Judge John Hodgman Episode 220: Good Time Summertime Docket Clearin'


Judge Hodgman is assisted by Summertime Bailiff Monte Belmonte, taking on questions of broccoli-chomping, accidental raccoonslaughter, game night disputes, and the best construction of jokes.

You can find some of the suggestions mentioned for Great Balls of Ire here.

You can follow our fantastic Summer Bailiff Monte Belmonte and listen to him on WRSI 93.9 The River!


Text of Lisa's email and response from Hasbro is below.

Subject: Determination needed on Taboo rule re: 'form or part of a word'

Hi Customer Service Team!

During a recent game of Taboo, the game dissolved into chaos due to different interpretations of this rule:

"No form or part of ANY word printed on the card may be given as a clue. Examples: If the Guess Word is PAYMENT, "pay" cannot be given as a clue. If DRINK is a TABOO word, "drunk" cannot be give as a clue. If SPACESHIP is the Guess Word, you can't use "space" or "ship" as a clue."

The quarrel is over what counts as a 'form' or 'part' of a word. In this specific instance, the Guess Word on the card drawn was PEN. The Clue-giver used the word PENCIL, which was not one of the TABOO words on the card.

The opposing team immediately declared it a taboo, arguing that the word 'PEN' is part of the word 'PENCIL'.

The other team argued that the word PEN does not appear in PENCIL, but that the letter sequence P-E-N happens to repeat. The words 'pen' and 'pencil' are not etymologically related, since they derive from two different Latin root words. The opposing team was asked if they would have called taboo if the word OPEN was used by the clue giver, which also contains the letter sequence P-E-N. This team argued that it would not be a taboo if the Clue-Giver said the word AND in a case where the Guess Word was CANDLE or ANDROID.

The opposing team came back and said that PEN and PENCIL are associationally related, so the examples given above don't count.

Who is correct?

I look forward to your response.

Response By Email (Mike) (05/18/2015 02:42 PM)

Hi Lisa,

Thank you for contacting Hasbro regarding Taboo.

I'm pleased to reply. The second team, who were relying on the etymological reasoning, is correct.

Again, I'd like to thank you for taking the time to reach out to us.

I hope you have a fun day!

Kind regards,


Hotdog not a sandwich

What if you folded a single slice of bread in half without cutting it and put peanut butter on half, jelly on the other half. Would that still be a sandwich? Not arguing that a hotdog is not a sandwich, just wondering about other possible non-sandwiches.


Seeing that we're both involved in the law biz, I'm sure Judge Hodgman is familiar with the concept "affirmed on other grounds". Specifically, I believe that his response to Hasbro and Lisa is correct, but not for the reasons he relies on (his scorn for Merriam-Webster and the lack of popular familiarity with the Latin roots of "pen" and "pencil"). I also think Hasbro has it wrong.

The issue is not whether the word is related to the root of the target word, the issue is that hearing the syllable found in the target word, even if in a word unrelated to the target word, will improperly suggest the target word in the teammate's mind. The similarity of the sound, even without the etymological link, is what is improper.

On an unrelated topic that came up, I must take issue with the honorable judge's decision on hot dogs. Again, I believe he is correct that a hot dog is not a sandwich, but not because it is not ordinarily cut in half. The crux here, if I may, is that the hot dog is still a hot dog even if it is removed from its roll. This is in marked distinction with real sandwiches, where the bread is an essential element of the sandwich. Without the bread, not only is it not a sandwich, but it ceases to exist. For instance, if you could take the bread off a peanut butter and jelly sandwich what would you have left? A pile of peanut butter and jelly, but nothing that could ever be called a sandwich.

The hot dog is the opposite. Take it out of the roll and it's still a hot dog.

I've been enjoying the podcasts. Keep up the good work.

Jack McCullough


I haven't yet heard these arguments that a hotdog is not a sandwich. If one removes the hotdog from its surrounding breadstuffs, what is it? A HOTDOG! Such a deconstruction cannot be afforded any denizen of the sandwich phylum. To further question the logic of hotdog as sandwich, would one define pigs in a blanket as a sandwich? NO!


This episode is not safe for breakfast.
It's really hard to enjoy these bits of asparagus now that i have total body invading round worms on my mind.


Bryce's version of this joke is doubly dumb for the simple reason that neither helicopter nor rhino contain the "ph" sound. His punchline would actually be "helicino". That guy is a nitwit.


I came here to mention the "ph" sound as well. Good job, everybody.

Agreed.. until I typed it out then I agreed all over again.

I literally came here to vent my rage about JJH leaving out this explanation. But then I typed it out. There is no "ph" sound in either Helicopter nor Rhino... but if you remove the "R" from "rhino" and the "ter" from Helicopter then you get "Helicophino" Which... still doesn't work.


The whole point (in my joke telling history) of the Helicopter + Rhinoceros joke is not the genetic engineering or cyborg possibilities. It's that you tell it when you are 11 years old and saying "hell" is a titillating thing to do. (As it the word "titillating".) I had never heard the Elephant + Rhinoceros version before this podcast.


I would also submit that a helicopter crossed with a rhino would be a Rhinocopter, or a Heliceros, not a Helicino. Prefix-suffix agreement and all.

I also really like the sound of Helicoceros (all sibilant 'c's), but it doesn't quite jibe with the prefix-suffix structure.

That is a very good point.

That is a very good point. Which is why the helicopter joke falls flat.
As for the reasoning in the podcast, however, one could cross the rhino and helicopter via some sort of cybernetics. Actually, that sounds awesome, DARPA should make that.

If you cross a helicopter

If you cross a helicopter with a elephant you get a bunch of pieces of elephant.