A VISIT TO THE ASYLUM FOR AGED AND DECAYED PUNSTERS By Oliver Wendell Holmes: The only way this could be better is if it was OWH Junior, the Supreme Court Justice. It's really a terrible thing, with terrible puns. And yet, here are the gems I have unearthed so that you need not slog away in the mines yourself:
"Do you know"—he broke out all at once—"why they don't take steppes [get it? take steppes? -es] in Tartary for establishing Insane Hospitals?" We both confessed ignorance. "Because there are nomad people to be found there," he said, with a dignified smile.
"Why is Douglas like the earth?" We tried, but couldn't guess. "Because he was flattened out at the polls!" said Mr. Riggles.
"Followed the sea," he replied to the question put by one of us. "Went as mate in a fishing-schooner." "Why did you give it up?" "Because I didn't like working for two mast-ers," he replied.
Just some etymological studies here...
"The gable-end of the cottage was stained with wet, and the eavesdroppings flapped against the wall."
(Wiki notes: "The verb eavesdrop was originally a back-formation of the noun eavesdropper ("a person who eavesdrops") which was formed from the unrelated noun eavesdrop ("the dripping of water from the eaves of a house; the ground on which such water falls"). An eavesdropper was one who stood at the eavesdrop")
""I have a pencil," I answered; "but I have no paper. Would my cuff do, do you think?" "Oh, yes!" replied Miss Lammas, with alacrity; "men often do that." I wrote on my cuff:"
Aha, the origin (most probably) of off-the-cuff remarks.
"and a rugged tarpaulin dictating from his elbow chair, hectoring the patriarchs"
The gloss identifies it as a sailor. I always thought a tar for a sailor came from using tar to make nautical gear waterproof. In a sense, it does, since tarpaulin "originated as a compound of the words tar and palling, referring to a tarred canvas pall used to cover objects on ships. Sailors often tarred their own overclothes in the same manner as the sheets or palls. By association, sailors became known as Jack Tars." So whether it went straight from tar to sailor, or via tarpaulin (or both), there was some tar in there somewhere.