Vo­cab

Friday - - MIND GAMES -

Does this sound fa­mil­iar? We had a look at self-ref­er­en­tial sen­tences last week (“This sen­tence has five words”) but in­stead of mov­ing on to self-ref­er­en­tial words, we give you a break and fo­cus on wits and wags who have man­gled lan­guage for hu­mor­ous ef­fect.

Two names that come to mind are Grou­cho Marx and Og­den Nash, whose works don’t need deep anal­y­sis for the same rea­son that a joke is lost when you need to ex­plain it.

Grou­cho liked to play around with clichés and trite say­ings (on the need to eat well, he once said “One swal­low doesn’t make a sup­per”) or dis­tort a phrase or word (about hunt­ing ele­phants: “As I say, we tried to re­move the tusks. But they were em­bed­ded so firmly we couldn’t budge them. Of course, in Alabama the Tuscaloosa, but that is ir-ele­phant to what I was talk­ing about”).

Nash was happy to keep his verses short and pithy, with the last word oc­ca­sion­ally (but de­lib­er­ately) mis­spelled to rhyme with the pre­vi­ous line (“For a baby, a bit of tal­cum is al­ways wal­cum”).

Hu­mor­ous prose and po­etry comes from the eru­dite – and also from the clue­less. Long-time Chicago mayor Richard J Da­ley was known for his fre­quent be­head­ings of the English lan­guage with such phrases as “I re­sent your in­sin­u­en­does” and “We shall reach even greater plat­i­tudes of achieve­ment”. Also, “I don’t want to cast as­para­gus at my op­po­nent!”

At the in­stal­la­tion of a Dart­mouth Col­lege pres­i­dent, a for­mer gover­nor of New Hamp­shire de­clared, “I am priv­i­leged to speak at this mill­stone in the his­tory of this col­lege”, and a Bos­ton Globe fea­ture re­ported that “the moun­tain is named for the Rev Starr King, who was an in­ver­te­brate climber and au­thor of the book The White Hills”.

You could add Sarah Palin’s ‘re­fu­di­ate’ and more Ge­orge W Bush gems than I care to men­tion to that list.

As we all know, they are called mal­a­prop­isms. What if a mal­a­prop­ism leaps across the vast chasm of ab­sur­dity and lands on the side of truth? Word­smith Richard Led­erer calls these bi­en­apropisms. Here is a se­lec­tion: We sold our house and moved into one of those pan­de­mo­ni­ums.

Ev­ery morn­ing my fa­ther takes ex­er­cises to strengthen his abom­inable mus­cles.

He suf­fered from un­re­quired love.

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