Have you ever been in the middle of a story that seemed to go on and on, with no end in sight? You may have heard someone describe it as a “shaggy dog story.” But what does that even mean?
The origins of this phrase are not entirely clear. Some say it comes from an old joke about a man who buys a dog for $10,000 because it has shaggy fur that matches his carpet. Others believe it originated from an actual breed of dog known for its long, unkempt hair.
Regardless of its origin, the phrase has come to represent a type of story that goes off on tangents, introduces countless characters and subplots, and ultimately leads nowhere. It’s a story that might be entertaining along the way, but ultimately leaves the listener feeling unsatisfied.
“A shaggy dog story takes up time and energy without actually achieving anything worthwhile.”
In recent years, the phrase has expanded to include any long-winded or pointless tale. So if you’ve ever found yourself bored by a friend’s meandering story, congratulations – you’ve experienced a shaggy dog story firsthand!
In this blog post, we’ll delve deeper into the meaning and history of this popular phrase. We’ll explore how it’s used today, examples of famous shaggy dog stories throughout history, and some tips for avoiding falling victim to this storytelling trap. So sit back, grab a drink, and get ready to discover the truth behind the age-old phrase – and maybe even learn how to avoid telling your own shaggy dog tales!
What is a Shaggy Dog Story?
A shaggy dog story is a long-winded tale that often ends with an anticlimactic or irrelevant punch line. It’s a type of joke or anecdote that builds up suspense and tension only to leave the listener feeling disappointed in the end. These stories are usually humorous, but they can also be frustrating or annoying to those who expect a satisfying conclusion.
The Definition of a Shaggy Dog Story
In literary circles, a shaggy dog story is defined as “an extremely long-winded anecdote characterized by extensive narration of typically irrelevant incidents and terminated by a pointless, or absurd punchline.” The term “shaggy dog” is derived from a breed of dog called a shaggy-haired Old English Sheepdog. These dogs are known for their unkempt appearance and the tendency to get tangled up in their own hair, much like the winding plot of a shaggy dog story.
“A shaggy dog story can be thought of as a journey without a destination—a long, meandering path that ultimately leads nowhere.” -Daniel Menaker
The Characteristics of a Shaggy Dog Story
At its core, a shaggy dog story is a form of anti-humor that relies on subverting the listener’s expectations. Here are some common characteristics of these tales:
- Long-winded: A shaggy dog story can go on for several minutes or even longer, taking time to build suspense and anticipation.
- Irrelevant Details: The narrator may include numerous tangents and non-essential details that don’t contribute to the overall story.
- Punchline Fizzles Out: Rather than providing a satisfying conclusion, the punchline is often anti-climactic or completely irrelevant to the rest of the story.
- Mocking: Shaggy dog stories often mock storytelling traditions by building up suspense only to deflate it in an unexpected way.
“A shaggy dog story takes you on a wild goose chase that suddenly devolves into absurdity.” -Jeffrey F. Barken
The Purpose of a Shaggy Dog Story
One might ask why anyone would bother telling such a convoluted and ultimately meaningless tale. Surprisingly, these types of jokes continue to be popular because they are a form of social commentary. Often used in satirical literature, shaggy dog stories can be seen as exposing the absurdity of society’s expectations and assumptions. They can also serve as a playful way of poking fun at our own tendency to take things too seriously.
“The shaggy dog story is saying, ‘Look, you thought this was going to be important, but actually it’s not.’ It’s a way of subverting people’s expectations.” -Daniel Menaker
In modern times, shaggy dog stories have even taken on new forms through mediums like Twitter. The limited character count forces users to craft lengthy and winding tales that culminate in a joke with a pun or twist ending. These tweets often go viral and showcase the continuing popularity of this type of humor.
A shaggy dog story may not provide the traditional satisfying conclusion, but its purposeful lack of closure serves as a reminder to embrace the unpredictable and find joy in life’s absurdities. Sometimes, the journey truly is more important than the destination.
The History of the Shaggy Dog Story
A shaggy dog story is a long-winded and rambling joke or anecdote that builds up to an anticlimactic ending. The term “shaggy dog” comes from an actual breed of dog, which has long, unkempt fur and an appearance that matches the winding nature of these stories.
The Origins of the Shaggy Dog Story
The origins of the shaggy dog story can be traced back to ancient oral storytelling traditions. These tales were often told around campfires or in villages, where they would take on different forms depending on the teller and audience.
