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Pachydermic Prediction of Professions

Are you good at guessing a person's work just by his or her appearance or manner? Some of you might be old enough to remember the old TV show What's My Line? where a panel of four people asked yes and no questions to try to determine the line (occupation) of contestants. My young mind always wondered what "the line" was of several of the panelists, namely Arlene Francis and Dorothy Kilgallen. All I knew about them was their participation on that game show.

picture of irrelephant

In real life, it's an interesting challenge to try to figure out the line of work of people we see. Clothing is sometimes helpful, but not always. Remember when people wore surgical scrubs, not because of their work, but because scrubs were the rage in casual fashion? Our dentist dresses in a T-shirt and jeans in the office, and has done so for years. Frequently dress and other externals are totally irrelevant.

With hunting season just around the corner in some parts of the country, I'm posting a humor classic on determining a person's profession by how he or she hunts an elephant.

How to Tell a Person's Profession by the Method Used to Hunt an Elephant

Mathematicians hunt elephants by going to Africa, throwing out everything that is not an elephant and catching one of whatever is left. Experienced mathematicians will attempt to prove the existence of at least one unique elephant before proceeding to step one as a subordinate exercise.

Professors of mathematics will prove the existence of at least one unique elephant and then leave the detection and capture of an actual elephant as an exercise for their graduate students.

Theoretical mathematicians catch elephants in a cage by building a cage, going inside, closing the door and — defining the outside as inside.

Physicists would not begin the actual hunt for elephants immediately. The experimentalists would first consult the theorists who would then apply for government grants to support the development of a theory of how to actually detect elephants. In the ensuing 25 years multiple theories would be promulgated. Unfortunately, no elephants will be found as they will all be extinct by this time.

picture of elephant crossing

Computer scientists hunt elephants by exercising Algorithm A:
1. Go to Africa.
2. Start at the Cape of Good Hope.
3. Work northwards in an orderly manner, traversing the continent alternately east and west.
4. During each traverse pass,
a. Catch each animal seen.
b. Compare each animal caught to a known elephant.
c. Stop when a match is detected.

Experienced computer programmers modify Algorithm A by placing a known elephant in Cairo to ensure that the algorithm will terminate. Assembly language programmers prefer to execute the algorithm on their hand and knees.

Database administrators do not need to go out and capture elephants when they can retrieve them simply with an ad hoc query:


Microsoft developers define a new standard elephant, mostly backwards compatible with previous elephants. They then build a genetic engineering laboratory in darkest Africa, and after several years of secret development, release several of these new elephants in a fenced enclosure so they can successfully hunt them.

Mac developers never actually succeed in hunting elephants. They will, however, put on lavish hunt launching parties, at which they distribute T-shirts displaying a pre-hunted elephant.

Civil engineers apply to the governments of all countries in Africa for contracts to design huge concrete-lined pits for elephants to fall into. When faced with how to ensure catching nothing but elephants, they defer to the architect.

Mechanical engineers hunt elephants by going to Africa, catching grey animals at random, and stopping when any one of them weighs within plus or minus 15% of any previously observed elephant.

Economists don't hunt elephants, but they believe that if elephants are paid enough they will hunt themselves.

Statisticians hunt the first animal they see "n" times and call it an elephant.

Consultants don't hunt elephants, and many have never hunted anything at all, but they can be hired by the hour to advise those people who do.

Senior managers set broad elephant-hunting policy based on the assumption that elephants are just like big field mice, but with deeper voices.

Quality assurance inspectors ignore the elephants and look for mistakes the other hunters made when they were packing the jeep.

Salespeople don't hunt elephants but spend their time selling the elephants they haven't caught, for delivery two days before the season opens. Software salespeople ship the first thing they catch and send an invoice for an elephant. Hardware salespeople catch rabbits, paint them grey, and sell them as desktop elephants.

