A folklorist's strictly deadpan examination of the sociological and psychological roots of tasteless jokes. ""Yet the meaning of the dead baby joke cycle remains elusive,"" writes Dundes in his first of 13 essays, all but one published previously in small professional journals. This after having placed dead baby jokes within the historical context of American sick humor (which he dates back to the 1899 publication of ""Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes""). Fear not; dead baby jokes lose their elusivity--and much of their raw joy--after Dundes' indefatigable investigations and speculations, triumphs of a pedantic imagination under whose harsh light he autopsies not only dead baby jokes, but also such hitherto-unexplored joke forms as ""Polish Pope jokes,"" ""elephant jokes,"" ""quadriplegic jokes,"" ""cucumber jokes (in the only essay written expressly for this collection), ""light bulb jokes,"" and, in two truly offensive chapters, ""Auschwitz jokes."" While Dundes' general points are sound--that jokes are one of the few remaining depositories of orally-transmitted wisdom; that jokes permit expression of what is otherwise forbidden--they're not particularly new, and his far-fetched, creaky exposition contrasts poorly with the bright, subversive energy of the hundreds of jokes--most well-worn, a few new--he analyzes. Most readers will thank Dundes for setting the jokes in boldface, thus making them easy to distinguish from the surrounding overgrowth of academese.