WORDS have been a fascination all my life. I would haunt the library as a kid, and as we didn’t have a television until I was in my teens, I very much depended on books to fire my imagination. I was always good at spelling at school, and even achieved a good ‘O’ level pass at Latin because I appreciated how this ancient text had influenced so many of our present-day European languages.
Think about it – what kind of a world would it be without words? Especially English ones. Our language is spoken throughout the globe. Even in Japan you can find English translations alongside all public signage. Pop songs the world over sell best if they’re performed in English. Our language, our words, are essential for communication, and are familiar to the vast majority of the global population.
But I love it when I see words being used with humour – often in a commercial way. There’s a hairdressing salon not far from me with the name “Cutting Corners” – perfectly named as it sits on the corner of two streets. In a pub where I had a meal recently, I saw a sign on the wall that read “Despresso: the feeling you get when you’ve run out of coffee”.
Do you have a favourite comedian? Those professional punsters could not ply their trade without a talent for taking words and using them to great effect. Their vocabulary is necessarily economical, and is combined with careful pitch, enunciation and timing. But the choice of words is the most critical element.
As a writer I pay particular care to how I use words myself, and I love spotting the ways in which words make us laugh. I travel a lot, and it is always a delight when I see how the English language is unconsciously mis-spelt, sometimes to hilarious effect.
But my favourite was a guy in Central Park, New York, who sat in the shade on a bench reading a book with a suitcase propped beside him. His choice of words was grammatically correct, practical, honest – and humorous. He had a brown paper bag covering the retractable handle and a single dollar bill trapped in the zip. On the bag in plain view he had written the following: WHY LIE? I NEED A BEER.
Now that’s the last word in street humour.
Need to know:
I don’t just write fiction.