wearing a stitch. “That’d be enough to make him faint,” he said. “It’s a shock.” They called police, who quickly found Joseph M. Parent, 28, and charged him with breaking and entering with intent to commit a felony, and drug possession. (RC/WHDH Boston, Boston Globe) …Millennials just don’t know the right thing to say in a situation like that. The polite response is “Sorry, sir.”

Kimberley in Oklahoma was first: “I didn’t get the tagline. Help me comprendo por favor.”

Barbara in California was angry: “Randy, your ‘Wrinkled Suit’ article was pretty surprising for a man who says someone else (Donna Dixon) should ‘treat all people like human beings.’ Does that not apply to elderly people? Does an older woman look so much like a man to you that you think the miscreant should have said, ‘Sorry, sir?’ The title itself was downright mean. I am very disappointed in you.”

The tone of the story was set not just by Mr. Mulkeen’s humorous reaction, but by his wife’s calmness (“I wasn’t frightened, I was just surprised.”) Another quote from the husband, which I left out for space reasons, reinforces it even more: “She’s standing there in the altogether,” he said. “He’s face to face to a naked 91-year-old. We got a big kick out of that.” (Emphasis, for me, on the “we”!)

But my tag? It’s a throwback to an old joke. I have heard it many times, and thought for sure it was included in Jumbo Joke (which I sold a couple of years ago, but still have the archive) …but it was not. How old? Here’s the version of the joke published in the November 1928 edition of Door-ways magazine (via the Internet Archive — “a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more.”):

The oldest example of the joke I could find, but it probably goes back farther.

In discussing store etiquette we must not forget that, as well as courtesy, tact plays an important part; and now that we have mentioned tact what better example could we offer than that contained in the final instruction of the French plumber to his son ready to go out on his first job.

“My son,” said the father, “this is a trade that requires a great deal of tact, for we sometimes have to meet the most unexpected situation. Now, just what would you say if you suddenly entered a bathroom and saw a lady in her bath?”

“I would say,” replied the son, “‘Excuse me, madam.'”

“That would be courtesy,” said the father, “but I would say, ‘Excuse me, sir.’ That would be tact.”

Thus the Tagline Was Pointing Out that the burglar “should” have had tact and “pretended” that he could not clearly see the naked homeowner confronting him. Simple as that.

So for Barbara and any other ladies that thought I was slamming “elderly people,” Sorry Ma’am, but that was not my intent whatever.

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24 Responses to Sorry, Ma’am

  1. Mark, Minnesota November 7, 2017 at 12:00 pm #

    I got it, but have to admit that I thought it pretty obscure!

    • Marcos, Spain November 7, 2017 at 12:41 pm #

      I didn’t and I’m grateful for the explanation. Always good to learn something new.

  2. Eric, Idaho November 7, 2017 at 12:35 pm #

    Apparently a number of your readers are Millennials!

    Heh! -rc

  3. David, Alsace November 7, 2017 at 12:45 pm #

    I have always been lead to believe the phrase should be attributed to Dr Samuel Johnson.

    Not that I know of, but if you have a reference I’ll be glad to update the page with it. -rc

  4. Tom, Fairbanks, AK November 7, 2017 at 1:13 pm #

    I hadn’t heard that joke. That’s good.

    I thought you were referencing another joke about an old woman not wearing a new nightie her husband had bought and his comment that is should have been ironed. No it didn’t quite fit with the tag line but, “Oh well.”

    FWIW, I not a millennial.

  5. Tom, Decatur, IL November 7, 2017 at 2:01 pm #

    I got it, Randy, although my recollection of the punchline for the joke was slightly different. Didn’t think it was at all obscure.

  6. Carole, Australia November 7, 2017 at 2:37 pm #

    I didn’t find it funny, but I didn’t find it offensive either. It is actually quite a clever way to make a naked person think you didn’t see enough to tell if male or female.

  7. Mark, Toledo, OH November 7, 2017 at 2:48 pm #

    I oft times miss a critical piece of information given. In this case, I thought the “Sorry Sir” line was a reply by the elderly matron. Which, in a way, I think might have been a humorous line for her to say. Thankfully, others missed the reasoning behind the end remark and your explanation helped me to realize I “blew” it again. Thank you, and have a happy life and keep publishing life in this world as we know it. P.S. Do you know whether the young lady that dared to bare all or part of her shoulders will get to walk across the stage to get her diploma.

    Glad to give you a fresh look at the story. I’m not sure your P.S. relates to a story in TRUE. At least, I can’t think of one like that anytime recently. So my answer is, I don’t know! -rc

  8. Louise, Texas November 7, 2017 at 3:10 pm #

    This is a crazy world. Everyone gets offended at everything, even jokes. Chill out, people.

