Vocab

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All croaked up Last week we took a look at ‘Tom Swifties’, which are sen­tences in which the ad­verb echoes the sub­ject­mat­ter of the quo­ta­tion with a sin­gle or dou­ble pun twisted in, such as, “Th­ese propul­sion sys­tems were used by Nasa on moon rock­ets”, said Tom apolo­get­i­cally.

It was only a mat­ter of time be­fore a jaded word­smith (there are many of those) trans­ferred the echo from the ad­verb to the verb: “I’m dy­ing”, he croaked.

And so the Croaker was born. Here is a se­lec­tion: “That’s a dog­wood”, he barked. “Nuts!” she cracked. “It’s the gas!” he fumed. “I love spearmint gum”, she bub­bled. “That’s Moby Dick”, she blub­bered. “Turn on the foun­tain”, he spouted. “You know how I loathe fish”, he carped.

“The kit­ten got into the knit­ting”, she snarled.

You get the idea. But all the above ex­am­ples rely only on two dif­fer­ent mean­ings of the word rep­re­sented by the verb. What if the spelling as well as the mean­ing is changed?

Be­hold! A homonymic Croaker then ap­pears. Some of th­ese may take a mo­ment for the penny to drop, but I urge you to try: “Com­pany’s com­ing”, she guessed. “It’s go­ing to be a lovely cer­e­mony”, she writes.

At the risk of low­er­ing the tone, let me point out that ‘guessed’ is read as ‘guest’ and ‘writes’ as ‘rites’.

Then there are Croak­ers in which only part of the verb refers back to the ear­lier sen­tence. Try to elim­i­nate the first syl­la­ble in the last verb in th­ese:

“I’ve never seen such gor­geous conifers”, she opined. “Think mink”, he in­ferred. “One mil­lion dol­lars won’t be nearly enough”, he agreed. “Ring the bell”, she ap­pealed. “Come to class and I’ll raise your grade”, the pro­fes­sor re­marked.

And if those weren’t clever – or groan-wor­thy – enough, try th­ese lit­tle master­pieces, in which the verb is a syn­onym for a two-word phrase:

“Your last pa­per was su­pe­rior to this”, the teacher be­rated.

“I see that’s the let­ter af­ter M”, she en­vi­sioned.

“Ask me to the school dance, Theodore”, she prompted.

“That poem was writ­ten in prison”, he con­versed.

Still more vari­a­tions com­ing up in next week’s col­umn!

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