I was asked by Dellani Oakes and Karen Vaughan to participate in a blog series about sarcasm and humor so I decided to find out what was considered funny in literature. This quest took me way back in time before Terry Pratchett and Mark Twain even before Shakespeare. I actually found one-liners from ancient Rome, and even further back to the Eyptians. Below I listed some of what you could call an evolution of humor throughout the ages. Most of these come from literature, while others are of unknown origins. One thing to keep in mind is that what people may have found funny in ancient times may have us scratching our heads today. Nonetheless one thing unites all cultures, people loved to laugh no matter the time or place. I really enjoyed researching this subject and hope you enjoy it as well. So without further ado..
“I do not see a stoneworker on an important errand or a goldsmith in a place to which he has been sent, but I have seen a coppersmith at his work at the door of his furnace. His fingers were like the claws of the crocodile, and he stank more than fish excrement.” –Satire of the Trades
Ancient Greece: Aristophanes’ Rant About Modern Poets:
“A disgrace to their art. If ever they are granted a chorus, what does their offering at the shrine of Tragedy amount to? One cock of the hind leg and they’ve pissed themselves dry. You never hear of them again.” –The Frogs
A man is taking care of his departed wife’s burial. Someone asks him: “Who is it that rests in peace here?” The man answers: “Me, now that I’m rid of her!” –Source Unknown
After his wife had beaten him badly, a man crawled under his family bed. “Come out this instant!” his wife screamed.
“I am man enough to do as I please!” he said. “And I’ll come out when I’m good and ready.” –Ming Dynasty Tales
CHIRON: Thou hast undone our mother. AARON: Villain, I have done thy mother.
–Titus Andronicus: Act 4, Scene 2
In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria. –There is debate if Ben actually said this but it’s funny, so I included it.
To create man was a fine and original idea; but to add the sheep was a tautology (redundant). –St. Louis Post-Dispatch (30 May 1902); also in Mark Twain : A Life
You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think. –You Might As Well Live: The Life & Times Of Dorothy Parker
“In the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.” –The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe
“I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to.” –The Lost Continent
“Just erotic. Nothing kinky. It’s the difference between using a feather and using a chicken.” —Eric
So what are your favorite one-liners from history, tell us in the comments section.
Bio: Rachel Rueben is author of YA, supernatural as well as romance books. Her work can be found her on the Cereal Authors blog as well as Wattpad. She is also a blogger at Writing By The Seat Of My Pants where she discusses self-publishing and rarely refers to herself in the third person. 😉
Author Stephanie Osborn is a bona fide rocket scientist, as well as an amazing author. She works so hard, I don’t know how she has time to write, but she does. When we first started batting around the idea of Cereal Authors, she was one of the first people I thought of.
Award-winning author Stephanie Osborn, the Interstellar Woman of Mystery, is a veteran of more than 20 years in civilian/military space programs, with graduate and undergraduate degrees in four sciences: astronomy, physics, chemistry and mathematics, and she is “fluent” in several more, including geology and anatomy. She has authored, co-authored, or contributed to some 35 books, including the celebrated science-fiction mystery, Burnout: The mystery of Space Shuttle STS-281. She is the co-author of the Cresperian Saga book series, and has written the critically acclaimed Displaced Detective Series, described as “Sherlock Holmes meets The X-Files,” and the award-winning, exciting Sherlock Holmes: Gentleman Aegis series. Her newest venture: Division One, her take on the urban legend of the mysterious people who make things…disappear. In addition to her writing, the Interstellar Woman of Mystery now happily “pays it forward,” teaching math and science through numerous media including radio, podcasting and public speaking, as well as working with SIGMA, the science-fiction think tank.
Have you ever, over the years, lost your self in a certain piece (novel) to such a degree your family, friends, and even YOU, didn’t recognize yourself, and if so was it worth it?
I’m afraid I don’t really understand this question. Do you mean was I so absorbed in it that I lost track of the outside world? Sure; my husband learned early on to make plenty of noise coming into a room, else he was apt to have to peel me off the ceiling fan as soon as he said anything.
Or do you mean that I put myself into a novel? Because I put myself into ALL the characters I’ve ever written. I use a theatre technique called “becoming.” I find a facet of my personality, however small, that is appropriate to the character I’m writing (good guy, bad guy, it doesn’t matter), and that becomes the foundation for the character’s personality. Then I build on it, adding layers, until I have as nearly a fully-rounded character as I need for the situation.
Describe your Muse and the working relationship you share.
I don’t know that I really have a muse as such. Or if I do, it tends to be one or two of the main characters of whatever book I’m writing.
Or, What is the longest it has taken you to write a book?
