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In the following joke:

How do you hire a horse?

Stand it on four bricks.

The humor seems to come from the homophones hire and higher. Is that so? Because this is grammatically incorrect (to higher is not a verb, so how do you higher a horse has no grammatical meaning), and usually jokes using this kind of wordplay at least respect a syntactically valid structure.

Is this just a bad joke that does not respect the grammatical structure of the phrase, or is there another meaning? Looking at the collection of jokes at the end of the this page (which includes the horse joke) they all seem to respect grammaticality. I was not able to find a "joke explainer" site with the exact details of how a native English speaker is supposed to understand it.

(The reason I am asking is because this kind of joke has some educational value, e.g. at the end of a course when students are tired; such jokes may help introducing some extra vocabulary, or with memorizing phonetic rules. But if the joke is ungrammatical, this may actually confuse the students.)

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    Yes, the hire/higher homophone is the play on words. Is it a bad joke? Probably! – Billy Kerr Jan 12 '18 at 12:48
  • But could an equivalent phrase be used in other situations? For instance, "can you help me higher this table?", either informally or in some specific context? I have a hard time imagining even non-native English speakers making this sort of mistake. – anol Jan 12 '18 at 12:54
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    Perhaps a child might say something like that, the usual verb is "raise". The idea behind the original joke comes across as rather childish. – Billy Kerr Jan 12 '18 at 12:56
  • Well, I cannot accept your comment as an answer, so please make it one, or I could close the question if deemed not useful. I was really expecting some obscure English lore or hidden meaning to fully understand the joke... – anol Jan 12 '18 at 13:32
  • OK, I 'll add it as an answer. – Billy Kerr Jan 12 '18 at 13:59
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Yes, the hire/higher homophone is the basis of the play on words.

Is it a bad joke? Probably!

Do jokes need to follow exact grammar? Absolutely not! It's only a joke, if a somewhat corny one. It's a bit childish. And in fact, it is the kind of thing we might expect to hear from a child.

Edit: Since you are looking for some English "lore" then I wouldn't want to disappoint you. This might be relevant.

These type of corny/crappy jokes are often found in Christmas crackers here in the UK. Christmas crackers are traditional during Christmas lunch - these are little cardboard tubes wrapped up like Christmas presents.

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Two guests pull the cracker apart. The game is for adults or children. It has little firework inside that "cracks" when you pull it, hence the name. The person left holding the largest part wins the contents of the cracker. The crackers usually contain a rubbish joke, traditionally a rather childish joke just like the example you provided. Also a cheap toy and a paper crown are also inside the cracker.

It's all part of the traditional Christmas day things you absolutely have to do, whether you are a Christian or not. Christmas day without a corny joke or two is not a proper Christmas day.

  • Mine had no instructions, I thought one single person pushed both sides at the same time. I didn't understand why it always failed to open correctly... – anol Jan 12 '18 at 15:22
  • @anol That's really very funny, much better than the joke!!! LOL – Billy Kerr Jan 12 '18 at 15:31

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