One of the earliest examples of a shaggy dog story dates back to the 4th century BCE in India. The Jatakas, a collection of Buddhist folklore, features a tale about a clever monkey who outwits crocodiles and retrieves a sacred lotus flower from the bottom of the river.
The Evolution of the Shaggy Dog Story
The shaggy dog story continued to evolve over time, becoming more complex and drawn-out with each retelling. In many cases, these tales became focused less on the punchline and more on the journey itself.
In modern times, the shaggy dog story has become a staple of comedy routines and stand-up performances. Comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Steven Wright have employed the style in their acts, drawing out their jokes for minutes at a time before delivering the final reveal.
The Impact of the Shaggy Dog Story on Popular Culture
“The art of telling a shaggy-dog story—stretching it out into chapter after chapter of casual conversation, building and rebuilding the tension with every nonsensical little incident—is one that only the born raconteur can pull off.” -Slashdot
The shaggy dog story has had a lasting impact on popular culture, becoming a cultural touchstone and topic of fascination in its own right. In 2003, journalist Bobbie Strauss published The Shaggy Dog Story: A Study in Ephemeral Folklore, which delves deep into the history and significance of these winding tales.
But perhaps more importantly, the shaggy dog story has become an important reminder of the power of storytelling itself. Whether told around a campfire or performed by a stand-up comedian, these tales demonstrate how skillful use of language, pacing, and suspense can hook an audience and keep them engaged for as long as possible.
Why are Shaggy Dog Stories So Popular?
The Role of Humor in Shaggy Dog Stories
A shaggy dog story is a long-winded tale that ultimately ends up with an anticlimactic punchline. Despite this, these kinds of stories have been popular for centuries. One reason why they continue to entertain people is because of the humor they provide.
Shaggy dog stories rely on absurdity and unexpected twists in their narrative structure to create laughs. The audience is led into thinking that something significant or consequential is happening in the story, only to discover at the end that it was all a build-up leading to an underwhelming conclusion.
“Humor is such a multifaceted thing, grabs us by surprise when we least expect it.” – Agatha Christie
This basic structure also allows for comedic delivery and timing to play important roles in making a shaggy dog story work well. Many of the most memorable examples of these types of stories rely on verbal skill and storytelling ability to make them funny.
In sum, humor is one of the fundamental reasons why shaggy dog stories remain as engaging and beloved today as they were in earlier generations.
The Appeal of a Good Plot Twist in Shaggy Dog Stories
Another critical aspect of shaggy dog stories is the plot twist. A good plot twist adds an extra layer of excitement to any storyline, creating expectation and intrigue for readers/listeners.
Plot twists are a common feature of many narratives, but they are particularly important to shaggy dog stories since it’s the twist that turns what seems like an epic adventure into a joke. When correctly executed, a plot twist can catch listeners off guard and leave them feeling amused despite a seemingly ‘disappointing’ ending.
“The best stories have an unexpected twist at the end.” – Mark Haddon
The appeal of a good plot twist in shaggy dog stories is further highlighted by the fact that these types of stories require intricate and well-thought-out narratives to work correctly. The long build-up that leads to a sudden anticlimax relies on the creative skills of whoever is telling the story. They must capture the audience’s attention, gradually immersing them into the world presented before adding in twists and turns, all while keeping things light-hearted and amusing.
All great shaggy dog stories also use critical details and reminders throughout their length which inadvertently slowly sow seeds for re-evaluation when coming around back full circle to deliver the disappointing punchline.
The appeal of a good plot twist cannot be overstated when it comes to making shaggy dog stories successful. By creating intrigue and expectation through careful narrative building, shaggy dog stories can provide listeners or readers with one final payoff a perfect joke, resulting in an enjoyable and fulfilling experience.
Examples of Famous Shaggy Dog Stories
The Classic Shaggy Dog Story: “The Bear Hunt”
One famous shaggy dog story is “The Bear Hunt.” The tale starts with a group of men going on a bear hunt. When they come across the bear, one man tries to shoot it but misses and hits another hunting party in the distance.
“‘What’s that?’ said Fanny. ‘Oh probably some lout out there shooting cows or something,’ replied Fred.”
The story then takes a long detour as each person tells their version of events leading up to the accidental shooting. These side stories involve elaborate details about characters’ lives, such as an old woman baking bread or a boy who loses his pet chicken. Finally, after many twists and turns, the story circles back around to the original hunt where the true shooter admits his mistake, only to learn that the target was not even a real bear, but rather a man dressed in a bear suit advertising a local circus.
