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Failure to Communicate - Humorous Use of Words With Multiple Meanings

Updated on May 19, 2011

Many English Words Have Double Meanings

One of the confusing things about the English language is the fact that the same word can have more than one meaning.

Sometimes both the pronunciation and spelling are the same as with the word cold – if I have a cold it means I am sick with a virus, while if I am cold it means the temperature is uncomfortably low.

With other words the spelling is different but the pronunciation is the same. If I have the flu it means I am sick with a more serious virus, while if I say that “I flew to Europe” it means that I made the trip by airplane.

However, what does a casual listener interpret when I mention “the bird flu / flew ... “? In the first instance I am referring to a virus that develops in and is then spread to humans via birds. While in the second instance I am referring to a bird doing what it does naturally and that is flying.

Read below to see what happens to a slow witted delivery driver named Joe when he walks into a doctor's office and repeatedly answers a question with the same word that has two meanings.

Graphic with text of shingles joke
Graphic with text of shingles joke | Source

One Can Respond to Words Literally Without Being Slow Witted

While the the double meaning of the word shingles makes for a good laugh in the joke above, using a slightly longer sentence generally puts the word with more than one meaning in context thereby clarifying what is meant.

Despite this, there are situations where one can deliberately use a word with more than one meaning to mislead another and gain a advantage.  

An Episode From the Old TV Series "Hogan's Heroes"

A good example of this was an episode of the old CBS TV series Hogan's Heroes which ran from 1965 to 1971. This particular episode, which was titled Top Hat, White Tie and Bomb Sight and first aired in November 1965 involved the name Norden which referred to both a military insturment - the Norden Bombsight - and a consumer  product - the Norden Vacuum Cleaner.

The series was set in a World War II Nazi prisoner of war camp in which American and other Allied POWs were being held. In the series American Army Air Corps Colonel Hogan (played by actor Robert Crane) and his fellow POWs were pitted against the imbecilic German Colonel Klink (played by Werner Klemperer) and the stupid, but somewhat lovable, Sargent Schultz (played by John Banner).

The Norden Bobmsight was originally designed prior to World War II for use by U.S. Navy aircraft. The designer was Carl Norden, a Dutch engineer who had immigrated to the U.S. and worked for the Sperry Corporation he first began work on the bombsight and later as the owner of the Norden.

The Norden Bombsight enabled aircraft to target their bombs more accurately and was used by the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II and by its successor, the U.S. Air Force in the subsequent Korean and Vietnam conflicts.

In the episode Hogan and his team dupe Klink into helping Hogan make contact with an Allied spy in the town near the POW camp.

They do this by making Colonel Klink think that Hogan has working knowledge of the design and operation of the Norden Bombsight (actually the plans for the Norden Bombsight had been obtained by the Nazis in 1938 before World War II from a German spy who worked in the American factory that manufactured the Norden Bombsight).

Colonel Klink falls for the trick and takes Hogan to a restaurant in the nearby town intending to get Colonel Hogan drunk and reveal the information about the bombsight.

Hogan succeeds in his effort to contact the spy and then returns to the POW camp with Colonel Klink where he answers Klink's questions about the Norden by describing the Norden Vacuum Cleaner.


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    • profile image

      John Joon 10 years ago

      HA, ha, ha....

      What a great joke!

    • Chuck profile image

      Chuck Nugent 11 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Thanks for the comments and glad you enjoyed this as much as I did. I had a good laugh when I first found it in an email my sister forwarded to me. I tweeked it a little and published it here so others could have a good laugh as well.


    • profile image

      anonymous 11 years ago

      hah! that just made my day.

    • jimmythejock profile image

      James Paterson 11 years ago from Scotland

      lol chuck