Language:a puzzle within a paradox

Many years ago; in another world, two famous comedians lived, who were named Abbot and Costello. Many of the younger generation today never heard of them, and are sadly denied their wisdom.  And that is a truth that we have a hard time understanding; wisdom is truly born in humor. Laughter gives birth to life in so many ways, and language is the source of much humor, especially when translating. We study languages for years and then fail in our understating the culture that gives birth to language and laughter. For instance, when we read the Bible, we take it so seriously. We accept it as simple fact; the word of God! We fail to understand that God laughs – and speaks in a language that is layered with many different levels of truth and bound together with love.


Abbot: Strange as it may seem, they give ball players nowadays very peculiar names.

Costello: Funny names?

Abbott: Nicknames, nicknames. Now, on the Chicago team, we have “Who’s on first. What’s on second, I don’t know is on third –

Costello: That’s what I want to find out. I want you to tell me the names of the fellows on the Chicago team.

Abbott: I’m telling you. Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know is on third –

Costello: You know the fellow’s names?

Abbott: Yes

Costello: Well, then, who’s playing first?

Abbott: Yes

Costello: Well, then, who’s playing first?

Abbott: Yes

Costello: I mean the fellow’s name on first base.

Abbott: Who.

Costello: The guy on first base.

Abbott: Who is on first.

Costello: Well, what are asking me for?

Abbott: I’m not asking you – I’m telling you. Who is on first.

Costello: I’m asking you – who’s on first?

‘Abbott: That’s the man’s name.

Costello: That’s who’s name?

Abbott: Yes

Costello, When you pay off the first baseman every month, who gets the money?

Abbott: Every dollar of it. And why not, the man’s entitled to it.

Costello: Who is?

Abbott: Yes.

Costello: So who gets it?

Abbott: Who shouldn’t he? Sometimes his wife comes down and collects it.

Costello: Who’s wife?

Abbott: Yes. After all, the man earns it.

Costello: Who does?

Abbott: Absolutely.

Costello: Well, all I’m trying to find out is what’s the guy’s name on first base?

Abbott: Oh, no, no. What is on second base.

Abbott: Who’s on first!

Costello: Chicago has a good outfield?

Abbott: Oh, Absolutely.

Costello: The left fielder’s name?

Abbott: Why.

Costello: I don’t know, I just thought I’d ask.

Abbott: Well, I just thought I’d tell you.

Costello: Then tell me who’s playing left field?

Abbott: Who’s playing first.

Costello: Stay out of the infield! The left fielder’s name?

Abbott: Why.

Costello: Because

Abbott: Oh, he’s center fielder.

Costello: Wait a minute: You got a pitcher on this team?

Abbott: Wouldn’t this be a fine team without a pitcher?

Costello: Tell me the pitchers name.

Abbott: Tomorrow.

Costello: Now, when the guy at bat bunts the ball – me, being a good catcher, I want to throw the guy out at first base, so I pick the ball and throw it to who?

Abbott: Now that’s the first thing you’ve said right.


Abbott: Don’t get excited. Take it easy.

Costello: I throw the ball to first base, whoever it is, grabs the ball, so the guy runs to second. Who picks up the ball and throws it to what. What throws it to I don’t know. I don’t know throw it back to tomorrow – a triple play.

Abbott: Yeah, it could be.

Costello: Another gets up and it’s a long ball to center.

Abbott: Because.

Costello: Why? I don’t know and I don’t care.

Abbott: What was that?

Costello: I said, I DON’T CARE!

Abbott: Oh, that’s our shortstop!


Both depend on active listening with more than just the mind. The spirit of the words take shape, determined on a common cultural understanding and a willingness to enter into the other; their history, their life experiences, their shared cultural experiences and all of this is much more than sound waves that move through the ears into the brain. As these waves enter our brain, we immediately begin to translate them – to give them meaning, based on our own experiences; positive and negative. We watch facial gestures, hand gestures, hear sounds and immediately begin to translate them; sometimes correctly, other times incorrectly, but always partially. It is good to be able to laugh at ourselves and at our circumstances. At times, we walk around listening to the the prattle and empty noises of woe and anger. We so often express these same words because we fail to listen and jump to conclusions that are only partially true. We see through a glass darkly as Saint Paul says so well. We need to learn how to relax; sing a little, dance a little, laugh a little and let God be God, understanding that ultimately we are not God and are not in charge. 

2 thoughts on “Language:a puzzle within a paradox

  1. I have the Who’s On First routine as an mp3 on my phone. Years back, I was trying to illustrate some point to a young new member of my work team, and they had no idea what I was talking about when I mentioned Who’s On First. I find it as funny and useful now as then.


  2. As my son told me once words have pictures. When I say a word to you our pictures might be different. Causes confusion


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