Tech support people start out by getting the name and phone number of the elephant. They require the serial number of an elephant before they'll tell you which Knowledge Base article to read ... but you have to be on their database first.

Attorneys have the court issue subpoenas on all elephants. The problem of finding them then becomes the process server's. However lawyers do follow the herds around arguing about who owns the droppings.


That gives a whole new meaning to "job hunting." How would people in your profession characteristically hunt elephants?


"When we are in Christ, how we work and why we work changes." - Drew Conley

=^..^= =^..^=

Hunt for the good points in other people. Remember, they have to do the same in your case.

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10 Comments on “Pachydermic Prediction of Professions”

  1. #1 John T
    on Aug 23rd, 2010 at 7:34 am

    (Something tells me these guys might actually work for the government…)

    Three statisticians go out hunting together. After a while, they spot a solitary elephant. The first statistician takes aim and overshoots, the second aims and undershoots, and the third shouts out, “We got him!”

    Rob adds: Government statisticians! Perfect, John!

  2. #2 Roxanne S
    on Aug 23rd, 2010 at 8:03 am

    I work in the baby room of a nursery. We would not go hunting elephants . . . we change diapers!

    Rob adds: That’s true. But watch out for the droppings…! 😀

  3. #3 Sam Schnaiter
    on Aug 23rd, 2010 at 8:31 am

    Actually I always thought that the large flapping appendage to either side of its head was irrelephant! Or maybe a certain botannical plant common to rain forests.

    Rob adds: That’s elephant ears, Sam. I had actually thought about the same pun when I was organizing the post and I almost slipped in a mention of the elephant ear plants or even the elephant ear cookies, but I thought they might be slightly irrelephant to the topic of the post.

  4. #4 Michael
    on Aug 23rd, 2010 at 9:07 am

    The entries on economists and consultants were perfect!

    Rob adds: Thanks, Michael! Hope your school year is off to a good start.

  5. #5 Dan Olinger
    on Aug 23rd, 2010 at 10:02 am

    Theologians believe in elephants, so they don’t have to hunt them. However, they do argue about whether you should just presuppose that there are elephants or whether you’re allowed to take the existence of extremely large piles of dung as evidence that elephants exist.

    Rob adds: Wow, that’s deep! … your comment, that is, not the evidence…. 😀

  6. #6 JohnMatzko
    on Aug 23rd, 2010 at 10:39 am

    Historians are only interested in elephants that are dead — except for varieties that are extinct. Those are prehistoric.

    Rob adds: As a historian, John, do you differentiate between dead elephants and dead horses?

  7. #7 Kathleen
    on Aug 23rd, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    “Quality assurance inspectors ignore the elephants and look for mistakes the other hunters made when they were packing the jeep.”

    Not quite right for me, but good enough. 🙂

    This was pretty funny, thanks for the laughs!

    Rob add: Are you a quality assurance inspector, Kathleen? Glad you enjoyed the post.

  8. #8 Kathleen
    on Aug 24th, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    I’m a software tester. As such, I also especially enjoyed the one about computer programmers. 😀

    Rob adds: I didn’t know that about you. Most interesting.

  9. #9 Sarah
    on Aug 25th, 2010 at 6:51 pm

    I’m an admin assistant. Hunting elephants is not part of my job description… but I might have to go hunting if such became part of my supervisor’s job description!

    Rob adds: You would surely have to do that since the admin assistant, in most cases, is the one who actually gets things done and knows what’s going on. Thanks for sharing that, Sarah. I chuckled when I read it.

  10. #10 Laura B.
    on Aug 26th, 2010 at 8:33 am

    I’m not in the military, but I imagine that they wouldn’t look for elephants directly, as anything that looked like an elephant could be a decoy for a trap. Maybe they’d look for dromedaries first. After all, elephants are highly intelligent, and if they surrounded themselves with enough dromedaries, they’d be effectively CAMEL-flaged.

    Have a great day.

    Rob adds: Laura, you are too punny! 😀