I’ve been quietly refraining from making Your Mom jokes for the last week or so, and it is actually a sort of difficult experience.
Partly because habits are just hard to break; partly because I actually really love “your mom” jokes.
Not because I think making fun of people’s moms is funny; I pretty much stay away from anything resembling a plausible attempt to comment on anyone’s actual mom.
I love your mom jokes because I love playing with language, and the process of yourmomization (for lack of a better word) is a seriously flexible one that lends itself to a wide variety of induced nonce euphemisms from the literal to the absurd. I like how it’s possible to take even the most innocuous sentence and yourmomize it, how the cultural association of “your mom” jokes with implications of e.g. sexual impropriety means even a totally absurd substitution (A: “I collated those files”, B: “I collated your MOM” or B: “Your MOM collated those DICKS”) reads as an acceptable (if often deeply stupid) semantic transformation.
I’ve even put serious thought in the past into, as a project in amateur computational linguistics and natural language processing, building a YourmomBot that would be purpose-built to parse natural language input, identify potential substitutions, and generate a comeback response from those candidates. (It could even be a learning machine: using either an explicit rating mechanism or an NLP heuristic that tries to gauge the positive/negative valence of responses to its comeback, it could build up a model of what substitutions work and use that to weight future candidate selections. As the basis for a joke entry in a future Loebner Prize competition it’d probably at least get a few laughs.)
I love dumb jokes for their own sake, but fundamentally the humor I find in absurdist yourmomization is not so much in the lowbrow implications of any given joke as in the sort of ready-made, Mad Lib universality of the pattern of jokes when made in series; it’s in the way yourmomization, when employed not as a personal attack of opportunity but rather as an always-on regime, is revealed (to paraphrase Stanley Kubrick) not to be hostile so much as indifferent.
A very specific riff on Chomsky, a modified theory of deep linguistic structures: every sentence was actually a your mom jokes all along.
But what I’ve realized is that what may be for me a personal exercise in long-form absurdism may as well be, for those around me, an exercise in littering every single conversation with really banal, repetitive only-barely-jokes. Which isn’t really fair to everybody who isn’t me, and isn’t really how I want to come off.
And I have tolerant friends and a deeply tolerant wife; no one is going to tell me I have to cut it out, nobody thinks I’m actually trying to diss their mom. They might groan a bit, which is the least they’re entitled to do, but that’s about all. They’re kind people.
But having a couple of friends visit for a few days at the end of last year and realizing that I was yourmomizing everything, even literally reflexively yourmomizing random snippets of half-overheard conversation from the other room, made me think about whether maybe it’s time to reel it in some, to recalibrate the meter. And probably the most effective way to start that process is to just kick cold turkey for a while.
And so I’ve stopped making “your mom” jokes for the moment. For a few days now.
All I can moderate so far is what comes out of my mouth (or mostly, considering most of my daily conversation is over the internet, what comes out of my fingers), not what comes into my head, and so I’m not really at a psycholinguistic level making any fewer of them, but now instead of having reflexive yourmomization thoughts and then producing them out into the world, I’m actively quashing the production part of process. Sometimes I mutter them quietly to myself instead of typing them out, but mostly I’ve been getting out ahead of that even.
It feels a bit like stifling a sneeze, one of those stifles where your sinuses get blasted by the blowback and feel unhappy. It’s not a process I’m enjoying. But it’s educational. It’s interesting. And I’m probably annoying fewer people.
And if I bottle up enough of this antiyourmomization frustration it might push me over the edge into actually implementing that chatbot.