Random Thoughts

Words

... some mental gymnastics

Russ Priestley

Words have always provided a certain fascination for me. Perhaps it is due to the fact that I decided early in life that I would become a cartoonist. Strangely, the ability to draw well is not imperative in this vocation. An example: James Thurber was one of our greatest humorists, but his cartoons were crude. One reason being his poor eyesight. His cartoons helped to bring the "New Yorker" magazine into prominence. On viewing a Thurber cartoon, many people have said,"I can draw better than that!" You're right, but can you think of a more humorous idea? There is the crux... and I'm not speaking of the name of a cracker, or an itchy area.

I found that ideas for cartoons usually came from sitting down with a pad of paper, tossing words around mentally and jotting down any words or phrases that led to humor. Some days, ideas came faster than I could write. Other days, I would be better off to go play golf, or maybe, "I should have stood in bed"...and that last phrase conjures up a possible funny situation.

Much humor is provided by the misuse or misspelling of a spoken or written word. Just recently, I heard a gal say, "He was running amuck." I visualized someone in a struggle to run in mud, but the word is a genuine variant of amok. I worked with an artist years ago and he came up often with misused words. I wish I had written them down, but I remember some of his unintentional wrong-use words. One was describing a person who had a "milestone around his neck." Another was using "scrapgoat" for scapegoat. More: "perferred, predictament, and impassible" (for impossible).

Another acquaintance came up with a side-splitter when describing what he had done at home. There was a product called Calcicoat, used to refinish plaster ceilings. (Nowadays, it may be a calcium supplement in one's diet.) However, he stated that he had "Kotexed two ceilings that day."

Many of us are familiar, and have, inadvertently, said a Spoonerism. This term came from the spoken words of a Reverend Spooner at Oxford University. Often he, unintentionally, interchanged the initial sounds of two or more words. (Ex.: "a well-boiled icicle" for "a well-oiled bicycle," or "a half-warmed fish" for "a half-formed wish," or "our queer old dean" for "our dear old queen.")

Perhaps our readers would like to submit to our editors, (figuratively, that is) a spitty woonerism. I mean a witty spoonerism. No prizes, just recognition in our publication on the internet. Send to: melrose@media.mit.edu

November 5, 1999


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