A shaggy dog story is an improbable kind of yarn, often long and spun out, which, as a rule, does not have a witty or surprise ending; but comes, rather, to a deflating and quasi-humorous conclusion that is absurdly inconsequential or pointless.
A well-known example concerns the Australian bee which had a consuming ambition to become a ballet dancer. It presented itself to the authorities in Sydney and was advised to go to Covent Garden, London. But how was it to get there? Eventually, it persuaded a racing pigeon bound for London to transport it. After many hazards, they arrived and the bee made a ‘bee-line’ for the Covent Garden Opera House. It explained its ambition and the powers that be were so impressed that they decided that a ‘pigeon-towed’ bee would be a unique addition to the corps. A lengthy shaggy dog story (roughly 2,500 words in English translation) takes place in chapter 10 of Nikolai Gogol’s novel Dead Souls, first published in 1842. Arlo Guthrie’s famoyus classic antiwar story-song “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” is a shaggy dog story about the military draft, hippies, and improper disposal of garbage. Joseph Heller’s digressive and crazily funny novel Catch-22 (1961) might be taken as an example.
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