Funny, How?

More
250px-Felix_Cat-Haha.svg.png

As Niall Ferguson defends his recent exercise in feline jollity, the outcry in some quarters recalls the European journalism of the interwar years, with which the Harvard historian of the twentieth century must be familiar. French newspaper writers could not resist gags based on the homophones Shah and chat, provoking minor diplomatic crises. In one of them, as Time Magazine reported in 1937,


. . . the King of Kings was furious over "another French insult." Month ago L'Europe Nouvelle criticized the economic condition of Iran. The King of Kings demanded an apology, received one. A French columnist last week reopened the wound by rehearsing the incident under the punning headline // n'y avait pas la de quoi fouetter un Shah. This was a parody of the French phrase "There was nothing there with which to beat a cat," suggesting that the King of Kings had made a fuss about nothing. The poor pun was enough to make Reza Shah Pahlavi last week recall to Teheran his Minister to France. Mirza Abolghas-sem Nadjm "for an explanation," and withdraw his promise to lend Iranian art objects to the coming Paris International Exhibition which opens May 1.
Time mentioned an even better incident concerning the alleged conduct of the previous Shah; here's the full article. And maybe this is all just a failure to communicate. Professor Ferguson, impatient with "politically correct claptrap," must empathize with his royal countryman, misunderstood Prince Philip.

Thanks to my brother, David Tenner, for calling my attention to the French-Iranian episode years ago.


Source: Wikimedia Commons
Jump to comments
Presented by

Edward Tenner is a historian of technology and culture. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center and holds a Ph.D in European history. More

Edward Tenner is an independent writer and speaker on the history of technology and the unintended consequences of innovation. He holds a Ph.D. in European history from the University of Chicago and was executive editor for physical science and history at Princeton University Press. A former member of the Harvard Society of Fellows and John Simon Guggenheim fellow, he has been a visiting lecturer at Princeton and has held visiting research positions at the Institute for Advanced Study, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and the Princeton Center for Information Technology Policy. He is now an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center, where he remains a senior research associate.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

'Stop Telling Women to Smile'

An artist's campaign to end sexual harassment on the streets of NYC.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Where Time Comes From

The clocks that coordinate your cellphone, GPS, and more

Video

Computer Vision Syndrome and You

Save your eyes. Take breaks.

Video

What Happens in 60 Seconds

Quantifying human activity around the world

Writers

Up
Down

More in Technology

From This Author

Just In