The Modern Shaggy Dog Story: “The Lawyer and the Duck”
An example of a more modern shaggy dog story is “The Lawyer and the Duck.” This story involves a lawyer being hired by a farmer who claims that his neighbor’s duck has been destroying his crops. After investigating the situation, the lawyer realizes that the neighbor’s duck is indeed causing damage and decides to sue him for damages.
“I once represented a man whose ducks wandered into a neighbor’s swimming pool, swam around for a while and dribbled chlorinated water all over the deck before wandering off. When I received the case materials, I saw that my client had tried valiantly—and hopelessly—to reason with the neighbors before resorting to litigation…The claim for damages totaled $90,000. If the payout seems excessive, bear in mind that it was pro-rated among 30 ducks.” -David Breitenbucher
The neighbor has a counter-argument: his duck is only doing what comes naturally and therefore should not be held responsible for its actions. The lawsuit drags on for years with both sides coming up with increasingly absurd arguments until finally, the judge throws out the case and suggests they settle their dispute by simply buying each other dinner.
The Longest Shaggy Dog Story: “The World’s Funniest Joke”
Perhaps the longest shaggy dog story of all time is “The World’s Funniest Joke,” which was created as part of a comedy sketch by Monty Python. The joke goes like this:
“Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn’t seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy whips out his phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps, ‘My friend is dead! What can I do?’ The operator says, ‘Calm down, I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.’ There is a silence; then a gunshot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says, ‘OK, now what?'”
The joke itself is not particularly funny, but the length of the buildup leading up to it takes several minutes and involves multiple characters and plotlines, making it a classic example of a shaggy dog story.
The Shortest Shaggy Dog Story: “The Baby Shoes”
Lastly, there is the shortest shaggy dog story ever written, known as “The Baby Shoes.” This story consists of only six words:
“For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”
While this story is technically a complete narrative, its true meaning and context are left up to the reader’s imagination, making it a perfect example of a shaggy dog tale.
A Shaggy Dog Story is not just any long-winded joke. It’s a particular kind of storytelling that takes its time in setting up the right conditions for a surprise punchline or twist ending that satisfies our expectations as audiences while also being entertaining and memorable. Whether classic or modern, short or long, these stories continue to capture people’s imaginations and provide laughter on unsuspected days.
How to Tell a Shaggy Dog Story Like a Pro
A shaggy dog story is a long-winded tale that often takes the listener on a winding journey full of twists and turns until it eventually arrives at an anticlimactic, and often humorous punchline. These sorts of stories can be challenging to tell effectively because they require precision in delivery and timing. Here are some tips for how to tell a shaggy dog story like a pro.
The Importance of Timing in a Shaggy Dog Story
Timing is everything when it comes to delivering a good shaggy dog story. It’s essential to pace yourself. A good way to think about pacing is by imagining you’re driving down a road with lots of speed bumps. If you hit them too fast, your passengers will feel jostled and uncomfortable, but if you go too slow, you risk putting them into a coma! The same applies to storytelling. Allow enough time to build tension, suspense, and anticipation before dropping the final punchline.
It also helps to have a sense of comedic rhythm. Try practicing telling jokes or watching stand-up comedians to see how they pause, deliver lines, and vary their speech patterns to create cadences of humor. This skill will come in handy during the delivery of your shaggy dog story where even a slight deviation from the correct timing can ruin the punchline.
The Art of Building Suspense in a Shaggy Dog Story
Suspense is another crucial component of any good shaggy dog story. Creating suspense requires that you manufacture expectations while leaving room for interpretation and speculation. One technique you could use would be to weave misleading details throughout your story as if they were breadcrumbs leading to a satisfying conclusion. Then, once you’ve taken your captive audience down an expected path, you can pull the rug out from under them with your anticlimactic punchline.
If you are adept at using vocal shifts or gestures to heighten tension and tip-off potential twists and turns in the story, this could also add another layer of intrigue for your listeners. Remember that a glimpse of anticipation is all it takes to engage someone’s interest. Once you’ve hooked your listener, they will be eager to see how the story plays out.
“Timing and pacing are crucial when delivering shaggy dog stories. You need to keep your listener engaged while leaving enough room for their expectations to collide with reality.” – Stephen Fry
“The best humor comes from surprise endings without a punch line.” -Jerry Seinfeld
One point to remember as you craft your story is that the journey you take the listener on should have some semblance of cohesiveness and direction. If you shift gears or go off topic too much, you run the risk of losing your audience before the joke even lands. When done well, Shaggy Dog stories provide us with comic relief by breaking our expectations instead of constructing new ones.
