How to create a saying

Copyright © 2013 Jerry Dunne

The type of saying we will look at here expresses nuanced truths in an ironic and often witty way. This might sound like quite a lofty thing to try for but it’s not as difficult as it might at first appear. The saying is really a sophisticated joke, also with a set-up and a punchline. The first half usually sets the reader up for an expectation that is not met in the second half. Instead, we get an ironic twist. The effect is to jolt the reader into seeing the truth (message or theme) of the saying from a fresh and poignant perspective in a way they would not otherwise have thought about, if they had ever thought about it at all.

So for us to create a saying, we obviously need a sense of perspective that involves wit and irony, as well as a topic and a theme or message to deliver. In the saying’s first half, we will introduce the topic and then throw into an unexpected and ironic twist in the second half. We accomplish this by matching two concepts that usually never go together but in doing so create a spark. That’s why we get the irony and the twist and the message delivered in a fresh and poignant way. This is pretty much how wit works everywhere.

We’ll take three separate topics with a saying for each one and analyse them to see why they work. After that, we will introduce a fourth topic and attempt to create a saying out of it, using our three analyses to help us with inspiration and guidance.

Here’s our first saying on the topic of drinking:

Abstinence is the weakness of the faint-hearted; drunkenness the weakness of the strong-hearted.

What is this saying telling us? Those who choose not to drink at all abstain because they are too faint-hearted to drink (this is wit). It is suggesting that the non-drinker is afraid of what might happen to his personality if he lets himself go through drink. We know this because the second clause flips the subject of drink and abstinence on its head to suggest that abstinence would actually be a good thing for the strong-hearted who are only too ready to participate in alcohol overuse. The saying suggests that the faint-hearted would benefit by some alcohol and the strong-hearted (or headstrong) would benefit from some abstinence. These two concepts placed side by side in this way and delivered with sharp word play throw up wit and irony with a message that appears fresh.

Here’s our second saying on the topic of wealth:

Some people live in fifteen-million-pound houses and others in rundown public housing. But the same postal service delivers all our mail and the same graveyard accepts all our bones. Who says we don’t have equality?

This second saying is making a comment on equality, or lack of it, in society. Again, the matching of concepts that wouldn’t usually be placed together help deliver on the wit and irony in an offbeat way. The question at the end, of course, is our punchline. The writing is sharp and snappy and must be in order to carry the wit well.

Here’s our third saying on the topic of relationships:

Can romance really begin on first dates? Shouldn’t it start after you’ve had lots of time to get to know one another – like when the divorce papers have been signed?

Here we have another odd set of comparisons. The saying suggests that a couple need time to get to know one another before romance can blossom. How can we be romantic on a first date when we hardly know the other person? It ironically suggests that the best time for romance is when a couple have split up and are signing the divorce papers. Here is where you know the person best of all. But by then, of course, it’s too late. This saying seems ridiculous on the surface, and yet, people often don’t know one another very well at the beginning of a romantic relationship, and these same people certainly do know one another a lot better when the divorce papers are being signed. So when would the best time be to start the romance?

Our own saying:

We’ve analysed our examples and now have an idea of how things work. Let’s see if we can create a saying around the topic of journalism. What do we think of journalists? Well, they range from excellent to poor. Here we want to be witty, ironic and cynical all at the same time. We want to create something offbeat.

Journalism is a craft practised by journalists. (Makes sense so far). They take hard facts and attempt to make a story out of them. But often the story is biased, and, anyway, sometimes the journalist simply doesn’t know what he’s writing about, and at other times, he actually makes things up. Yet, the journalist attempts to persuade his audience that he is not biased but actually reasonable in his interpretation of the facts.

Let’s go into wit and irony mode now.

Journalism is a craft, which takes hard facts and turns them into stories; stories that are often biased or worse. Now it looks like more than a craft. The ability to twist facts to fit the biased opinion looks more like an art form.
Here we have found some key words which we can use to help us create the saying.

Journalism is an art form that takes hard facts and turns them into biased stories.

We’re already nearly there. We just need a little more punch, especially at the end.

Journalism is an art form that takes hard facts and turns them into fiction.

This is much better. The end is punchier but it is still not quite there. It doesn’t really give us the full ironic punch that we need. The journalist is trying to convince his audience he is writing the truth; he must appear plausible. Let’s stick the word plausible in at the end and see how it looks.

Journalism is an art form that takes hard facts and turns them into plausible fiction.

Plausible and fiction don’t go together ordinarily, but we are writing a saying and developing irony, and they fit in perfectly here for our purpose. Our ending is now fine and has the ironic punch we need. We can just make the first part a little punchier by writing it this way.

Journalism is the art of taking entire sets of hard facts and turning them into plausible fiction.

And there we have it: our first saying.

Summing up

We need wit, irony, a twist/ punchline, as well as a ring of nuanced truth about the topic, even if it’s a bit tongue-in-cheek and a touch cynical. We achieve all this by matching concepts that would not normally go together and express them by using snappy and punchy words, some of which would not normally go together either.

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