Definition and Examples of Parody in English

Weird Al Yankovic

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A parody is a text that imitates the characteristic style of an author or a work for comic effect. Adjective: parodic. Informally known as a spoof.

Author William H. Gass observes that in most cases "parody grotesquely exaggerates the outstanding and most annoying features of its victim" (A Temple of Texts, 2006).

Etymology: From the Greek, "beside" or "counter" plus "song"

Pronunciation: PAR-uh-dee

Examples of Parodies

  • "Christmas Afternoon," by Robert Benchley
  • "How Shall I Word It?" by Max Beerbohm
  • "Jack and Gill: A Mock Criticism," by Joseph Dennie
  • "A Meditation Upon a Broomstick," by Jonathan Swift
  • "The Most Popular Book of the Month," by Robert Benchley
  • "Shakespeare Explained: Carrying on the System of Footnotes to a Silly Extreme," by Robert Benchley
  • "Some Historians," by Philip Guedalla
  • "You!" by Robert Benchley

Examples and Observations

"[P]arody works only on people who know the original, and they have to know it intimately enough to appreciate the finer touches as well as the broad strokes of the imitation. Part of the enjoyment people take in parody is the enjoyment of feeling intelligent. Not everyone gets the joke: if you don't already know about the peach, you won't laugh at the prune. It's fantasy baseball for bookworms." (Louis Menand, "Parodies Lost." The New Yorker, Sep. 20, 2010)

Lewis Carroll's Parody of a Poem by Robert Southey

Original Poem

  • "'You are old, Father William,’ the young man cried;
    ‘The few locks which are left you are grey;
    You are hale, Father William--a hearty old man:
    Now tell me the reason, I pray.’
    "‘In the days of my youth,’ Father William replied,
    ‘I remember’d that youth would fly fast,
    And Abus’d not my health and my vigour at first,
    That I never might need them at last.' . . ."
    (Robert Southey, "The Old Man's Comforts and How He Gained Them," 1799)

Lewis Carroll's Parody

  • "‘You are old, Father William,’ the young man said,
    ‘And your hair has become very white;
    And yet you incessantly stand on your head--
    Do you think, at your age, it is right?’
    "‘In my youth,’ Father William replied to his son,
    ‘I feared it might injure the brain;
    But, now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
    Why, I do it again and again.' . . ."
    (Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, 1865)

Lord of the Rings Parody

  • "'And that boy of his, Frito,' added bleary-eyed Nat Clubfoot, 'as crazy as a woodpecker, that one is.' This was verified by Old Poop of Backwater, among others. For who hadn't seen young Frito, walking aimlessly through the crooked streets of Boggietown, carrying little clumps of flowers and muttering about 'truth and beauty' and blurting out silly nonsense like 'Cogito ergo boggum?'" (H. Beard, The Harvard Lampoon, Bored of the Rings, 1969)

Characteristics of Parodies

  • "[M]ost parody worthy of the name is ambivalent toward its target. This ambivalence may entail not only a mixture of criticism and sympathy for the parodied text, but also the creative expansion of it into something new. Most other of the specific characteristics of parody, including its creation of comic incongruity between the original and the parody, and the way in which its comedy can laugh both at and with its target, may be traced to the way in which the parodist makes the object of the parody a part of the parody's structure." (Margaret A. Rose, Parody: Ancient, Modern, and Post-Modern. Cambridge University Press, 1993)

Six Parodies of Ernest Hemingway 

  • "Most of the tricks were good tricks and they worked fine for a while especially in the short stories. Ernest was stylish in the hundred-yard dash but he didn't have the wind for the long stuff. Later on the tricks did not look so good. They were the same tricks but they were not fresh any more and nothing is worse than a trick that that has gone stale. He knew this but he couldn't invent any new tricks." (Dwight Macdonald, Against the American Grain, 1962)
  • "I went out into the room where the chimney was. The little man came down the chimney and stepped into the room. He was dressed all in fur. His clothes were covered with ashes and soot from the chimney. On his back was a pack like a peddler's pack. There were toys in it. His cheeks and nose were red and he had dimples. His eyes twinkled. His mouth was little, like a bow, and his beard was very white. Between his teeth was a stumpy pipe. The smoke from the pipe encircled his head in a wreath. He laughed and his belly shook. It shook like a bowl of red jelly. I laughed. He winked his eye, then he gave a twist to his head. He didn't say anything." (James Thurber, "A Visit From Saint Nicholas (In the Ernest Hemingway Manner)." The New Yorker, 1927)
  • "I rolled into Searchlight around midnight and walked into Rosie's beer joint to get a cold one after the ride over from Vegas. He was the first one I saw. I looked at him and he stared back at me with those flat blue eyes. He was giving me that kind of howdy wave with his good right arm while his left sleeve hung armless from the shoulder. He was dressed up like a cowboy." (Cactus Jack, "The One-Armed Bandit," 2006 "Bad Hemingway" competition)
  • "This is my last and best and true and only meal, thought Mr. Pirnie as he descended at noon and swung east on the beat-up sidewalk of Forty-fifth Street. Just ahead of him was the girl from the reception desk. I am a little fleshed up around the crook of the elbow, thought Pirnie, but I commute good." (E.B. White, "Across the Street and Into the Grill." The New Yorker, Oct. 14, 1950)
  • "We had great fun in Spain that year and we traveled and wrote and Hemingway took me tuna fishing and I caught four cans and we laughed and Alice Toklas asked me if I was in love with Gertrude Stein because I had dedicated a book of poems to her even though they were T. S. Eliot's and I said, yes, I loved her, but it could never work because she was far too intelligent for me and Alice Toklas agreed and then we put on some boxing gloves and Gertrude Stein broke my nose." (Woody Allen, "A Twenties Memory." The Insanity Defense, 2007)
  • "In the late afternoon the Museum was still there, but he was not going to it any more. It was foggy in London that afternoon and the dark came very early. Then the shops turned their lights on, and it was all right riding down Oxford Street looking in the windows, though you couldn't see much because of the fog." (David Lodge, The British Museum Is Falling Down, 1965)

David Lodge on Parody

  • "In a way, it may be impossible for writers themselves to identify what is parodiable in their own work. It may be dangerous even to contemplate it. . . .
    "One would suppose that any writer who's any good has a distinctive voice--distinctive features of syntax or vocabulary or something--which could be seized on by the parodist." (David Lodge, "A Conversation About Thinks" in Consciousness and the Novel. Harvard University Press, 2002)

Updike on Parody

  • "Pure parody is purely parasitic. There is no disgrace in this. We all begin life as parasites within the mother, and writers begin their existence imitatively, within the body of letters." (John Updike, "Beerbohm and Others." Assorted Prose. Alfred A. Knopf, 1965)

Weird Al Yankovic's Chamillionaire Parody

  • "Look at me, I’m white and nerdy
    I wanna roll with
    The gangstas
    But so far they all think I’m too white and nerdy
    "First in my class here at MIT
    Got skills, I’m a champion at D&D
    MC Escher--that’s my favorite MC
    Keep your 40, I’ll just have an Earl Grey tea.
    My rims never spin, to the contrary
    You’ll find that they’re quite stationary.
    All of my action figures are cherry
    Steven Hawking’s in my library.
    My MySpace page is all totally pimped out
    Got people beggin’ for my top eight spaces.
    Yo, I know pi to a thousand places
    Ain’t got no grills but I still wear braces."
    (Weird Al Yankovic, "White and Nerdy"--parody of "Ridin'" by Chamillionaire)
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Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Parody in English." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Nordquist, Richard. (2021, February 16). Definition and Examples of Parody in English. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Parody in English." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 22, 2023).