If you were to take your time machine back to the years when I taught middle school and drop in at the teacher’s lounge, you would find me full of jokes, puns, and snappy responses. Honest – ask anyone. Somehow, for me, that humor doesn’t seem to translate to my novels.
Nevertheless, you can’t work with language for decades without becoming attuned to irony and word play, and over the years I’ve heard some dandies.
In 1965 I was a high school intern at a medical facility. One of the physicians working there was Dr. Sexauer. I saw his nametag, so I can guarantee that he was real, and I fully believe the story that I was told about a brief phone conversation:
Caller: “Hello, do you have a Sexauer there?”
Respondent: “Hell, no, we don’t even have time for a coffee break.”
One of my college roommates was brilliant, and proud of it. His girlfriend was college material, but ditzy. It was the late sixties; most girls chose to seem ditzy.
They were walking at night near the Red Cedar river, which smelled anything but sweet in that era. He challenged her to make up a sentence using the word odoriferous. Without hesitation, and without losing her ditzy persona, she said, “Oh, de rifer is so pretty tonight.”
A friend was talking about how often she procrastinated. I told her, “I was going to procrastinate once, but I kept putting it off.” She was half way through telling me what procrastinate means, when she realized she’d been had.
When I had just begun to write, I was also a Red Cross volunteer. The local chapter director Jim Curley was fearlessly quick witted and a friend of mine. I was in his office one day, talking over Red Cross business and leaning way too far back in my chair, when I went over and hit the floor hard.
Jim leaped to his feet and rushed around the desk. Before I could assure him that I wasn’t hurt, he shouted in a voice that could be heard throughout the building, “And if you ever say that to me again, I’ll knock you down again!”
At Westercon (Western Regional Science Fiction Convention) 32 in Los Angeles I sat in the audience of a spirited, but deeply nerdy debate on the use of language in fantasy. The notion of archaic language came up, and someone said that it should only be used as a spice in regular English. Spice morphed into general food terms, and the metaphor had become almost embarrassingly labored when one member of the audience stood up and said:
“Are you trying to tell us that we can have archaic and eat it too?”
Yes, they all really happened. No joke.