Notes, Quotes, and Wisecracks From the Lighter Side of Language

Grammar Crackers

lighter side
"He believed in a door. He must find that door. The door was the way to . . . to . . .. The Door was The Way. Good. Capital letters were always the best way of dealing with things you didn't have a good answer to." (Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, 1987). (John Lund/Getty Images)
Now, our language, Tiger, our language. Hundreds of thousands of available words, frillions of legitimate new ideas. Hm? So that I can say the following sentence and be utterly sure that nobody has ever said it before in the history of human communication: "Hold the newsreader's nose squarely, waiter, or friendly milk will countermand my trousers." Ordinary words never before uttered in that exact order.
(Stephen Fry, A Bit of Fry and Laurie, 1995)

Every so often, when the lucubrations of linguists grow tedious and the cackles of language mavens turn painfully shrill, we slip across to the lighter side of language. Please join us. (For more serious discussions of these concepts, constructions, and marks of punctuation, click on the highlighted terms.)

  • The Lighter Side of Abbreviations
    And now we have the World Wide Web (the only thing I know of whose shortened form--www--takes three times longer to say than what it's short for).
    (Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time. Crown, 2002)
  • The Lighter Side of Alliteration
    I love alliteration. I love, love, love it. Alliteration just makes everything sound fantastic. I genuinely can't think of anything with matching initials that I don't like: Green Goddess, Hemel Hempstead, Bum Bags, Monster Mash, Krispy Kreme, Dirty Dozen, Peter Purves, Est Est Est, the SS, World Wide Web, Clear Cache.
    My show would combine all that was good about its alliterative brothers listed above. It was to be called "Daily Daytime Debate." And as far as I was concerned that was absolutely final. I'd changed it once and I was not going to change it again.
    In the end, it was changed to "Mid-Morning Matters."
    (Alan Partridge, with Rob Gibbons, Neil Gibbons, Steve Coogan and Armanda Iannucci, I, Partridge: We Need To Talk About Alan. HarperCollins, 2011)
  • The Lighter Side of Apostrophes
    Note the havoc wreaked by a missing apostrophe in this ad: "WANTED: Guitar for college student to learn to play, classical nonelectric, also piano to replace daughters lost in fire."
    (Richard Lederer, The Revenge of Anguished English. St. Martin's Press, 2005)
  • The Lighter Side of Buzzwords
    Executive: We at the network want a dog with attitude. He's edgy, he's in your face. You've heard the expression "let's get busy"? Well, this is a dog who gets biz-zay! Consistently and thoroughly.
    Krusty the Clown: So he's proactive, huh?
    Executive: Oh, God, yes. We're talking about a totally outrageous paradigm.
    Meyers: Excuse me, but proactive and paradigm? Aren't these just buzzwords that dumb people use to sound important? Not that I'm accusing you of anything like that. I'm fired, aren't I?
    Executive: Oh, yes.
    ("The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show." The Simpsons, 1997)
  • The Lighter Side of Comparatives
    In one of his shows, [Jack Benny] and his guest star Vincent Price drank some freshly brewed coffee. After savoring a sip, Benny announced, "This is the better coffee I ever tasted."
    Price snapped, "You mean the best coffee!"
    Benny snapped back, "There's only two of us drinking it!"
    (Ken Tucker, Kissing Bill O'Reilly, Roasting Miss Piggy: 100 Things to Love and Hate About TV. Macmillan, 2005)
  • The Lighter Side of Demonyms
    If we gave the name Poles to people who live in Poland, why weren't the inhabitants of Holland called Holes?
    (Denis Norden, "Words Flail Me." Logophile, Vol. 3, No. 4, 1979)
  • The Lighter Side of Divergent Spelling
    Please ptell me Pterodactyl,
    Who ptaught you how pto fly?
    Who ptaught you how pto flap your wings
    And soar up in the sky?
    (Charles Connell, Please Ptell Me Pterodactyl. Littlehampton Book Services, 1978)
  • The Lighter Side of Exclamation Marks
    Elaine: I was just curious why you didn't use an exclamation point.
    Jake: What are you talking about?
    Elaine: See, right here you wrote "Myra had the baby," but you didn't use an exclamation point. I mean if one of your close friends had a baby and I left you a message about it, I would use an exclamation point.
    Jake: Well, maybe I don't use my exclamation points as haphazardly as you do.
    (Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jerry Stiller in "The Sniffing Accountant." Seinfeld, October 7, 1993)
  • The Lighter Side of Idiolects
    Zerts are what I call desserts. Tray-trays are entrees. I call sandwiches sammies, sandoozles, or Adam Sandlers. Air conditioners are cool blasterz, with a z. I don't know where that came from. I call cakes big ol' cookies. I call noodles long-ass rice. Fried chicken is fri-fri chicky-chick. Chicken parm is chicky chicky parm parm. Chicken cacciatore? Chicky catch. I call eggs pre-birds or future birds. Root beer is super water. Tortillas are bean blankies. And I call forks . . . food rakes.
    (Aziz Ansari as Tom Haverford in Parks and Recreation, April 22, 2011)
  • The Lighter Side of Idioms
    Kirk: If we play our cards right, we may be able to find out when those whales are being released.
    Spock: How will playing cards help?
    (Captain James T. Kirk and Spock in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, 1986)
  • The Lighter Side of Interjections
    Claudio: O, what men dare do! what men may do! what men daily do, not knowing what they do!
    Benedick: How now! Interjections? Why then, some be of laughing, as ah! ha! he!
    (William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, Act IV, Scene 1)
  • The Lighter Side of Metaphors
    Aaron Sorkin: Listen, lady, . . . this is serious. We make horse buggies. The first Model T just rolled into town.
