I have always enjoyed dry wit.  When I was a child, one of my favorite evenings on TV was when PBS would play the British shows – which is the epitome of dry wit. One of my Grandmothers hailed from England, the rest of my grandparents were from Germany, so I felt I had to protect her interests.  My Grandmother, Bessie Page, died when my father was only 12 years old so I never met her.  Because my dad lost his mother at such a young age, he only had vague recollections of her.  That didn’t stop me from having a romanticized view of her and England.  My father encouraged this bond with the motherland.  He traveled there on business one year where, by chance, he ended up at the right place at the right time when the Queen went by.  According to him, she made eye contact as she was traveling in a vehicle and he was standing by the side of the road. He was convinced that she waved specifically at him.  I think deep down he also felt she was HIS Queen as well, even though he was an American citizen and proud of it.

I appreciate sarcasm, but I am careful in my relationship with it.  It can be biting and painful if not wielded correctly.   I believe in the art of using sarcasm to your advantage.  Otherwise you just come across as a pompous ass.  You can label yourself as sarcastic and dry of wit, but most of the time that backfires and you are really perceived as a high-handed snobbish bore.  Then again, I prefer to make someone laugh, not hurt their feelings.

This brings me to the point of my blog today.  I am often struck by the bits of humor I run across in my readings, especially when found in textbooks or informational manuals.  There are times where I am literally holding my head in my hands as I try to absorb the material, when I am hit by a particularly funny statement that makes me laugh out loud.  I would like to share with you a few in particular, that are both insightful as well as humorous.  All of these are found in “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser.

This is a chapter of scraps and morsels – small admonitions on many points that I have collected under one, as they say, umbrella.


I use “perpetrated” because it’s the kind of word that passive-voice writers are found of.  They prefer long words of Latin origin to short Anglo-Saxon words – which compounds their trouble and makes their sentences still more glutinous.

The Period

There’s not much to be said about the period except that most writers don’t reach it soon enough.

The Exclamation Point

It has a gushy aura, the breathless excitement of a debutante commenting on an event that was exciting only to her.

The Dash

Somehow this invaluable tool is widely regarded as not quite proper – a bumpkin at the genteel dinner table of good English.  But it has full membership and will get you out of the many tight corners.

Mood Changers

Many of us were taught that no sentence should begin with “but.”  If that’s what you learned, unlearn it – there’s no stronger word at the start.  It announces total contrast with what has gone on before, and the reader is thereby primed for the change.  If you need relief from too many sentences beginning with “but,” switch to “however.”  It is, however, a weaker word and needs careful placement.  Don’t start a sentence with “however” – it hangs there like a wet dishrag.  And don’t end with “however” – by that time it has lost its howeverness.

Creeping Nounism

Today as many as four or five concept nouns will attach themselves to each other, like a molecule chain.

There is obviously a lot more written about each of these topics, but you can see how these sentences jumped out at me.  The interspersion of humor in what is otherwise difficult material makes the reading that much more enjoyable.  So much of what I am reading now is a repeat of what I have already studied, but I am finding it interesting nonetheless.

Get over the idea that only children should spend their time in study.  Be a student so long as you still have something to learn, and this will mean all your life.

~Henry L. Doherty