Friday, June 15, 2012

Word Choice: Friday Fun

Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

In light of that quote, here are some of my favorite Woodhouse quotes for your Friday fun.

“…he once contracted a matrimonial engagement with Lady Florence.”

Bertie, looking at a painting: “It has a nice patina.”
Aunt Dahlia: “You don’t even know what a patina is.”
Bertie: “It’s generally safe to say such a thing when confronted by a piece of art.”

Aunt Dahlia to her husband, Uncle Tom: “You know you always shoot the wrong people.”

Lady Glossip: “Mr. Wooster, how would you support a wife?”
Bertie Wooster: “Well, I suppose it depends on whose wife it was, a little gentle pressure beneath the elbow while crossing a busy street usually fits the bill.”

Mike nodded. A sombre nod. The nod Napoleon might have given if somebody had met him in 1812 and said, "So, you're back from Moscow, eh?”

(This one is for all my writing friends.) “A certain critic -- for such men, I regret to say, do exist -- made the nasty remark about my last novel that it contained 'all the old Wodehouse characters under different names.' He has probably by now been eaten by bears, like the children who made mock of the prophet Elisha: but if he still survives he will not be able to make a similar charge against Summer Lightning. With my superior intelligence, I have out-generalled the man this time by putting in all the old Wodehouse characters under the same names. Pretty silly it will make him feel, I rather fancy.”

Bertie, talking about Roderick Spode: “You can't be a successful Dictator and design women's underclothing.”

“She looked like something that might have occurred to Ibsen in one of his less frivolous moments.”

This isn’t an example of word choice, but I’m including it since Shakespeare season is upon the Keller household. Next week I start sewing. (This year the kids are in Much Ado About Nothing. Jake plays Benedick, and Matt is Claudio.)

Woodhouse speaking about himself: “I suppose the fundamental distinction between Shakespeare and myself is one of treatment. We get our effects differently. Take the familiar farcical situation of someone who suddenly discovers that something unpleasant is standing behind them. Here is how Shakespeare handles it in "The Winter's Tale," Act 3, Scene 3:

ANTIGONUS: Farewell! A lullaby too rough. I never saw the heavens so dim by day. A savage clamour! Well may I get aboard! This is the chase: I am gone for ever.

And then comes literature's most famous stage direction, "Exit pursued by a bear." All well and good, but here's the way I would handle it:

BERTIE: Touch of indigestion, Jeeves?
JEEVES: No, Sir.
BERTIE: Then why is your tummy rumbling?
JEEVES: Pardon me, Sir, the noise to which you allude does not emanate from my interior but from that of that animal that has just joined us.
BERTIE: Animal? What animal?
JEEVES: A bear, Sir. If you will turn your head, you will observe that a bear is standing in your immediate rear inspecting you in a somewhat menacing manner.
BERTIE (as narrator): I pivoted the loaf. The honest fellow was perfectly correct. It was a bear. And not a small bear, either. One of the large economy size. Its eye was bleak and it gnashed a tooth or two, and I could see at a g. that it was going to be difficult for me to find a formula. "Advise me, Jeeves," I yipped. "What do I do for the best?"
JEEVES: I fancy it might be judicious if you were to make an exit, Sir.
BERTIE (narrator): No sooner s. than d. I streaked for the horizon, closely followed across country by the dumb chum. And that, boys and girls, is how your grandfather clipped six seconds off Roger Bannister's mile.

Who can say which method is superior?"


  1. Thank you for that this morning! I adore Wodehouse. The first book I read on my Kindle was "Mike and Psmith." Jeeves' superiority tends to grate after a while, but Psmith never gets old.

  2. This was a wonderful way to start my Friday! Thanks, and allow me to add one of my favorite Jeeves quotes:
    "The Dutch, sir, while an admirable people in many respects and renown for their domestic hygiene, are not considered to be of the first rank in matters of argintine craftsmanship."

  3. So clearly, I need to read me some Wodehouse. Thank you for constantly exposing me to his hilarity!

    (I still can't get over the "Exit pursued by a bear" stage direction from Shakespeare though.)

  4. I always love Bear stories. And helping someone cut bit off Banister's 4 minute mile was a wonderful thing for your Bear to do. So helpful and considerate.

    My complements to you.

    Blessings and Bear hugs.