Friday - - Mind Games -

How many au­thors can claim to have in­vented writ­ing de­vices? Shake­speare comes to mind im­me­di­ately. In school we learn of dra­matic irony, so­lil­o­quies and iam­bic pen­tame­ter, in ad­di­tion to the coinage of hun­dreds of words that con­tinue to be used even to­day (would you be­lieve that he even used ‘puk­ing’ once?)

But dear Will and his work are a tad too pro­saic (not quite the right word, but it will have to do) for our friendly col­umn.

In­stead, let’s look at some hu­morists who have skil­fully placed a unique stamp on their work.

Og­den Nash was an Amer­i­can poet and master of wit, whose writ­ing ap­pears to be non­sense verse at first sight but was con­sid­ered pro­found enough to make the cut in such works as The Vik­ing Book of Apho­risms. An ex­am­ple, on soli­tude:

‘I would live all my life in non­cha­lance and in­sou­ciance

Were it not for mak­ing a liv­ing, which is rather a nou­ciance.’

Then a cou­ple that re­ally show how brevity is the soul of wit: ‘A bit of tal­cum Is al­ways wal­cum.’ ( Re­flec­tions on Ba­bies)

The de­vice of his in­ven­tion is clearly seen in th­ese ex­am­ples, mod­i­fy­ing the spell­ing of the last word to suit the rhyme, with de­light­ful re­sults.

Many of Nash’s po­ems were of word lengths that were shorter than their ti­tles. Here’s one ex­am­ple, some­times quoted as be­ing the world’s small­est poem: ‘Adam Had ‘em.’ ( Lines on the An­tiq­uity of Mi­crobes, or Fleas).

He ob­vi­ously didn’t care much for greens: ‘Parsely Is ghars­ley.’ On one oc­ca­sion he para­phrased Dorothy Parker’s fa­mous ob­ser­va­tion that men don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses: ‘A girl who is be­spec­ta­cled May not get her nec­ta­cled’. Some of his po­ems, re­flect­ing the times in which they were writ­ten, pre­sented stereo­types of dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties. In Ge­nealog­i­cal Re­flec­tions the al­leged par­si­mony of the Scot­tish gets this treat­ment: ‘No McTav­ish Was ever lav­ish.’ Tune in for another au­thor next week.

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