The Inventiveness of People in Trying Economic Circumstances

Traveling through a poverty-stricken Peruvian village, I met a man with a gift for caring for llamas

450px-A_Quechua_girl_and_her_LlamaMy faith in humanity has been repeatedly buoyed over the years by observing the extraordinary creativity and resourcefulness of people in trying economic circumstances. I reflected upon this life lesson during a recent trip through some of the poorest towns in Peru.

In towns without a paint store were astonishingly beautiful murals. Talented locals created lush pigments from local plants, brushes from animal hair, and wonderful images from their minds. Local doctors had poor access to medicine, but were remarkably resourceful in harnessing the power of therapeutic plants to do their healing work. But the Peruvian who impressed me the most was an extremely old man I met who was renowned for his ability to care for llamas.

In my broken Spanish, I was able to gather that the llama was central to life in the town, particularly for the transport of foodstuffs and crafts for trade. It was thus a significant problem that a local bird known as the malchiste had taken to nesting in the warm, thick manes of the llamas during the winter months. The noisy birds irritated the animals, disrupted their sleep and inflicted scratches that sometimes became infected.

In a wealthy country, the llamas would simply have been stabled in a tightly fenced enclosure, but that was beyond the means of the poor people of the village. So the inventive old man suggested rubbing baker’s yeast all over the llamas to repel the birds. Stunningly, it worked.

I asked him how he ever came up with such a strange but effective idea. He responded that he long ago learned that

Yeast is yeast and nest is nest and never the mane shall tweet.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

33 thoughts on “The Inventiveness of People in Trying Economic Circumstances”

  1. Keith, preceding this post is one titled “Weekend Film Recommendation: …etc.”

    When you do this to us, I think you should be required to use the title “Weekend Groan: …etc.”

  2. Hail, peerless Pun! thou last and best,
    Most rare and excellent bequest
    Of dying idiot to the wit
    He died of, rat-like, in a pit!

    Thyself disguised, in many a way
    Thou let’st thy sudden splendor play,
    Adorning all where’er it turns,
    As the revealing bull’s-eye burns,
    Of the dim thief, and plays its trick
    Upon the lock he means to pick.

    Yet sometimes, too, thou dost appear
    As boldly as a brigadier
    Tricked out with marks and signs, all o’er,
    Of rank, brigade, division, corps,
    To show by every means he can
    An officer is not a man;
    Or naked, with a lordly swagger,
    Proud as a cur without a wagger,
    Who says: “See simple worth prevail–
    All dog, sir–not a bit of tail!”

    ‘T is then men give thee loudest welcome,
    As if thou wert a soul from Hell come.

    O obvious Pun! thou hast the grace
    Of skeleton clock without a case–
    With all its boweling displayed,
    And all its organs on parade.

    Dear Pun, you’re common ground of bliss,
    Where _Punch_ and I can meet and kiss;
    Than thee my wit can stoop no low’r–
    No higher his does ever soar.

    – Ambrose Bierce

  3. Normally I can spot you going into a setup but you caught me today. And without coffee. Argh!!!

    1. Exactly the same here. I’ve even had a number of false positives.
      But it’s been long enough since the last similar post that I had been lulled into complacency. Argh!!!

        1. that rather depends on one’s Spanish! Perhaps this will be the final indignity to finally get me taking classes again.

  4. I always love these unexpected puns. Thank you for making the Internet a little more light-hearted during these depressing times.

  5. TWO points for the Mother Teresa shaggy dog setup tone, and ONE for making us click below the fold to, in a way, PUNish our own selves.

  6. What’s the actual category for the humor here. Shaggy dog, with ‘play on words’ punch line? “Never the mane shall tweet” is pun-esque, but not really a pun, is it?

          1. “Never the mane shall tweet” fills the spoonerism bill, but the rest of the punch line doesn’t.

            I want a WORD for this comedy situation. Buggin’ me man.

            Spin out a shaggy dog set up, then use words from that setup to create a somewhat sensible punch line whose words merely rhyme with the words of a well-known phrase/aphorism/saying. Needs a word.

            The funny part of a shaggy dog is being gulled into investing some time into a story; slipping into the belief that you’re about to get a satisfying conclusion, then only getting a wet noodle. The punch line can’t be silence, it has to be at least a wet noodle. But it can be as little as little can be, to riff off Ed Grimley.

            Shortest shaggy dog I know of:

            “Hey, guess what?”


            “Poopy butt.”

          2. ferd,

            The Wikipedia entry for the old BBC program My Word! links to another entry for a shaggy-dog set-up with a PUNchline: a Feghoot. But we COULD just call it a “Harumphreys” and be done with it:)


  7. A former word pun champion’s funny, erudite, and provocative exploration of puns, the people who make them, and this derided wordplay’s remarkable impact on history.
    The Pun Also Rises: How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and Made Wordplay More Than Some Antics

  8. Let me ruin a few more:
    I left my harp in Sam Clam’s Disco.
    These are the tines the fry men’s sole.

    1. “Don’t hatchet your count before he chickens” is pretty stale.

      As is, “Leave no tern unstoned.”

      But then there’s “Knick-knack, Patty Wack, give the frog a loan. His old man’s a Rolling Stone.”

      “The tines that fry men’s sole” is new to me. I love it.

    2. Or “I left my art in Sam Frank’s disco”

      Chess nuts boasting in an open foyer…

      Never put all your Basques in one exit…

      It’s a long way to tip a Rary…

      Silly rabbi – kicks are for Trids!

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