If you want to tell a good shaggy dog story, practice makes perfect! Take note of the nuances required to create expert timing and suspension within jokes as you tell them until these details become second nature. Be patient, follow the fundamental principles outlined here, and slowly but surely, your delivery of shaggy dog stories will improve immensely.
The Psychology Behind the Shaggy Dog Story
A shaggy dog story is a long one, that goes on and on, appears promising but ultimately ends up with no real conclusion or punchline. While it may seem like just a silly joke without any meaning, there’s actually some psychology behind these stories.
The Connection Between a Shaggy Dog Story and Cognitive Dissonance
Cognitive dissonance is a term used in psychology to describe the mental discomfort experienced by someone who holds two or more contradictory beliefs or values. In the case of a shaggy dog story, listeners are often expecting a humorous payoff at the end of the lengthy tale, yet only receive disappointment. This creates cognitive dissonance, as their expectation for laughter conflicts with the unfulfilled outcome.
According to research conducted by Robert L. Solso, author of “Cognition and the Visual Arts”, individuals tend to experience cognitive dissonance when they encounter an idea they don’t agree with or expect something different from what occurs. The length of the story makes us feel compelled to continue listening, despite our growing awareness that we might not get what we anticipated. As a result, we hang onto hope even at the risk of being annoyed and frustrated.
The Role of Anticipation in a Shaggy Dog Story
A shaggy dog story relies heavily on anticipation, which means building suspense or excitement about something that hasn’t happened yet. It exploits our natural desire to know what comes next, tempting our curiosity with the hope of a significant reward at the end. For example, if you’re telling a story about how you had a good day at work and then went home, no one would listen. However, if you keep them guessing throughout your whole story, everyone’s interest is piqued, regardless of the ultimate payoff.
“By making amusing verbal deceits and zany variations on a theme over time, shaggy dog story-tellers can prolong anticipation while keeping the audience interested enough to stand by,” according to Karen Schaffer Greenberg, author of “The Neuropsychology of Narrative: An Integrative Approach”.
“Anticipation is part of the pleasure we get from entertainment. Everyone loves a good comedy show or film that leaves us laughing, but equally important are those moments when we’re waiting for something funny to happen.” -Mel Brooks
Furthermore, anticipation may serve another function in providing relief to stress or discomfort in an individual’s life. As Susan Whitbourne, Ph.D., explains in her article “Why We Like Time-Wasting Entertainment”, “the power lies within our desire to escape daily pressures and indulge our need to be entertained and enjoy laughter or distraction.” In other words, listening to a shaggy dog story could help distract us from any issues in our life that weigh heavily on our minds.
While not inherently meaningful, there’s more than meets the eye with a shaggy dog story regarding cognitive dissonance and anticipation. At their core, shaggy dog stories hold significant psychological implications as they integrate different techniques designed to keep people hooked. Even considering all these factors, it still doesn’t negate how frustrating it can feel to have your expectations unmet—especially after investing so much time!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a shaggy dog story?
A shaggy dog story is a long-winded anecdote or joke with a seemingly pointless punchline. It often involves meandering tangents and unnecessary details that build suspense but ultimately lead to an anticlimactic ending. The story is meant to be entertaining in its absurdity and ability to keep listeners engaged until the end.
What are the characteristics of a shaggy dog story?
Shaggy dog stories are characterized by their length, lack of resolution, and humorous or absurd elements. They tend to feature a meandering plot structure with multiple digressions and tangents that lead listeners away from the main point. They also often contain intricate, descriptive language and vivid imagery that add to the entertainment value of the story.
Why are shaggy dog stories considered long?
Shaggy dog stories are considered long because of their meandering plot structure and tendency to include multiple tangents and digressions. The stories are often intentionally drawn out to build suspense and keep listeners engaged until the anticlimactic punchline. The length of the story is also part of its absurdity and humor, as listeners are left wondering why they invested so much time listening to a story with no real resolution.
What is the purpose of telling a shaggy dog story?
The purpose of telling a shaggy dog story is to entertain listeners with absurdity and humor. The stories are often intentionally drawn out and meandering to build suspense and keep listeners engaged until the anticlimactic punchline. They are meant to be lighthearted and entertaining, and the lack of resolution in the story is part of its charm and humor.