    Liz Lemon: We're dinosaurs.
    Aaron Sorkin: We don't need two metaphors. That's bad writing.
    (Aaron Sorkin and Tina Fey in 30 Rock, March 25, 2011)
  • The Lighter Side of Orthophemism (Straight Talk)
    Let us all point an accusing finger at Mr. Latour.
    Mr. Latour is an illiterate boor.
    He watches horse racing, instead of the sport of kings, when at the track,
    And to him first base is simply first base, instead of the initial sack.
    He eats alligator pear, instead of avocado;
    He says fan, or enthusiast, instead of aficionado. . . .
    He drinks his drinks in a saloon, instead of a tavern or grill,
    And pronounces "know-how" "skill."
    He calls poor people poor, instead of underprivileged,
    Claiming that the English language is becoming overdrivileged.
    He says the English language ought to get out of the nursery and leave the toys room,
    So he goes to the bathroom, instead of the little boys' room.
    (Ogden Nash, "Long Time No See, 'Bye Now," 1949)
  • The Lighter Side of Prefixes and Puns
    If lawyers are disbarred and clergymen defrocked, doesn't it follow that electricians can be delighted, musicians denoted, cowboys deranged, models deposed, tree surgeons debarked, and dry cleaners depressed?
    (Virginia Ostman, quoted by Laurence J. Peter in Peter's Quotations: Ideas for Our Times. Quill, 1993)
  • The Lighter Side of Prepositions
    Texan: Where are you from?
    Yale student: I come from a place where we don't end our sentences with prepositions.
    Texan: Okay. Where are you from, jackass?
  • The Lighter Side of Punctuation
    Dot Com: Hey Tray, we just picked up your birthday party invitations from the printer.
    Tracy Jordan: Wait, what is this? "Give to charity, please. No presents."
    Dot Com: Yeah, that's what you told me to put on the card.
    Tracy Jordan: No, Dot Com. I said, "Give to charity? Please no. Presents!"
    (Kevin Brown and Tracy Morgan in 30 Rock, Jan. 26, 2012)
  • The Lighter Side of Reporting Verbs
    Never use a verb other than said to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with "she asseverated," and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.
    (Elmore Leonard, "Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle." The New York Times, July 16, 2001)
  • The Lighter Side of Semantic Satiation
    I began to indulge in the wildest fancies as I lay there in the dark, such as that there was no such town, and even that there was no such state as New Jersey. I fell to repeating the word Jersey over and over again, until it became idiotic and meaningless. If you have ever lain awake at night and repeated one word over and over, thousands and millions and hundreds of thousands of millions of times, you know the disturbing mental state you can get into.
    (James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times, 1933)
  • The Lighter Side of Semicolons
    First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college.
    (Kurt Vonnegut, "Here Is a Lesson in Creative Writing." A Man Without a Country. Random House, 2007)
  • The Lighter Side of Sentence Fragments
    Sentence fragment. Not necessarily an error. Best way to put something sometimes. Something worth putting. Unless something else was wrong with your sentence fragment (which, let's face it, is highly likely), you're right, your teacher shouldn't have taken off for it.
    (Roy Blount, Jr., Alphabet Juice: The Energies, Gists, and Spirits of Letters, Words, and Combinations Thereof. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009)
  • The Lighter Side of Spelling
    Because of economic conditions, a famous English public school was obliged to raise its tuition fees. A letter informed parents of this fact stating that the increase would be £500 per annum, except, unfortunately, it was spelled per anum. An angry parent wrote to the headmaster of the school thanking him for the notification and saying, "For my part I would prefer to continue paying through the nose, as usual."
    (Judson K. Cornelius, Literary Humour. Better Yourself Books, 2005)
  • The Lighter Side of Synonyms
    Relax? I can't relax! Nor can I yield, relent, or . . . Only two synonyms? Oh my! I'm losing my perspicacity!
    (Lisa, The Simpsons)
  • The Lighter Side of Thesauri
    DCI David Bilborough: He was an ordinary bloke, ordinary clothes, ordinary haircut. He's got nothing to do with the killing.
    DS Jimmy Beck: Bollocks.
    DCI David Bilborough: Jimmy, will you shut up?
    DS Jimmy Beck: It's a load of bollocks! . . .
    Fitz: There's a row. He goes home, broods a bit, shaves his head, comes back, throws the four pence at him, and stabs him, right?
    DS Jimmy Beck: Bollocks!
    Fitz: You need a thesaurus.
    (Christopher Eccleston, Lorcan Cranitch, and Robbie Coltrane in "To Be a Somebody." Cracker, 1994)
  • The Lighter Side of Verbal Irony
    Commander William T. Riker: Charming woman!
    Lt. Commander Data: [voice-over] The tone of Commander Riker's voice makes me suspect that he is not serious about finding Ambassador T'Pel charming. My experience suggests that in fact he may mean the exact opposite of what he says. Irony is a form of expression I have not yet been able to master.
    ("Data's Day," Star Trek: The Next Generation, 1991)
  • The Lighter Side of Vowels
    [W]hat will set your child apart from the others is its name. Always end the name of your child with a vowel, so that when you yell, the name will carry.
    (Bill Cosby, Fatherhood. Doubleday, 1986)
  • The Lighter Side of Word Words
    Detective Charlie Crews: The girl at Lola's, she told me that the dead shoe-store guy and the hat-kiosk girl are in there a lot, together.
    Detective Dani Reese: Together together?
    Detective Charlie Crews: Together together.
    (Damian Lewis and Sarah Shahi, "Black Friday." Life, 2008)

For more language lessons that refuse to take themselves seriously, go to The Lighter Side of Language at Grammar & Composition.