"The higher (they fly) the fewer" and "The answer's a lemon"

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"The higher (they fly) the fewer" and "The answer's a lemon"

Post by Archived Topic » Wed Nov 10, 2004 12:32 am

These appear to be catchphrases from British radio comedy shows of the 1940s or 1950s, but which ones? And what (if anything) do they refer to?
Submitted by Simon Beck (London - England)
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"The higher (they fly) the fewer" and "The answer's a lemon"

Post by Archived Reply » Wed Nov 10, 2004 12:46 am

.. Simon I know one of the phrases .. it is the answer to a riddle which in itself has little meaning but can be known to send people into fits of laughter >>
Q. Why is a duck ??
A. The higher the fewer !! .. boom boom .. and to continue >>
Q. What's the difference between a duck ??
A. One of its legs is both the same !! .. boom boom again ..
.. sorry but I have absolutely no idea where they originated from ..
WoZ of Aus. 13/05/04
Reply from Wizard of Oz (Newcastle - Australia)
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"The higher (they fly) the fewer" and "The answer's a lemon"

Post by Archived Reply » Wed Nov 10, 2004 1:01 am

There is a German conundrum that's pretty similar to the second above:
Q. What's the difference between a duck?
A: There's none. Both legs are exactly the same length, especially the left one.
Admittedly silly too, and the answer to the second part of Simon's question still remains a lemon to me - well, sort of...
Reply from Hans Joerg Rothenberger (Walenstadt - Switzerland)
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"The higher (they fly) the fewer" and "The answer's a lemon"

Post by Archived Reply » Wed Nov 10, 2004 1:15 am

The phrase "The higher the fewer" crops up in Spike Milligan's nonsense poem about Maverick Mowles (and his rumbling bowels), but almost certainly pre-dates it. Could there be a Goon connection?

I did a bit more research and have traced "The answer's a lemon" to James Joyce's epic "Ulysses". Maybe I'll read it one day...
Reply from Simon Beck (London - England)
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"The higher (they fly) the fewer" and "The answer's a lemon"

Post by Archived Reply » Wed Nov 10, 2004 1:29 am

When I was a kid, my dad asked me, "Why is a mouse when it spins?" The answer was, "Becuase the higher they go, the fewer." Made no sense then either.
Reply from Keith Allen (Los Angeles - U.S.A.)
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"The higher (they fly) the fewer" and "The answer's a lemon"

Post by Archived Reply » Wed Nov 10, 2004 1:44 am

It is my understanding that the question, "When is a mounse if it spins?" and the answer, "The higher the fewer" were "code-words" used during Elizabethan and/or Stuart times (maybe even during Cromwell's "Commonwealth".
Reply from Brian Dunkerley (Calgary - Canada)

Since we are probably talking folk etymology in any case here is a one from a book called Notes & Queries (1990) by Whitaker, which is a compilation of reprints of questions sent into a column in the British paper The Guardian starting in 1989. One of the questions to the column and in the book was the following riddle and explanation:

“WHY IS A MOUSE WHEN HE SPINS?” and its even sillier answer, “THE HIGHER, THE FEWER.” This was one of my father's favorites. The most interesting answer was that it is not altogether nonsense - properly it should go “How is a mouse when it spins? - The higher, the fewer.” And the meaning had to do with the centrifugal governor on an old steam engine - the weight was called the “mouse,” and as the engine rpm increased the mouse would rise due to centrifugal force. But as the mouse rose, the arm would force the steam valve in the more closed direction, thus reducing the rpm, that is, “the higher (the mouse), the fewer (rpms).” So for a given setting of the mouse on the arm, the engine would run at a constant speed.
_____________________________

Pardon my indiscretion,

Ken G – February 11, 2005
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