Back in the fourth grade, my elementary school friend Robbie and I discovered what I now acknowledge to be the funniest book I’ve ever read. It was an illustrated book about deserts whose text consisted of a series of insipid facts relating to their patterns of precipitation, the plants and animals who thrive there, etc. However, when we began reading the book one of us inadvertently read “desert” as “dessert,” which resulted in a sentence that had us in hysterics for a well over twenty minutes. I don’t remember what the book was called, so I can’t provide an exact quote, but by looking up deserts on Wikipedia I can provide an accurate approximation: “Desserts usually have an extreme temperature range. Most desserts have a low temperature at night. This is because the air is very dry (contains little moisture) and therefore holds little heat so as soon as the sun sets, the dessert cools quickly.”
If that sentence isn’t funny to you, perhaps you’re not actually imagining a dessert, as in a some kind of pastry or cake served after dinner. As far as Robbie and I were concerned, this was a miracle of comedy. Applying the same formula to the rest of the book, we had the rare privilege of reading such sentences as: “About one-fifth of Earth’s land surface is dessert” and, “Because desserts are dry, they are ideal places for human artifacts and fossils to be preserved.” By the time we’d completed our book about desserts with ludicrous properties, our laughter had become maniacal and we probably had to be escorted out of the classroom.
The next day we tried applying similar alterations to other books, but quickly realized that the effect couldn’t be forced, and that nothing would ever compare to the magical afternoon Robbie and I learned about the harsh, unforgiving landscape known as a “dessert.”