Public stress and gallows humour, as inseparable a combination as Nichols and May, Abelard and Eloise, peanut butter and jam - or Burke and Hare. And nothing is more likely to focus the mind, or tickle our sense of the macabre than the prospect of a plague. For which "pandemic" is a euphemism, I'd almost say a secular euphemism, since it takes the punitive connotations out.
The humour given rise to by the Swine flu epidemic that impends is very much in that vein. And there's a lot of it. I typed "swine flu jokes" into Google's search engine and got 2.35 million results. Only checked a few and gave up; too many jokes of the following variety:
"The only known cure for Swine Flu has been found to be the liberal application of oinkment." And that's one of the better ones.
In the course of these, er, researches, I was reminded by my friend A. of the timeless, self-reflexive and very funny phrase, "Rightly is they called swine." But I could not recall the source - if I ever knew it.
"Morning, sir," old Rowley answered. He was the most venerable of the labourers on the farm -- a tall, solid man, still unbent, with grey side-whiskers and a steep, dignified profile. Grave, weighty in his manner, splendidly respectable, Rowley had the air of a great English statesman of the mid-nineteenth century. He halted on the outskirts of the group, and for a moment they all looked at the pigs in a silence that was only broken by the sound of grunting or the squelch of a sharp hoof in the mire. Rowley turned at last, slowly and ponderously and nobly, as he did everything, and addressed himself to Henry Wimbush.
"Look at them, sir," he said, with a motion of his hand towards the wallowing swine. "Rightly is they called pigs."
"Rightly indeed," Mr. Wimbush agreed.
"I am abashed by that man," said Mr. Scogan, as old Rowley plodded off slowly and with dignity. "What wisdom, what judgment, what a sense of values! 'Rightly are they called swine.' Yes. And I wish I could, with as much justice, say, 'Rightly are we called men.' "