The Origin of Bantering


Kirk glanced down the hall and saw one of their jailors. She saluted to her superior and then entered through the open doorway at the end of the hall. He glanced at his imprisoned people: Bones and his new science officer, Mr. Spock. "I'll see if I can't get us out of here."

"How are you planning to do that, Captain?" Spock asked in a careful undertone.

Kirk's expression was calculating and slightly mischievous. "Just a little talking." He jerked his head slightly. "Look. She's coming."

Spock observed the orange-skinned alien female methodically inspect another cell farther down the hall.

"You just want to talk to her to soothe your own ego," Bones said. "You won't be able to stand it if we leave this planet without assuring yourself you can woo the female of any species."

Kirk grinned and turned his attention to the woman marching down the hall in knee-high glittering silver boots, wearing very little else except a severe expression.

The doctor wisely held his tongue and allowed the captain to make conversation. Spock watched silently as well, taking in his new captain's emotion-based brand of persuasion.

Kirk finished sweet-talking the alien female in charge of monitoring their cell and turned back to his companions. He started to make a matter-of-fact statement about their chances for survival, but stopped at the expression on Bones' face.

"You look disgusted," Kirk commented.

"I am disgusted!"

"Oh, good," Kirk said, relaxing and rubbing his chin.

"What do you mean, 'Oh, good'?" Bones narrowed his eyes at the captain.

Kirk grinned at him. "The more disgusted you are, the better I was."

Bones huffed in disbelief.

Kirk turned to look through the bars of their cell, his expression turning serious. "I hope I warrant your full disgust, Bones. Then we might get out of here."

"Is turning your charm on a beautiful woman the only way to get out of here, Captain?" Spock asked.

"No, but it's the preferable one," Kirk said, glancing at his science officer.

"May I inquire further, Captain?" Spock asked.

Kirk gestured absently. "Yeah, sure. Go ahead."

"Why is this method the preferable one?" Spock asked.

"Aren't you going to call him 'captain' again?" Bones asked.

Spock inclined his head. "I apologize. Yes, indeed, what I meant to say is, 'Why is this method the preferable one, Captain'?"

"It was a joke," Bones said crankily. "I'm tired of you peppering all of your sentences with the word 'Captain'."

"That is the proper term with which to address the Captain, is it not?" Spock asked. "He is the Captain of our ship."

Bones sighed. "I understand that. But couldn't you loosen up a little?"

"Loosen what, Dr. McCoy?" Spock raised an eyebrow.

Bones opened his mouth for an angry retort that would probably be ill-advised.

Kirk held up a hand. "Don't answer that, Bones." He inserted himself between them. "Gentlemen, this is no time for fighting. I ask that you please forgive our ship's doctor for his temper."

"Agreed," Spock said, inclining his head. "Dr. McCoy's behavior is forgiven, Captain."

Kirk nodded. "Now, in answer to your question, the seduction method is preferable because it produces less bloodshed."

"I see," Spock said, raising his eyebrow. "Less bloodshed, in turn, is preferable, because we have been ordered not to interfere with the people of this planet. Less bloodshed equals less interference when escaping."

"Exactly," Kirk said.

"Thank you, Captain, for your explanation." Spock closed his eyes for a moment and appeared to think.

Bones watched this exchange with disbelief.

Spock opened his eyes, having decided. "What about Dr. McCoy's accusation that this tactic is merely a way to soothe your ego, Captain?"

"It's not true," Kirk protested lightly.

"And yet you do not seem upset," Spock said. "This suggests to me that either you are not telling the truth, or Dr. McCoy's accusation was not meant to be taken seriously. Do I understand the situation accurately, Captain?"

"The latter," Kirk said, looking somewhat baffled about his science officer.

"Then it is accurate to say that Dr. McCoy was…joking." Spock tested out the word with less than completely surety.

Kirk nodded. "Yes, that's right."

Spock frowned. "But Dr. McCoy did not appear to be joking, Captain. I took the accusation as a dire insult."

McCoy smiled at this. He choked down a burst of laughter.

"A dire insult, hmm?" Kirk rubbed his chin, smiling as well. "I see. Well, the difference between a joke and a dire insult is familiarity."

"Familiarity, Captain?" Spock looked more confused, not less. "Is this to say that if two people are close, in Earth culture they may insult each other freely?"

Kirk laughed. "Basically."

Spock opened his mouth, shut it again, and looked mildly alarmed. "Most intriguing."

Kirk held up his hands. "What I mean is, when you're close to someone, you can tell whether or not they are joking, merely by virtue of your familiarity. So when they make a joke, it doesn't matter whether they smile, or whether they deliver the joke deadpan."

"Deadpan," Spock repeated blankly. "Captain, what is this 'deadpan delivery'?"

"If you were joking, that would be a good example," Bones muttered.

Spock cast him a doubtful glance and then looked back to Kirk.

"A deadpan delivery is when you appear to be serious," Kirk said.

Spock raised an eyebrow. "Isn't this dangerous, Captain? It would appear to me that the possibilities for miscommunication are endless."

"That is why you have to know someone first before using a deadpan delivery on them," Kirk explained. "Bones and I have known each other for many years. So, when he makes a joke, it doesn't matter whether he looks like he's joking or not. I know he is."

"What is the purpose of a deadpan delivery?" Spock asked.

Kirk shrugged. "Some people think it makes the joke funnier."

Spock took this in. "That assumption is most illogical. There is nothing humorous about leaving the accuracy of one's communication open to chance, Captain."

"In Earth culture, there is," Kirk said simply. "Sometimes."

"You come from a most illogical culture," Spock said disapprovingly. "Communication is no laughing matter."

"Don't you Vulcans have jokes?" Bones demanded.

Spock gave him a thoroughly searching look. "Yes, Doctor. But they are noted as jokes. There is no chance for miscommunication."

"How does one deliver a joke, then?" Bones scratched his head. "In Vulcan, I mean."

"One warns the recipient of the imminent joke," Spock said, as if that were obvious.

"That sucks all the fun out of it," Bones protested.

"I'll reserve judgment," Kirk said. "Give me an example."

Spock inclined his head solemnly. "Would you care for a joke, Captain?"

Kirk smiled. "I'm intrigued. Alright, Spock. Why don't you share with us a Vulcan joke?"

"This should be good," Bones muttered. "They seem like they have the sense of humor of rocks."

"Allow me a brief moment to translate," Spock said.

Kirk gestured. "Of course."

Spock nodded. "What is the difference between the spotted wildcat and the striped wildcat?"

Kirk's smile widened. "I don't know. What?"

Spock raised an eyebrow. "The spotted wildcat has spots, and the striped wildcat has stripes. Of course."

Kirk chuckled. "I like it."

Bones, on the other hand, was incensed. "You call that a joke?"

Spock smiled slightly. "It is a common children's joke, but I deemed that level the most appropriate for present company."

"Why, you…" Bones clenched his hands. "You pointy-eared hobgoblin!"

Spock turned to Kirk. "Captain, is this a joke?"

Kirk covered his mouth with his hand, but he couldn't contain the laughter. "I don't know. You two have gotten closer recently."

Spock frowned and shook his head at Bones. "I am not ready for such jokes, Doctor. I nearly misunderstood you. Perhaps later, once we are well-acquainted."

Bones stuttered, and then put on a smile. "That would be fine." He shot Kirk a glare.

Kirk grinned and clapped his hands together. "Glad to see my crew getting along."