It’s taken me as long as ten years to write a book. My first book, Burnout: The mystery of Space Shuttle STS-281, is about a Space Shuttle disaster, and I was working the Space Shuttle program when I started writing it, and the same scenario (minus sabotage) actually wound up happening to shuttle Columbia (WITH a friend of mine aboard) before I could get it polished and published. All of that has a tendency to mess with your head, and I had to periodically stop and put the manuscript away while I got some emotional distance on things, before picking it up and resuming writing. On the other hand, it took me two months to turn out the first two books in the Displaced Detective series.
If you had to start your writing career over would you do anything differently?
Oh, my. That’s the classic, “If I only knew then what I know now…” but I didn’t, and I wouldn’t. There’s probably a few things I might have done differently, but I just don’t know. I did the best I could with what I had. I seldom “do” regrets like that. That way just lies discontent with what I have now.
What are your publishing goals? Meaning: Would you like to become a bestseller or just make a comfortable living at it?
Oh, I think, if we’re honest, we’d all love to become a bestseller. That said, I would be very happy making a comfortable living at it. I’m still working on that.
What does your favorite book say to you? What do you feel it might say to someone else? (could be either your own work or that of someone else)
Well, the first trick, for me, is picking A favorite book. I can’t even pick a favorite writer! But I think the books I tend to like, to read again and again, speak to me about potential: both of myself and of humanity as a whole. About where we are, and where we could go. About intellect, its power, and how it must be used for good. And how misusing it can result in some subtly horrifying results.
So the works of Arthur Conan Doyle (notably his Sherlock Holmes works), Ray Bradbury, Asimov, and Heinlein tend to make me sit up and take notice.
We’re doing something a bit different today. Instead of just one author, you’ve got FOUR! There’s a reason for this, so please bear with us but a moment and read on.
Sarcasmˈ/särˌkazəm/ Noun: The use of irony to mock or convey contempt. Synonyms: derision, mockery, ridicule, scorn, sneering, scoffing….
And the list goes on. It’s important to define this word, because not everyone knows what sarcasm is, but we all use it to one degree or another. I’m convinced my family would be unable to communicate without it. In fact, my youngest son was, without doubt, the most sarcastic five year old in his kindergarten class.
Sarcasm is a tool that, when used properly, can add interesting dimension to an author’s dialogue. Imagine your favorite characters on a TV show or in a movie, chances are, they’ve got a snarky side. These characters, and their lines, are memorable because they really spice up the chitchat. This witty repartee is fun to listen to, read and to write. I’ll be honest, I don’t think my characters could communicate without sarcasm, either.
I’ve been told I’m sarcastic. I shall neither confirm nor deny this allegation. Instead, I’d love to share some of my work with you and you can judge for yourself. Over the next few weeks, a few of my (supposedly) sarcastic friends are going to talk about using sarcasm in our work and in life. Rather than giving them a big introduction, I’ll let their work speak for them. If you’d like to find out more about these ladies, click the Guilty Parties link above.
Sit back, sip your favorite beverage, (I find that sarcasm is best with lemonade, but you be the judge) and be prepared for some dry humor, wise cracks and a tad bit of sarcasm. Just a little…not too much….
Someone wants movie producer Kent Griswald dead. Unfortunately, the first attempt is foiled by the fact that it’s not Kent on the beach, but his younger brother. In broad daylight, in front of dozens of witnesses, someone takes a pot shot at Connor. Detectives Weinstein and Scott are dispatched to investigate.
Detective Vanessa Weinstein came on the scene ten minutes after the shooting. Aggressive and competitive, she was an up and comer. She knew how to play the game and used her femininity to her advantage. Dressed in a black power suit and a very white shirt, she stood out clearly on the beach. Somehow, in some mysterious way that Walter Scott couldn’t explain, the woman didn’t sweat. Her black hair was sleek, unmoving in the wind off the ocean. Her skin was perfectly dry, not even a bead of sweat on her full lips.
“The rest of Daytona’s in hell in this late season heat wave and you stand there looking like the Sugar Plum Fairy,” Scott complained, wiping his face with a handkerchief.
“Don’t sweat in my crime scene,” she said in a bored tone. “What’s going on upstairs?”
“Got two perps, one actual shooter, one decoy. Second guy left his weapon. Your guy left a shell casing. Looks like both had the same kind of gun. No serial numbers on mine.”
“Why would they make it easy? You didn’t find my gun, huh?”
“Nope. But the shell’s a 5.56mm, so we’re figuring they both had identical weapons. MSSR.”
She nodded, taking a sip of hot coffee from an insulated mug. Scott slurped water from a rapidly warming bottle and wiped his brow on his fist.
“Jeez, can we at least get outta the sun? I’m gonna fry.”
“You should try getting a tan, Walt.”
“I’m Scottish and Scandinavian, Ness, I don’t tan. You could put me out here all day, I’d burn red as a beet.”
“They’re purple.” She moved into the shade of a cabana bar where they’d set up their command center.
