One of my less than endearing traits is that I like to supply the missing word in a sentence for friends and family. The trick is not to be obvious.

“I need to…” says your friend and stops mid sentence.
“Stop being such a big girl’s blouse,” an obvious man would say. That’s weak. Strictly lazy stuff for you and your mates over a beer. And not even then.

One could go the random option.
“I need to…”
“Re-do the grouting in the bathroom. Stat”
“I need to…”
“Reconsider your choice of Richard Wilkins as your son’s godfather.”
“I need to…”
“Have some ‘you’ time and give yourself permission to shine.”

I have said very similar things in similar circumstances to that above. No one ever laughs. The friend or family member remains stony-faced. I crack a half smile. We’re all pretty much agreed, “That’s Mr Trivia and his sentence replacement shtick.”

However, I don’t do it for the laffs, lols or lulz. Especially as there are none to be had. I’m a writer and I enjoy the wordplay. Also I have an addictive personality and I’m not sure I can stop.

A further example. My brother and I tend to use punchlines to illustrate situations. If something is more trouble than it’s worth it’s tagged “What and give up showbiz?” If someone says something too bluntly we cue an old Spike Mullins gag that Ronnie Corbett used to tell. “Well, mother was playing on the roof with her ball.” *

The punchline is family shorthand. We call it Punchlinese. Rather than spending many minutes explaining an emotional or technical situation, a simple hand-crafted punchline can be substituted.

However, I used to use a particular phrase as a punchline, that wasn’t one at all. My brother once wrote it in a school newspaper. His brief was to review the old television series The Greatest American Hero. He wrote a good summation, but wasn’t quick enough to note that Connie Sellecca played the Ralph character’s girlfriend. This is before we had a VCR and only American colleges and the military had the Internet, kids, so he couldn’t record the show or check the details on-line. (No, it wasn’t during the 1950s.)

He wrote the words, “And the usual as the girlfriend.” My brother has always been meticulous and this was the best he knew how to do as a 16-year-old novice writer. I have taunted him with these words every single year since he wrote them. Whenever he hasn’t quite remembered someone’s name, I would whip out the phrase, reminding him of a moment when he wasn’t as well-researched as he usually is.

He has always been the one with the eye for detail. I trust completely his ability to research and discover how things work. I rely on his memory of events and for birthdays. I use his attention to detail all the time, to help me out.

So last year after abusing his default phrase written to make a schoolpaper deadline almost twenty-five years ago, I decided it was time to give it a gold watch. I haven’t used it for twelve months now. Sadly it is out of the rotation. It will never again be part of my repertoire to take the piss out of my younger bro’.

It’s funny – I realised that I could have kept saying this same meaningless phrase for the rest of my life or I could stop it. For some reason it felt like it was time to stop. Although I’m pretty sure it will take a further quarter century before I don’t feel like using it.

I’ll let you know.

Mr Trivia

*Unfortunately for you, memory has dimmed the telling of these gags and frankly, you’ve probably heard them yourself and forgotten the set up, too. Let’s not ruin our friendship with mechanics of some vintage gags.

0 thoughts on “Punchlinese

  1. Hah. Brothers and sisters, eh? I remember I used to do magic tricks whilst naked for my sister. She really thought that a towel could float 3″ above my crotch. Guess she knows now. Sisters and brothers. Very different dynamic.

  2. @Cass – Spoken as a man who has a brother. ANd dammit I think I proved what a quuitter I was when I quit my 11 year job in June 2009.

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