Tag Archives: humour

Ebert’s Glossary of Movie Terms

If there’s one per­son I can think of who is qual­i­fied to pro­duce a movie gloss­ary, it has to be Roger Ebert. And you know what? He did, it was pub­lished, and I had no idea until just now.

Inspir­ing fre­quent light giggles and the occa­sion­al guf­faw, Ebert’s gloss­ary appears to have ori­gin­ated as an article/chapter in Roger Ebert’s Video Com­pan­ion (that link leads to a prob­ably-not-kosh­er mir­ror of the full sec­tion). An expan­ded ver­sion was later pub­lished as the stan­dalone volume Ebert’s ‘Big­ger’ Little Movie Gloss­ary, with the won­drously descript­ive sub­title of “a greatly expan­ded and much improved com­pen­di­um of movie clichés, ste­reo­types, oblig­at­ory scenes, hack­neyed for­mu­las, shop­worn con­ven­tions, and out­dated arche­types” (and that link goes to the fairly extens­ive Google Books pre­view… for those of you who don’t want to buy it for the Kindle).

Five ran­dom terms that made me chuckle:

  • Dirt Equals Vir­tue: In tech­no­logy movies, a small, dingy, cluttered little lab and eccent­ric per­son­nel equal high prin­ciples; large, well-lighted facil­it­ies mask sin­is­ter motives.
  • First Law of Funny Names: No names are funny unless used by W.C. Fields or Groucho Marx. Funny names, in gen­er­al, are a sign of des­per­a­tion at the screen­play level. See “Dr. Hfuhruhurr” in The Man with Two Brains.
  • Oblig­at­ory M & M Shot: Every movie that fea­tures a scene in an Arab or Islam­ic coun­try will begin the scene with a shot of a mosque tower (min­aret), or the sound of the muezzin, or both.
  • Prin­ciple of Select­ive Leth­al­ity: The leth­al­ity of a weapon var­ies, depend­ing on the situ­ation. A single arrow will drop a stam­ped­ing bison in its tracks, but it takes five or six to kill an import­ant char­ac­ter. A single bul­let will always kill an extra on the spot, but it takes dozens to bring down the hero.
  • Unmo­tiv­ated Close-up: A char­ac­ter is giv­en a close-up in a scene where there seems to be no reas­on for it. This is an infal­lible tip-off that this char­ac­ter is more sig­ni­fic­ant than at first appears, and is most likely the killer. See the linger­ing close-up of the under­cov­er KGB agent near the begin­ning of The Hunt for Red Octo­ber.

Labelling Homeopathic Products

Earli­er this year the UK’s MHRA opened a con­sulta­tion to help them decide how homeo­path­ic products should be labelled when sold to the pub­lic. As expec­ted, Ben Gol­dacre — devoted crit­ic of homeo­pathy, pseudos­cience and gen­er­al quack­ery — sug­ges­ted a label of his own and asked his read­ers for fur­ther sug­ges­tions.

Some of the sug­ges­tions were truly fant­ast­ic (and proved that I couldn’t come up with an ori­gin­al joke, no mat­ter how hard I tried), and so Gol­dacre pub­lished some of the best sug­ges­tions for homeo­path­ic labelling in his column for The Guard­i­an:

On instruc­tions, we have “take as many as you like”, since there are no ingredi­ents. The pro­posed bel­ladonna homeo­pathy pill ingredi­ents label simply reads “no bel­ladonna”, which is a con­ven­tion the MHRA could adapt for all its dif­fer­ent homeo­pathy labels. Oth­er sug­ges­tions include “none”, “belief”, “false hopes”, “shattered dreams”, and “the tears of uni­corns”.

For warn­ings, we have: “not to be taken ser­i­ously”, “in case of over­dose, con­sult a life­guard”, and “con­tains chem­ic­als, includ­ing dihydro­gen monox­ide”. This, of course, is a scary name for water, which became an inter­net meme after Nath­an Zohner’s school sci­ence pro­ject: he suc­cess­fully gathered a peti­tion to ban this chem­ic­al on the grounds that it is fatal when inhaled, con­trib­utes to the erosion of our nat­ur­al land­scape, may cause elec­tric­al fail­ures, and has been found in the excised tumours of ter­min­al can­cer patients.

The com­ments on both art­icles are real gems for those in need of a laugh today.

via @IrregularShed

Congruent Conflations in a Thumbnail

I’ve been going ape-wild for con­gru­ent con­fla­tions lately and for good reas­on: they’re the most fun I’ve had with word­play for a long time and I find they ring off the tongue nicely. Hope­fully you’ll cut me a bone if I indulge a little more, as with just a couple more examples you will no-doubt be able to put the dots togeth­er.

Oh, OK, I won’t skirt around the bush any longer; it’s time to let the bean out of the bag with the help of Conflations.com’s intro­duc­tion to con­gru­ent and incon­gru­ent con­fla­tions (and the accom­pa­ny­ing lists there­of):

Simply put, a con­fla­tion is an amal­gam­a­tion of two dif­fer­ent expres­sions. In most cases, the com­bin­a­tion res­ults in a new expres­sion that makes little sense lit­er­ally, but clearly expresses an idea because it ref­er­ences well-known idioms. All con­fla­tions fit into one of two major categories: Con­gru­ent Con­fla­tions & Incon­gru­ent Con­fla­tions. Con­gru­ent Con­fla­tions are the more ideal (and more sought-after) examples of the concept. These occur when the two root expres­sions basic­ally reflect the same thought. For example, “Look who’s call­ing the kettle black” can be formed using the root expres­sions “Look who’s talk­ing” & “The pot is call­ing the kettle black.” These root expres­sions really mean the same thing—they are both a friendly way to point out hypo­crit­ic­al beha­viour. Of course, without ref­er­ence to a pot (which is just as black as a kettle), “Look who’s call­ing the kettle black” does not dir­ectly imply any­thing. Yet the implic­a­tion is almost auto­mat­ic­ally under­stood because the con­fla­tion clearly refers to two known idioms.