My characters wield sarcasm like well-sharpened sword. Laura Hamilton Fitz uses sarcasm to deal with sticky situations when faced with bad-asses trying to kill her and annoying people she has no patience for. Many people will tell you she has an attitude but as a busy mom, CSI and corpse magnet extraordinaire. (see I used sarcasm there) Laura doesn’t have time for BS.
Stella is Laura’s nemesis (next to her mother of course) and knows how to push the girl’s buttons. I am surprised that Stella herself hasn’t made it to Laura’s hit list…. Anyway, in one scene from Dead Men Don’t Swing Laura puts Stella in her place after the pest gives her a hard time about doing a eulogy for a dead, and might I add, not well liked tenant.
I went down the hall to the laundry room. I couldn’t even fathom doing a load before checking the traps and washing out all the machines before using one. I was just putting my loads in when Stella flounced in. I gave her a look that said, “Don’t start lady.” She’s either dense or doesn’t care and got on my case about the eulogy.
“Ya know Stella, you’re usually an astute woman but right now you are down to two brain cells and they are limping. I am only going to say this once, so listen closely! You can shove your eulogy! I don’t know the guy. The other tenants aren’t being forthcoming with details except for stuff I refuse to put in a tribute to the dead man. I also don’t have the time for this crap and it’s not my job.”
Ruth Davis Hays – Translations from Jorthus Series
Tools of the trade Sarcasm can be a fun and useful tool. It can be brought up in different ways. It can be presented in the narrative to express a character’s particular view of the world:
High school locker rooms. Every kid’s favorite place. The arena to expose our physical flaws to our worst critics like exposing our jugular to a vampire. (Watchdogs, a young adult novella in progress)
Or it can be a personality trait displayed in speech:
“A snow storm in the desert? Nothing out of the ordinary here!” Keinigan tried to pry a laugh from his dour companions.
Yet, his question was taken in earnest by the good dravan scholar, who proceeded to educate him on climate aberrations and how a reoccurring anomaly marked over a span of documented time can be construed as an ordinary pattern.
Keinigan groaned and pulled his cloak down over his head to block the freezing winter winds. The amount of snowfall was indeed strange for this area, but he made a mental note not to attempt humor around Master Calbraum anymore. (The Illusion, a Jorthus novel in progress)
My favorite, from time to time, is to use it to quickly convey a relationship between characters:
Before Dharromar could open his mouth, Keinigan’s fist smashed into his jaw. When the stars cleared from his brain, he was blinking up at his attacker. “I get the feeling you’re not happy to see me,” the changeling groaned from the dirt.
“Actually, I’ve been waiting to do that for a long time.”
“Little bit. You?”
“Wonderful. Your concern for me is truly touching. Now if you really want to be a help, you could come down here and suck my bolls.”
“Maybe later. I’m too busy celebrating.” Keinigan shuffled around the tent randomly as he listened to the voices of Lylith and the magda councilors filtering through the fabric. “Didn’t you hear? The changeling has returned to save us! Hoorah! The darquone are already retreating just hearing you’re back. I feel folching fantastic!” (The Illusion)
When the bite of sarcasm is set in contrast to more sincere narrative or dialogue, it stands out to the reader and punctuates either the writer’s opinion of the character or the situation. I find it incredibly irresistible at times, but must remind myself to read it not as intended but as written, in order to find out if the words are successful. If the sarcasm does not come across, either I am not doing my job or I need to rethink my use of the tool.
Disheartened, Cassie began to make a quiet retreat when she turned around and saw a homeless man who put his hand over her mouth and dragged her towards an abandoned building behind the brownstones. Biting his hand, and elbowing him in the face, she managed to free herself from his grasp. Turning around, she kicked him right in the yam bag when the homeless guy yelled in agony, “Damn’ it Cass!”
Doing a double take, she looked closer at him only to realize it was Amato. “Jesus, John, what the hell you doing walkin’ up on me like that?”
“Tryin’ to get you out of trouble!” he said through gritted teeth. Doubled over, Amato took deep breaths trying not to vomit in the alley.
Blushing, Cassie tried not to laugh. She was tempted to apologize but that wasn’t happening. Besides, it was nice to know she could still handle herself even in her messed up condition. A few minutes passed before she asked, “Ya gonna be alright?”
He looked up at her bewildered, “No wonder we broke up.”
Shrugging her shoulders, she answered right back, “Not every man can handle a strong woman.”
“Not every man wants a ball buster.”
Straightening up, Amato signaled for her to follow him as he limped away. Not feeling all that great herself, was starting to feel a sharp pain in her head. She had forgotten to take her meds and was now paying the price for it. As the two of them hobbled away from danger, the sounds of the city permeated the air playing a soundtrack to this ridiculous love story. Sirens, barking dogs and Amato’s bitching rang loudly in Cassie ears as she wondered how the hell they were ever gonna make it through this?
Join us the 15th of every month when one (or more) of us will share snippets of our stories — focusing on sarcasm, of course! We will comb through our work and find the best bits for you. You have our promise on that! Would we lie to you? ~Dellani