29. Humour Techniques Part 1: Words that Chuckle

Author: Nola Published: over 2 years ago.
Tags: humour, wordplay, funny, comedy, comedy, spoonerism, malapropism, double meanings Category: Writing tips

Have you ever felt better after a good laugh? Well it’s not a coincidence. Research shows that humour and laughter can facilitate good physical and mental health. Humour can also add zing to a dry topic, give your readers a welcome break during a ‘heavy’ piece, and help them pay attention for longer. This series isn’t just about comedy. It’s about injecting humour into any piece of writing. Let’s start with word choices.

Funny Words

Some words sound funnier than others. Rather than saying you were confused by the IKEA instructions, try ‘bamboozled’. Rather than being surprised that your husband gave you power tools for your birthday, say you were ‘flabbergasted’. A thesaurus can help you find quirkier synonyms or you could check out ‘funny word’ lists such as the one compiled by Leigh Anne Jasheway. (I dare you to use canoodle, lackadaisical and rapscallion in the same sentence!).

Malapropisms

A malapropism is the ‘ludicrous misuse of a word, especially by confusion with one of similar sound’ (The Free Dictionary). Think Kath and Kim, those quintessential foxymorons from Fountain Lakes. Kim doesn’t want to be rich, she wants to be effluent. When she’s mad, she’s gropable. You can find more examples at Your Dictionary.

Spoonerisms

Coined after the Reverend William Spooner, spoonerisms involve mixing the beginning sounds of two words. Some of the phrases attributed to the Rev Spooner include ‘it is kisstomary to cuss the bride’ and ‘the Lord is a shoving leopard’ (as opposed to loving shepherd). Click here for more examples. You wouldn’t want to overdo it, but the odd spoonerism could add a touch of lunacy to an otherwise serious character.

Double Meanings

While double entendres usually have a sexual connotation, any word or phrase with more than one meaning can lead to humorous misinterpretation. For example, consider the following newspaper headline: ‘British left waffles on Falkland Islands’. I assume they mean that those on the left of British politics were still undecided about what they should do regarding the Falklands. Though it did make me wonder whether they’d left muffins and crumpets on the Falkland Islands as well as their waffles. For more examples of ambiguous headlines, click here. Why not scan a few entries in a dictionary to find some words with more than one meaning. Could you use any of those to create a comic scene?

Invented Words

If you can’t find the right word, why not make one up? In one of my poems, I needed a rhyme for onomatopoeia. My solution was to have ‘my thoughts in disarraya’. I also had ‘malarkey’ rhyming with ‘Hallmarkey’, though I doubt I’m the first person to think of that. Click here for the poem.

Next week we’ll expand these techniques to look at humorous phrases. For now, why not indulge in a little wordplay or try your spand at a hoonerism. I’d be interested in seeing the results.

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Posted over 2 years ago by Judi

Love your poem! Your advice is terrific! Much of my writing finds itself becoming humorous through no fault of my own. I write like I talk - just be yourself and don't fear the consequences. For example:

Proud As A Peacock

Like Narcissus eagerly viewing himself in a mirror-bright lake, reminiscent of greedy vultures circling over an unfortunate splattered road kill, to screaming kids slippery-splashing a soaking waterslide – I faithfully arrive at my once-weekly adoring fan club.

Not a moment slips by without mega hugs and fervent cheek kisses. This is a coterie of dear friends sharing time, activity, rumors, camaraderie and variably satisfying lunches. We are comfortable with each other, and the compliments flow richly.

I have been “adopted” by a little gal, half my size, who showers me with love and thoughtfulness big time. She gifts me with her special treasures, and often embarrasses me to tears. I love this little creature, and, of course, bask in the glow of me seen through her eyes.

She is artistically gifted, and scheduled to teach a painting class. When she hissed “sit still”, I, preening my imaginative glossy feathers, did indeed sit still, slanting my eye in the direction of the unfamiliar whisperer who affectionately demanded that I pose frozen in her time, all while maintaining animated conversations and being blessed by those petting and stroking my not so very humble ego. I obediently presented my best side to her. To reward me, as soon as she finished a rough pencil sketch of me – she showed me her handiwork.

I, being of Slavic/Hungarian/White Russian Jew ancestry, was delighted that she very nicely captured my high cheekbones and apple red cheeks. She sketched the twinkle in my Thompson Seedless Grape-green eyes, and my somewhat shy smile as I worked to subdue my smitten gratefulness for her choosing me as her object d’art.

This talented artiste vibrates of the social anime. We sometimes share our dark sides through our writing, but most often we are shimmering bubbles bumping and bouncing off each other. And rarely, but beautifully, when two bubbles “kiss” and merge into one, our friendship deepens, the flatteries become truths, and communication has truly “become.”

True friendship is a rare gift. She and I both have volatile tempers, but share the gift of compassion, instantly forgiving through and despite emotional flare-ups. I trust her, she trusts me, and “if we should ever disagree – here’s to you.”

The following week, arriving in time for even more moist kisses and bear hugs (which I adore giving and getting; I now use a smear-proof lipstick) I eagerly awaited my highly anticipated portrait. It wasn’t finished, the paint wasn’t yet dry, and so I was persuaded to wait another week to sweeten the fun.

Back again the following week, delighting with friends loving, hugging, kissing, gossiping and eating heartily – and my gifted gal friend arrives with a red folder. Building the suspense she apologizes profusely for painting black lines on my face. Well, my overactive imagination attempted to soothe her worries, planning soft shadings.

Did I mention that I was unfamiliar with her style of artistry, what artists influenced her, what medium fueled her imaginings?

When she opened the red folder

My hand slapping my cheek
quickly moved to cover
my sputter-stuttering mouth.

A riotous explosion of crimson, peacock feather blues, rainforest and emerald green, saffron yellows and shocking black flashed incredulously before my astonished and unprepared eyes. Matisse and Picasso nudged me moments before I opened my poorly trained lips to voice what my wide-eyed retinas synapsed to my unbelieving brain.

She captured my green eyes with reddish-brown eye shadow, black eyeliner (but no eyelashes?), my long wavy hair a potpourri of colors and textures. She gave me a black beauty mark and a bright red heart (on separate cheeks, of course) – and definitely rendered my leopard cowgirl hat in a frenzy of eye-of-the-peacock brilliance.

Friends clustered about, eager to see. I heard uneasy rumblings of “what on earth”; several sotto voiced “I thought they were friends” - to feverish admiration – comparing her work to Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso.

I’m glad that my foolishly flapping hand found safety and quieting rest upon my overeager mouth. I must sharpen my aesthetic eye a bit, and check out artistes beyond my beloved Norman Rockwell of “The Saturday Evening Post” fame.

Dear Father, I’m a vain, colorful screeching peacock. I love people fussing over me, complimenting me, passionately seeking my ear for advice that best be Godly, not worldly.

As I write, I see myself as You must see me. I’m ashamed of my prideful gaudiness and garrulousness. Please keep me ever Kavanah-mindful of You, so when people see me they see You . . .

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