By Gwen S. Clarke
REMEMBERING HOW TO LAUGH
If the evening television news is any measuring stick, there’s not much to laugh at these days. Or, is there?
Going out to the porch the other night to bid “Buenos noches” to Boots, the wonder cat, all that was on my mind was the pandemic, and the vulture-like shadow it’s presently casting. My doom-and-gloom thoughts were instantly derailed by the sight of a young possum, struggling to scale the step up to join Boots at his food dish.
My first instinct, to reach for a big broom, was trumped by remembering that these little marsupials are supposed to be walking tick-exterminators. He and Boots froze in place, waiting for me to make the next move. “Boots”, I said, “have you asked this young critter to eat supper with you?”
You may not believe this, but Boots looked me square in the eye and said, clear as a bell, “Noooo.” It was the first time I’d laughed all day.
Boots now has a vocabulary of two people-words – the other being “Mama,” which he uses only when it suits him. He is a cat, after all.
Today, I was again gobsmacked on learning the word “eggcorn,” which is an intentionally warped synonym for a familiar word or phrase that fills the bill, almost, but not quite. “Acorn” being the word that got malapropped into “eggcorn” – follow me? (I’m ignoring the temptation to go off-topic into Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s comedies, which, more than two hundred years ago, introduced British ears – and subsequently, ours, to convoluted “malaprops” through his clever writings – a subject for another day, maybe.)
Some eggcorns that are commonly (and innocently) tossed into conversation are “all intensive purposes,” having evolved from “all intents and purposes” and “takes two to tangle,” instead of its originally intended “two to tango.”
Greg Arens, friend and neighbor, plays with words as masterfully as he plays with water-colors and acrylics. His fertile mind has produced his unique take on “The Devil’s Dictionary,” with what might possibly be the best application of words onto paper to come along since old Sheridan turned up his toes. The fourteen pages of his self-proclaimed “random coupling of words” that “inadvertently became truth” aren’t mine to claim (more’s the pity), but I have his permission to drop a few favorites (in alphabetical order, of course).
“Ape n.: a highly intelligent primate, as adamant at disavowing any relationship to humans as humans are to apes; quoting one ape, ‘Man may have descended, but surely not from us.’”
“Bliss n.: an illusion. Being a byproduct of ignorance, you would expect it to be more common.”
“Email n.: a subspecies of writing distinguished from other mail by the grade it would deserve if judged by an English teacher.”
“Machine n.: a contraption built by people, which may be as simple as a lever or as complex as a robot, to accomplish a task that all other animals judge to be utterly unnecessary.”
“Plastic n.: a man-made material that is flimsy and short-lived in its desirable form, but indestructible in its fragmented and undesirable form.”
And from the sublime (word-wise), to the pun, which has been declared by some to be the lowest form of humor – and one of my favorite uses of language (except as a means to earn a living, of course). There must be something to it, considering the thousands of followers who, like me, hope to justify frittering away hours on a website called “Punmanship: A Salute to Bennett Cerf and other inveterate punsters” that honors the memory of that pioneering television humorist.
I can prove this premise with a pudding’s worth of truth – my very own pun: “Antebellum: The part of the brain where really, really old memories are stored.”
Have we forgotten about the pandemic for a nonce or two?