The Write Way
22 April 2005
The Lion Sleeps Tonight
When we first moved into our current house, we nicknamed our upstairs back entrance The Stairway of Death because it consisted of a single flight of stairs that clung to the side of the house and plummeted straight down to the expanse of concrete that surrounded the pool.
Because we're so close to the Bay, we get lots of sea air, and as everyone knows, that doesn't mix terribly well with metal railings and bolts. So when anyone new came to visit and attempted to descend for the first time, it was a disconcerting experience, to say the least. The hand rail wobbled and a number of steps moved when you walked on them.
So you won't be surprised when I tell you that replacing this structure was high on our list of Things to Do. Trouble was, we kept changing our minds about what we wanted to do with the back of the house ... would we add a big ground floor patio? A narrow verandah along the entire upstairs area? A deck opening from the back door?
We didn't want to change the stairs if we were then going to add a structure that made them redundant, so we put it off and as so often happens, grew accustomed to our near-death experience every time we went out the back door. This faces west and opens from an enclosed landing that was built to protect the entrance from our prevailing weather direction (north east).
As a regular reader, you'll know that this area is The Girls' Room, where our two little Silkies have their hammock beds. They spend the day outside, but both can't wait to get into their beds each night ... it may have something to do with the Schmacko they get once they're settled.
We had a cat door installed when we first moved in so our favourite feline could come and go as she pleased, but the arrival of two active little dogs specifically bred to chase small furry animals soon put an end to her forays into the back garden. So all three have come to an arrangement; the cat's territory includes the entire house, the back deck during daylight hours and the front garden, while the dogs' domain covers the back garden and the deck at night. And it all works well until there's a storm and The Girls decide they want In ... Now!
A couple of years ago, we finally came up with A Plan for the back and had a new deck added, (read all the gory details) and in the course of throwing wads of money at assorted tradesmen, we tossed a tad more in the direction of the bloke who makes stairs. So we now have a nice, safe, sturdy set of stairs that turn around a landing about 3/4 of the way down.
This landing not only makes a great spot for (another) pot plant, it's also the perfect place for the Kiddy-safe stair barrier we put up to keep The Girls off the deck during the cat's allocated time sunning herself out there. At night, we shut the stair barrier and leave the pet door open so the dogs can wander out onto the deck, but can't get down into the garden to make merry with any wildlife that might care to roam through our urban jungle.
We also have a security light that comes on when it detects movement on the stairs and around the back door (this was installed primarily to make it easy to get up and down to the pool on those balmy summer evenings without having to worry about running up and down the stairs turning lights on and off). What this means is that every time one of the dogs decides to go out for a bit of a look around, the light comes on and remains on for 2-3 minutes.
The smaller of The Girls has a penchant for starry, starry nights and spends a great deal of her time sitting at the top of the stairs in a Sphinx-like pose, surveying her domain. We know she does this because every time she goes out, the light comes on. What we couldn't work out was why, some nights, the light kept coming on, then going off almost continuously.
So when the light came on one night, we leapt out of bed and rushed to a window to watch what was happening ...
She walks to the top of the stairs and adopts the Pose of the Sphinx, then her little head sinks onto her paws as she settles in for a night of moth-watching. When the light goes off, it must startle her and she raises her head, which makes the light come back on again. So she's worked out that when the light goes out, all she has to do is move slightly for it to come on again ... and again ... and again.
So even though she's not of the feline family, she certainly spends a lot of time lyin' there ...
OK, you can groan ... But don't blame me. This is all Rod Lewis's fault! Rod wrote to me after last week's newsletter, "In this week's newsletter you used the word 'aerodynamics' and thanks to the art of word association, it prompted me to write regarding the art of word play. ... I have been known to describe myself as being aeRODynamic (instead of flighty), if not a little neuRODic and, when the mood takes me, I've even been known to be rather eRODic! But let's not go there... :)"
Rod and I both started pondering different forms of word play. Chief of these are puns, of course, but you'll find other tips about writing humour in this week's Little Something Extra.
"... the use of words, usually humorous, based on (a) the several meanings of one word, (b) a similarity of meaning between words that are pronounced the same, or (c) the difference in meanings between two words pronounced the same and spelled somewhat similarly, e.g., Thomas Hood's “They went and told the sexton and the sexton tolled the bell.” (Source)
If you have lots of spare time, and you're one of those people who likes to make up your own puns (and let's face it, every human group has at least one such), then you're going to be falling over yourself trying to toss a few pennies in the direction of my Running Away Fund to thank me for this next site!
It's a list of homonyms ... the raw material from which to fashion puns.
