so there are those three philologists and one teacher sitting and eating something…let’s say, soup.
the first philologist finds the soup over-salted and says: “this is a little salty, don’t you think.”
the second philologist agrees to the first and says: “you are a queen of understatement.”
the third philologist adds: “yeah, she has her moments.”
there is some silence. then all three philologists laugh hysterically.
the teacher watches in embarrassment.
why the philologists laughed? because it was triple understatement with an element of oxymoron to it, and thus incredibly funny.
why the teacher felt embarrassed? probably because the triple understatement with an element of oxymoron did not occur as contradicting labels in their meta-language.
when i tried telling this to my first year students, they reacted with a question: “will we, too, have such a horrible sense of humour when we graduate?”
i said: “yes, if you study hard enough.”