I’ll be posting a new lesson every day (Monday-Friday), to help people who are stuck at home because of the coronavirus situation. These mini-lessons will give you a useful daily routine, and might just keep you sane! Stay safe.
Look at the passage below and decide which word makes it funny?
‘Through the fathomless deeps of space swims the star turtle Great A’Tuin, bearing on its back the four giant elephants who carry on their shoulders the mass of the Discworld. A tiny sun and moon spin around them, on a complicated orbit to induce seasons, so probably nowhere else in the multiverse is it sometimes necessary for an elephant to cock a leg to allow the sun to go past’ [from Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters]
Answer: of course, the phrase ‘cock a leg’ makes us smile or laugh. But why? It’s not simply that the word ‘cock’ is a bit rude in certain contexts. So what’s the bigger secret to writing humour like this?
If you think about mini-lesson no.2 and the issue of ‘Latin and Anglo-Saxon’, then you might recognise that the phrase ‘cock a leg’ uses short Anglo-Saxon words and comes as the punchline to the extensive use of longer Latin words before it: ‘a complicated orbit to induce seasons, so probably nowhere else in the multiverse is it sometimes necessary’. Latin, as used in English, tends to be formal and academic, and the language of science. The long Latin phrase, therefore, sets up an expectation in the reader that they are about to receive a complex astrophysical or philosophical explanation of how the cosmos operates. Instead, their expectation is defeated by the informal, emotional and satirical ‘cock a leg’. It’s a simple trick, but works superbly well, and is used by Pratchett again and again in his ever-popular writing.
Look at the passages below and put them in order of how funny you think they are (1=the funniest, 4=the unfunniest). Then try and identify which word or words make each passage funny.
a. Lord Poncenby insisted that all individuals understood how very educated, important and powerful he was. He would consume the finest and most delicious cuisines, and refuse to admit he ever farted. [by A J Dalton]
b. ‘The Pig’ – a poem by Roald Dahl
In England once there lived a big
And wonderfully clever pig.
To everybody it was plain
That Piggy had a massive brain.
c. Although it was a complicated recipe one taste had been enough to know that it was made out of fish entrails marinated for several years in a vat of shark sick. [from Terry Pratchett’s Mort]
d. Agnes: Pretty please… Pretty please?
Gru: The physical appearance of the please makes no difference, still no.
[from Despicable Me]
If you’re not sure of the answer(s) or would like to check your answer(s), please do feel free to email me (Adam): adz_d2003 @ yahoo.co.uk – deleting the two spaces either side of the @ sign.
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