How Many Meanings?

Steve Martin, the banjo-playing comedian, actor and high-end art collector, used to perform a routine in which he used a double entendre. A play on words where the adults get it and the kids don’t. At least not in the same way as the adults.

As part of the sketch, when he got to the provocative, loaded word and the audience howled in ribald, knowing laughter, he feigned shocked surprise, saying: “Oh, c’mon. You can’t say anything anymore!” And then scolded the audience for their dirty minds.

Recently, the small, northeastern Massachusetts town of Groton (population about 11,000), erected small stone markers along roadways in which three words were chiseled: “ALL ARE WELCOME”.

The sentiment seems as innocuous as the everyday expression, “Have a nice day.” Though maybe just a bit less bland and a bit more genuine.

But, of course, it was not innocuous.

“All” was the sticking point, as noted in an October 24, 2017 report by Cristela Guerra published by the Boston Globe.

Some thought the word implied a political message about immigration. And that passersby might think the town has a political agenda. It probably does. One connotation might be that Groton is a “sanctuary city.” Others suggested the signs welcomed criminals, pedophiles, and even terrorists. I think the first category takes care of those following.

Those who objected to the literally carved-in-stone sentiment demanded the word “All” be removed.

No one, apparently, thought stone markers inscribed “ARE WELCOME” a “funny” way of greeting people.

And, if we want to be stingy with words, why not simply “WELCOME”?

That might imply some level of affection. Not much. But some. Is that really the message we want to convey?

At least Steve Martin concluded his routine by referencing the same subject without stating the double-loaded word that initially prompted audience response.

Which was how he let the audience in on the joke.

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