Sunday, November 08, 2009

Professor Fail

I'm reading along, and I get to this:

X: What hast been -- of what profession?

Y: A bone setter.

X: A bone setter!

Y: A bawd, my lord. One that sets bones together.

I'm not getting it. I get the idea that a bawd puts bodies together, and that bodies have bones, and Y has been carrying around his dead fiance's skull and all.

Is there more to the joke?

(The OED shows "boner" in the sense of an erection first in 1962. Bone-ache as a sign of STD is recorded in the 14th century, but that seems to be about whole-body bone aching, rather than sexual.)


  1. I'm guessing it's a syphilis joke, on the general principle that 90% of all incomprehensible jokes in early modern drama are about syphilis, but I can't absolutely swear that I understand how it works.

  2. David Crystal notes in _Stories of English_ that words get used in the language, often, earlier than they are recorded in the language, and that this is especially true of non-standard and dialectical use. So we might find "bone" and "boner" in use earlier than 1962.

    That said, the OED is pretty good on British dialectical use, in my experience (not so good on American and non-British dialects); and you're talking Shakespeare there, yes? So that's a fairly big gap. I don't know.