  9. Jim, Ark. November 7, 2017 at 4:42 pm #

    Halfway through reading the article, that old joke popped into mind!

    • David B, Maryland November 13, 2017 at 1:15 pm #

      Like Jim from Arkansas, I had already thought of that joke, and chuckled, while reading the article. My chuckle was over before I read the tagline.

      I do love reading your taglines. Often they not only bring a smile, but also help me view the story in yet another light.

  10. Barbara in California November 7, 2017 at 5:17 pm #

    Randy, I’m glad the “sorry, sir” insult wasn’t intentional. But “wrinkled suit” was your choice. Please have some compassion for me and other wrinkly old ladies!

    “Wrinkled Suit” is ALSO a very old joke (and a much better known one) that’s right in line with the husband’s comments. I do wish you’d think about who you’re speaking to, and give the man (I had thought!) you respect a little more benefit of doubt and, like the other reader, asked questions rather than chose offense.

    P.S.: I have some wrinkles too, and I EARNED every damn one of them! -rc

    • Barbara in California November 7, 2017 at 5:34 pm #

      The offense was a visceral reaction; the disappointment was because I do respect/admire/like you!

  11. Kimberley in Oklahoma November 7, 2017 at 5:49 pm #

    I obviously knew there was something more to it but I could not wrap my brain around what it was. Even with the explanation I was reading the parable and before I continued on reading knowing that the answer was there I tried again to figure it out on my own and still could not get it. Of course after you spelled it out, the light bulb came on!

    Can’t get a home run all the time, I guess! -rc

    • Kimberley in Oklahoma November 7, 2017 at 5:51 pm #

      Well it makes perfect sense. Good one and it sure made me think! So isn’t that a home run?

      In that sense, I suppose it is! Thanks for the attitude adjustment. -rc

  12. Brett, Sydney Australia November 7, 2017 at 7:41 pm #

    Randy, I enjoyed the story, the tagline and now the background to the tagline.

    I know everyone has a different take on your stories, but it was certainly not offensive to me. But then again, in being a ‘thought provoking’ Newsletter maybe it is at times! Nevertheless keep it up!

  13. Marty, Texas November 7, 2017 at 10:10 pm #

    I didn’t get it the first time around but was so tired at the time, that I chalked it up to that. And didn’t pursue it. With this follow-up, I can say that I HAD heard the joke before, but didn’t make the connection. I’m not so sure that’s Randy’s fault. The umbrage some took was head-shaking. I thought the story itself was hilarious, especially the old man’s comments.

  14. Robert, Fort Mohave... snow birding it. November 9, 2017 at 8:59 pm #

    Randy, Randy, the reference is older than my 73 year old mind can recall. However, it is great to learn something new.

    The two who were offended need to take heed. Not all that is funny is obvious!

  15. Barry, Texas November 10, 2017 at 1:46 pm #

    Barbara in California complained the tagline was “pretty surprising for a man who says someone else (Donna Dixon) should ‘treat all people like human beings.’” Randy didn’t say that, that story was shown as contributed by Mike Straw. A classic example of when someone should “think first, and react later, if at all”?

    I did notice that, and yes: choosing to be angry often short-circuits thinking. That’s part of publishing the two letters I got about the story: Kimberley chose not to react until she understood what was being said. Since she couldn’t figure that out, she asked first. Thoughtful indeed. -rc

  16. Gilah in Karmi'el November 10, 2017 at 3:06 pm #

    Having not heard the joke before, I’m glad you explained it. It helped me appreciate the article more knowing the joke.

  17. Creede, Seattle November 11, 2017 at 12:46 pm #

    There’s a follow-up to that joke that I think I heard from H. Allen Smith.

    The young plumber comes in one day and says “You know that advice you gave me about tact? I was able to use it today.”

    “Do tell,” says the father.

    “Well, I went into a house to do a job, and the bedroom door was open right next to the bathroom. A man and a woman were there in bed, stark naked. So I took your advice. I tipped my cap, said “Sorry, gentlemen,” and closed the bedroom door.

  18. Cheryl, in DeBerry, Tx. November 11, 2017 at 5:13 pm #

    Well I’ll be dipped in shit. There’s another way to interpret the tagline. I thought the old lady should be saying “Sorry, sir”. I guess I was just thinking about my reaction, had it been me standing there in my birthday suit!

    Either way, absolutely no offense taken.

    Keep ’em coming!

    Of course, someone will be offended by your sixth word, but I’ll just say aww shucks: it’s just a Texas-ism! -rc

  19. Brent, Tampa FL November 12, 2017 at 11:08 pm #

    I got it immediately, without having known of the joke (I’m not a millennial, maybe that’s why?) And anyone who thinks any 91-year-old, of whichever gender, doesn’t look like a wrinkled suit is obviously getting old enough to need an eye exam!

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