Do you know of others who love puns? Then why not forward this newsletter (in its entirety) and tell them about the competition? If you received this from a friend, click to receive your very own copy, all bright and perky every Friday morning: mailto:WritingTipsemail@example.com
This week's quiz:
Here are some words about words ... match the term with its meaning below:
anagram, cryptogram, ad lib, oxymoron, tautology, chiasmus, zeugma, acronym, mnemonic, cliché
1. use of a word to govern two or more words though appropriate to only one
2. conjoining contradictory terms
3. trite or overused expression or idea
4. a device, such as a formula or rhyme, used as an aid in remembering
5. a game whose object is to form words from a group of randomly chosen letters
6. a word formed from the initial letters of a multi-word name
7. useless repetition
8. a piece of writing in code or cipher
9. without advance preparation
10. reverse order of words in two otherwise parallel phrases
And since we're looking at puns and their ilk this week, here are some wonderful word plays we've looked at before called Tom Swifties:
"I'm wearing my wedding ring," said Tom with abandon"I'm halfway up a mountain," Tom alleged.
"These are the propulsion systems used by NASA for the moon shots," said Tom apologetically.
This one is clever:
"I'm losing my hair," Tom bawled.
For those of you losing your hair because you're stressed as a result of commuting to work each day, here's a thought ... set up a mobile office. Yep! Take your talents, your laptop and a mobile and head off into the Wild Blue Yonder ...
I've tried this on a short-term basis, and it's my aim to be able to go fully mobile sometime in the next year so we can travel around. That's why I was so pleased to find this resource that explains exactly what you need to create a virtual office and how you set about doing it.
Last week's quiz:
aerofoil, dew point, baffle, anemometer, dirigible, port, Gnomonic Projection, barograph, empennage, ornithopter,
1. a mechanically driven aerodyne whose lift in flight is obtained by the action of flapping wings. (There have been no really successful ornithopters except those designed by Nature) - ORNITHOPTER
2. the left side (looking forward) of aircraft and ships - PORT
3. an instrument for measuring the speed of the wind - ANEMOMETER
4. refers to the tail unit of an aeroplane and tailplane, elevators, fins and rudders - EMPENNAGE
5. a method of projecting a map used for charts of the Polar regions and for harbour surveys; produces a map on which direct measurements are accurate only over short distances. It assumes that each subdivision of the surface of the earth is flat. Its advantages are that for small areas it is nearly accurate in every way - GNOMONIC PROJECTION (See? This has nothing to do with gnomes!)
6. a steerable airship - DIRIGIBLE
7. a surface designed to produce an aerodynamic force at approximately right angles to its direction of motion - AEROFOIL
8. the lowest temperature to which air can be cooled at constant pressure without causing condensation and hence the formation of cloud - DEW POINT
9. a metal plate used between the cylinders of an air-cooled aero engine to guide the cooling air - BAFFLE (And this one has nothing to do with the way some of us feel when we contemplate sitting in a tin can that's travelling at 700 kph 7 km up in the sky ...)
10. a recording barometer used in aeronautics to record the varying heights reached by any aircraft during flight - BAROGRAPH
If you want to extend your flighty vocabulary even further, you'll find all these definitions and more here:
A Little Something Extra
We've made nodding acquaintance with puns and other humorous word plays this week, so let's go the whole way and look at writing humour. Just what is it that makes something funny?
"Humor is the product of a surprise ending applied to a normal situation, and the more unusual the surprise ending, the more intense will be the humor. Charlie Chaplin best described what was funny. 'You take a woman walking down the sidewalk. Show the audience a banana peel in front of her. Everyone knows that she is going to step on the banana peel and do a pratfall. At the last instant, she sees the banana peel, steps over it and falls into an open manhole that neither she nor the audience knew was there.'" This is an extract from an online book on how to write humour.
And here are some tips about how to write in a humorous vein from columnist, David Leonhardt
I bet this will end up as one of your favourites ... it's the Word Detective. But be warned ... this is another that will make you lose track of time
Have you made your Mark on the World yet? No? Then stop by our Map of the World and read the messages. (Just click List) and add your mark.
Word of the week: Paronomasia (n) a humorous play on words; a pun
Remember I once mentioned how we get many of our words that relate to science, learning and entertainment from the Greeks? Well, this one is no exception; it comes from the Greek word paraonomazein, meaning 'to call by a different name.'
Oxymoron of the week: We have a guest contributor this week. Stefan sent me this note last week ..."My contribution is not an oxymoron, but an example of an author who didn't think about what he was saying. I'm pretty sure that it came from a book called "Safety Last", about air safety, written by "Captain X", although be was using his real name in the edition I read. He described an award for commercial pilots who save a plane under desperate circumstances as "coveted". God help us if we ever are on a plane piloted by someone who covets THAT award!" (Morristown, NJ)
This week's Latin phrase is one I have to use so I can segue into my favourite pun of all times ...
Sic transit gloria mundi. (Thus passes the glory of the world).
[SIK TRANS-eet GLOH-ree-ah MOON-dee]
I read the following fabulously witty headline in a Journalists' How to book many moons ago. It was during the time that Gloria Swanson was popular - on both sides of The Pond. Apparently she'd taken ill while on a tour and her return home had been delayed. All her fans were immensely relieved to read the headline:
Sick Gloria in transit Monday.
Which everyone (back then) knew was a terrifically clever play on our Latin phrase of the week!
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Copyright 2005 Jennifer Stewart
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