Incon­gru­ent Con­fla­tion occurs when the root expres­sions do not mean the same thing, but share a com­mon word or theme.

Con­gru­ent example: “Know-it-pants” from the root expres­sions “Know-it-all” and “Smarty-pants”.

Incon­gru­ent example: “A wild her­ring” from the root expres­sions “A wild goose chase” and “A red her­ring”.

via @siibo

Comedic Writing Tips… Again

The use of inher­ently funny top­ics and words, at least one per­son, a little exag­ger­a­tion and a touch of curi­os­ity and danger: these are just some of the essen­tial ingredi­ent­s for suc­cess­ful humour­ous writ­ing, says Scott Adams, cre­at­or of Dilbert.

In an essay very sim­il­ar to a post he wrote almost four years ago (pre­vi­ously), Adams tells us an amus­ing story about sex and French fries before dis­sect­ing it and explain­ing how to “write like a car­toon­ist” (i.e. with humour):

The top­ic is the thing. Eighty per­cent of suc­cess­ful humor writ­ing is pick­ing a top­ic that is funny by its very nature. My story above is true, up until the exag­ger­a­tion about the French fry in the sinus cav­ity. You prob­ably assumed it was true, and that know­ledge made it fun­ni­er.

Humor likes danger. If you are cau­tious by nature, writ­ing humor prob­ably isn’t for you. Humor works best when you sense that the writer is put­ting him­self in jeop­ardy. I picked the French-fry story spe­cific­ally because it is too risqué for The Wall Street Journ­al. You can’t read it without won­der­ing if I had an awk­ward con­ver­sa­tion with my edit­or. […]

Humor is about people. It’s impossible to write humor about a concept or an object. All humor involves how people think and act. Some­times you can fin­esse that lim­it­a­tion by hav­ing your char­ac­ters think and act in selfish, stu­pid or poten­tially harm­ful ways around the concept or object that you want your read­er to focus on.

Exag­ger­ate wisely. If you anchor your story in the famil­i­ar, your read­ers will fol­low you on a humor­ous exag­ger­a­tion, espe­cially if you build up to it. […]

Let the read­er do some work. Humor works best when the read­er has to con­nect some dots. […] The smarter your audi­ence, the wider you can spread the dots. […]

Anim­als are funny. It’s a cheap trick, but anim­al ana­lo­gies are gen­er­ally funny. It was fun­ni­er that I said, “my cheeks went all chip­munk-like” than if I had said my cheeks puffed out.

Use funny words. I referred to my two school­mates and myself as a troika because the word itself is funny. With humor, you nev­er say “pull” when you can say “yank.” Some words are simply fun­ni­er than oth­ers, and you know the funny ones when you see them. (Pop Quiz: Which word is fun­ni­er, observe or stalk?)

Curi­os­ity. Good writ­ing makes you curi­ous without being too heavy-handed about it. My first sen­tence in this piece, about the French fry lodged in my sinus cav­ity, is designed to make you curi­ous. It also sets the tone right away.

End­ings. A simple and clas­sic way to end humor­ous writ­ing is with a call-back. That means mak­ing a clev­er asso­ci­ation to some­thing espe­cially humor­ous and not­able from the body of your work. I would give you an example of that now, but I’m still hav­ing con­cen­tra­tion issues from the French fry.

via @brainpicker

Random Promotions Beat the Peter Principle

The Peter Prin­ciple states that “in a hier­archy every employ­ee tends to rise to his level of incom­pet­ence” (dis­cussed pre­vi­ously). This prin­ciple is typ­ic­ally observed when pro­mo­tions are rewar­ded based on an employee’s abil­ity in their cur­rent pos­i­tion and provided there is suf­fi­cient dif­fer­ence between the two pos­i­tions.

In such cir­cum­stances, is there a simple way to ‘beat’ the Peter Prin­ciple? Accord­ing to the research that won the 2010 Ig Nobel Prize for Man­age­ment, yes: pro­mote at ran­dom to pre­vent the prin­ciple from com­ing true (pdf, also: arX­iv, doi).

We obtained the coun­ter­in­tu­it­ive res­ult that the best strategies for improv­ing, or at least for not diminishing,the effi­ciency of an organ­iz­a­tion […] are those of pro­mot­ing an agent at ran­dom or of ran­domly altern­at­ing the pro­mo­tion of the best and the worst mem­bers.

The authors of the study have cre­ated a sim­u­la­tion so that you can see the ran­dom pro­mo­tion strategy in action, and it’s worth remem­ber­ing that this coun­ter­in­tu­it­ive and (hopefully) tongue-in-cheek approach is just one of the pos­sible solu­tions to the prob­lem described by the Peter Prin­ciple.

Read­ing up on this, I also came across the rather eleg­ant Gen­er­al­ised Peter Prin­ciple, ori­gin­at­ing from obser­va­tions regard­ing hard­ware at nuc­le­ar power plants:

Any­thing that works will be used in pro­gress­ively more chal­len­ging applic­a­tions until it fails. […] There is much tempta­tion to use what has worked before, even when it may exceed its effect­ive scope.