Funny ha-ha? Or funny peculiar?
November 10, 2013 3:10 PM   Subscribe

Can someone explain this joke in the NYT Book Review?

A book review in today's NYT opens with lawyers gesturing to train passengers and anticipating the opportunity to "charge them whatever the traffic will bear.”
The reviewer then says it was "the first law joke I ever got, after it was explained."
Um .. I don't get it. Of course lawyers charge what the market permits, as does every professional, and every business.
Is it a play on '"traffic," i.e rail traffic? Is it noting the lawyer's (presumably cynical) view of every civilian as a potential client?
Is it ... funny?
posted by LonnieK to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Is it a play on '"traffic," i.e rail traffic? Is it noting the lawyer's (presumably cynical) view of every civilian as a potential client?

I think yes and yes.

Is it ... funny?

No. But then, I don't much see the humor in jokes about dead lawyers, lawyers as sharks, etc. either.
posted by bearwife at 3:25 PM on November 10, 2013


A significant though unfortunate possibility is that it's an insinuation about drug trafficking that has to do with the next clause about the changing demographics of a city that borders the Bronx.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 3:39 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


The phrase, I'm pretty sure, originated with charging for railroad access for freight transport in the days before regulation. That's what makes it (structurally, anyway) a joke, I think…
posted by oliverburkeman at 3:58 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is it ... funny?

I think if you have to ask the question, the answer is automatically no.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 4:17 PM on November 10, 2013


Black's Law Dictionary.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:26 PM on November 10, 2013


I think oliverburkeman has it exactly.
The phrase has long out-distanced its RR origin, and now simply means 'market rates.' But apparently it did originate in those notorious RR conflicts -- probably a standard lesson in law school. So the lawyers were hearkening back to a phrase, and a concept, they had learned in their studies.
Funny? Yes, for the intended narrow audience of lawyers. For the rest of us, the reviewer might have spelled it out a little more. But I see it now. Thanks all!
posted by LonnieK at 4:43 PM on November 10, 2013


For what it's worth, when I started practicing law I told people I specialized in pedestrian law---I would work on whatever walked in the door.
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 6:35 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


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