What is the meaning of this sentence? I know every word in the sentence but can't figure out the meaning of it.

Flander: Homer, I'm in a rhubarb of a pickle of a jam here. I was all set to go off on vacation when I get called up for jury duty. Oh, it's a corker of a case. Seems a man drove up onto a traffic island and hit a decorative rowboat full of geraniums. Now they're trying it as a maritime offense. So, anyhoo, how'd you like to use my beach house, free of charge?

Homer: I only get two weeks of vacation a year and you want me to spend it in your lousy beach house?

Flander: Well, if it'll seal the deal I'll take a look at your septic tank, see if I can get her humming again.

Source: The Simpsons S07E25


  • For what it's worth, a British person, such as myself, is likely to have taken this joke completely wrongly (the answers about machinery are correct). In BrE, "humming" is also slang for having a characteristic, poor odour.
    – Dan
    Mar 26, 2015 at 22:13

2 Answers 2


To get something "humming again" (such as a car, or a machine) means to bring it back into good repair from a broken state. It implies that moving parts are working smoothly. So it is meaningless with respect to a septic tank, which has no moving parts. The humor derives from the incongruity.

  • 8
    In case this answer isn't completely clear: When a machine with moving parts is not working properly, it often makes clanking or banging noises. When it's running well, it makes something of a humming noise, a smooth, even tone. So to "get a machine humming" is to get it working properly.
    – Jay
    Mar 26, 2015 at 13:22
  • 3
    In British English, 'humming' is also used to describe something that smells terrible. I don't know if the scriptwriters intended the pun, but it did give me a laugh.
    – ssav
    Mar 26, 2015 at 15:26
  • 8
    Another thing a non-native speaker might be unclear about is the use of "her" to refer to an inanimate object. It's not uncommon for people (especially men), to use "her" instead of "it" to refer to a machine (such as a car or boat) that they are fond of. So just to be clear, the "her" in this sentence refers to the septic tank, not a person.
    – Keiki
    Mar 26, 2015 at 15:59
  • 2
    Note that a septic tank itself, while it has no moving parts, also has a pump to move the... material up to a drainage field. This pump (a sump pump) does have moving parts and may make some noise while it is activated.
    – user9910
    Mar 26, 2015 at 16:10
  • 2
    @TRomano: True, but in this sense "humming" just implies working smoothly, not necessarily making any noise.
    – jamesqf
    Mar 26, 2015 at 22:42

Just to provide a little more detail

I'll take a look at your

"I am offering to investigate the problems with" or "I will try to fix"

septic tank,

Some houses have a sewage treatment system - a septic tank - which is used instead of connecting to the main sewage system. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Septic_tank

see if I can get her humming again.

As described above "attempt to get it working".

The joke here is that Homer is being offered a very generous deal - he refuses - so Flanders literally offers to fix Homer's broken sewage system. A smelly and unpleasant job.

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