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May 06

Secret Comedy Writing Technique – Eggcorns

The American author and humorist E.B. White (who wrote Charlotte’s Webb and Stuart Little) once said:

“Analyzing humour is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it”.

In my on-going mini series Secret Comedy Writing Techniques, I try not to analyse why something’s funny. I don’t want to talk about a cathartic release or whatever.

What I’m attempting to do is provide you with as many practicle techniques for your comedic arsenal as possible, without explaining why certain things work.

That said on with the post! In this installment I’m going to cover the linguist phenomenon known as Eggcorns. Here’s my definition of this Secret Comedy Writing Technique:

“a distinctive substitution of a word or phrase that sounds akin, or even identical, in the speaker’s own dialect. A feature of the eggcorn is that the new phrase does make sense on some level. Eggcorns frequently involve replacing an unfamiliar, old-fashioned, or obscure word with a more common or modern word”.

Here are some examples include:

“chomping at the bit” instead of “champing at the bit”.
“duck tape” instead of “duct tape”.
“old timers disease” instead of “Alzheimer’s disease”.

Incidentally, my mother seems to have a natural affinity for coming out with eggcorns and it’s taken me quite a while to discover it (I can say this because I know she will never read this blog – although worryingly she’s discovered the word Google and insists that she should buy a laptop, so the game may soon be up 😉 ). I realised that I had picked up some of her phrases growing up and have set about correcting them.

My favourite of my mother’s is: “window screen wipers” instead of “windscreen wipers” (note: in the U.S. they’re known as windshield wipers).

And as always you don’t need to rely on this technique to be funny. But that said it may be a useful addition to add to your comedy repertoire. So have a think…

Is this technique useful to you in any of your comedic writings? Can you find a way to organically add in an eggcorn or two? By organic I mean that you shouldn’t force it if you don’t think it would fit.

If you find this or any of my other posts useful leave a comment and let me know.

2 comments

  1. Alistair

    It doesn’t take a “Rocket Surgeon” to find that the dissecting a frog is more or less humourous than dissecting a joke. In my mind if it lives, DONT CUT IT UP.

  2. Jason Peck

    Hey Al, thanks for dropping by.

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m only providing different techniques in order to help broaden people’s comedic palletes. Not tell them why things are funny.

    Although you say that dissecting a frog isn’t funny, but surely if there’s no blood and then it gets up and performs a sing ‘n’ dance routine like that old cartoon, then it is funny…?

    At the moment my girlfriend is doing a presentation on comedy for her advanced degree course. It’s really good and she’s using some great clips. I helped her put the thing together, but it’s all her own work.

    The downside is that she has to tell her her peers about the things she finds funny and analyze WHY they are. I froze. I said, “who cares? If you laugh, job done. If you don’t, job not done” (for some reason, in that moment, my grammer became incredibly poor).

    Unfortunately for her that’s not a very academic approach. Thank God it’s part of a directing course not a comedy and performance one.

    Leave the poor baby jokes alone, that’s what I say!!

    Thanks again, I always appreciate your comments.

    Cheers,

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