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I read these sentences in a book named The secret life of books

The library at Chatsworth – home of the Dukes of Devonshire and one of England’s greatest stately homes – includes doors covered with painted books that conceal the stairs to the library gallery. They have comic titles that give the game away.

When another door was added in the 1960s, the Duchess of Devonshire approached her friend Patrick Leigh Fermor, asking him to come up with some more joke titles. His suggestions included Intuition by ‘Ivor Hunch’, and Consenting Adults by ‘Abel N. Willing’.

Because English isn't my native language, it's really hard for me to understand English jokes. I tried to google these two titles, but got no explanation.

Can anyone please explain it to me?

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  • 1
    Before anyone votes to close, jokes which rely on the English language like this are implicitly on-topic. Dec 30, 2021 at 10:41
  • Puns like this cannot be googled.
    – Lambie
    Dec 30, 2021 at 14:36
  • I don't know. But I think I know why the title of The Secret Life of Books is funny. I bet it's based on The Secret Life of Trees. Dec 31, 2021 at 3:00

2 Answers 2

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The books don't actually exist. The joke is in the relationship between the titles and their "authors":

  • Intuition, Ivor Hunch: read that as "I've a hunch" — "A feeling or guess based on intuition rather than fact" (Lexico, my emphasis)
  • Consenting adults, Abel N Willing: read that as "Able ’n’ Willing" — "Having the power, skill, means, or opportunity to do something;" and "Ready, eager, or prepared to do it". "Consenting adults" usually has a sexual connotation, and in fact Lexico explicitly lists it: "An adult who willingly agrees to engage in a sexual act".
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English is my native language and I don't understand the joke either. LP Hartley wrote a book called The Go-Between whose first line is:

The past is a different country: They do things differently there.

It's often noted that humour doesn't easily carry across cultures and likewise across time. Shakespearean humour doesn't often elicit laughs, and its also the case here. In fact, this post at Chatsworth.org calls the jokes 'laboured'. In fact, this was the opinion of Patrick 'Paddy'Leigh Fermor who supplied the duchess with the titles, and who had suggested around 130, called "most of them hopelessly feeble".

They are mostly play on words, a pun, that one wit called the lowest form of wit. It's a British tradition to simply groan (rather than laugh) when someone in company comes up with a pun. Its also a style of humour prefered by one of the trashy tabloids, The Sun.

Other titles considered include:

Aygood Mauser, Minor Rodents

Stirling-Moss, Modern Banking

Here the first should be read 'A good mouser' and in the second stirling should be read as 'sterling' ie cash.

They also note that there was a fashion for fake bookcases in the late-Victorian era and often with comic titles. In fact, it was in an effort to improve upon 'the rather laboured jokes' of this craze that the Duchess commisioned Patrick.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – gotube
    Dec 30, 2021 at 22:23
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    Downvote because the first half is a moan about the type of humour, only getting to answering the OP in the second half, which is also half moan.
    – gotube
    Dec 30, 2021 at 22:26
  • @gotube: It's not a 'moan' but an observation that 'humour doesn't easily carry across cultures and likewise time'. And nor is the second half a moan as I'm explicitly quoting the guy who dreamt up the titles and who also thought the humour was 'laboured'. Perhaps if you were less focused on the so-called moaning and attempted to understand what I was saying ... Jan 18 at 18:32
  • Stirling Moss: Modern Banking is actually more sophisticated. Moss was a famous British race driver, and banking is one of the critical skills in racing.
    – Xanne
    Jan 31 at 18:23
  • @Xanne: Thanks for pointing this out. Jan 31 at 18:36

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