Saturday, May 10, 2008

"Who’s on First?" (Revised and Improved)

Abbott: Well, Costello, I’m going to New York with you. Bucky Harris, the Yankee’s manager, gave me a job as coach for as long as you’re on the team.

Costello: Look Abbott, if you’re the coach, you must know all the players.

Abbott: I certainly do.

Costello: Well you know I’ve never met the guys. So you’ll have to tell me their names, and then I’ll know who’s playing on the team.

Abbott: Oh, I’ll tell you their names, but you know it seems to me they give these ball players nowadays very peculiar names — strange names, like Dizzy Dean.

Costello: Strange indeed. That being said, what are the names of the athletes you’ll be overseeing?

Abbott: Well, let’s see, we have on the bags… Who’s on first. What’s on second. I Don’t Know is on third.

Costello: That’s what I want to find out.

Abbott: I say: Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know’s on third.

Costello: Are you the manager?

Abbott: Yes.

Costello: You gonna be the coach too?

Abbott: Yes.

Costello: And you don’t know the fellows’ names.

Abbott: Well, I should.

Costello: Well, then who’s on first?

Abbott: Yes.

Costello: I mean the fellow’s name.

Abbott: Who.

Costello: The guy on first.

Abbott: Who.

Costello: The first baseman.

Abbott: Ah, I see now that I was being unclear. You see, the name of the first baseman happens to be “Who,” much like the English relative pronoun “who.” Before, when I was repeatedly saying “who,” I was answering your question, not replying with an answer.

Costello: Oh. Well, I suppose that would make sense.

Abbot: The confusion is understandable.

Costello: That’s an exceptionally strange name to have. Is he Asian?

Abbot: I don’t believe so. In fact, while most of the players on the team have equally strange names, regardless of their ethnic heritage.

Costello: You don’t say.

Abbot: Yes, as a matter of fact. It’s probably for the best that we’re having this conversation now, as I can’t imagine what manner of confusion might have resulted otherwise. For example — and this will truly confound you — the second baseman’s name is “What.”

Costello: Also a relative pronoun?

Abbott: Yes, but not in this sense. It’s a name, just like “Dave” or “Bob” or whatever.

Costello: How strange. But surely all of team can’t be named for relative pronouns, seeing as how English only has four.

Abbott: As a matter of fact, it’s only Who and What who follow this pattern. Curiously, none of the players are named either “That” or “Which.” The rest of the team are named as follows: The third baseman is “I Don’t Know,” the left fielder is named “Why,” the centerfielder is named “Because,” the pitcher is named “Tomorrow,” the catcher is named “Today,” the shortstop is named is “I Don’t Give a Darn.” So many of them are named after generic parts of speech, or at least words or phrases that one might use to answer common questions. There doesn’t seem to be much reasoning behind it.

Costello: And the right fielder?

Abbott: That’s a mystery, surprisingly.

Costello: How strange.

Abbott: Indeed. But I hope this prevents any further confusion about the team.

Costello: I think it does. Thanks for laying all this out for me.

Abbott: It seemed necessary, given the situation.

Costello: Well, I can understand that.

[ Abbott and Costello stare at each other blankly. In the silence that follows, a thousand suns rise and set. ]

The end.

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