Day 13: A Wordplay Prompt
Sarah Garfinkel on brainstorming silly synonyms
Welcome to day 11 of One Funny Line.
If you have gotten behind, perhaps this weekend is a chance to catch up?
Today the prompt comes from humor writer and teacher Sarah Garfinkel.
My twelfth birthday party was going to be perfect: ice skating, hot chocolate, and a wordplay game. Every tween’s dream.
While planning, I had the brilliant idea to include “Funny Money” as part of the festivities. Each person got a few bucks of pretend cash, and instead of presidents, each bill had a set of five words/phrases: Happy birthday, Sarah, ice skating, cake, and [something else I can’t remember]. I was giddy with excitement for this game.
Here’s how Funny Money works: The words on the bills are the words you can’t say. If you slip up and say one of the words, the person who catches you gets to take one of your Funny Money bucks. The person who collects the highest number of Funny Money bucks wins.
Here’s what I didn’t consider while I created the Not-So-Funny Money words: It was my birthday…and nobody could wish me a happy birthday, address me by name, or talk about the activity we were doing. And I had nobody to blame but myself.
When it came time to blow out the candles on the cake, everyone seemed unsure what to do. How to sing the Happy Birthday song without, well, the main lyrics? Defeated, I ended the game early. Lesson learned: In the future, I would get my wordplay kicks with the game Taboo, puns, and eventually…humor writing.
But I don’t share this story as a cautionary tale—mostly because I don’t think caution is warranted as I’ve never met any other kid who would ban “happy birthday” at their own party. Funny Money, when applied to humor writing, can be an excellent way to play with diction and avoid repetition. Replacing common words in your writing can lead to extremely funny opportunities for silly synonyms and figurative language.
Today’s challenge is to apply the Funny Money mentality to your writing. And because I’m pro-choice, I’ll provide options!
1. Select a draft from your Google Drive/Notes app/notebook. Find a word that repeats throughout the piece, perhaps one that is central to the theme of your work. For example, if you are writing an essay about squirrels (one of the most common essay topics), then try to replace each mention of “squirrel” with a new word or phrase that describes the bushy-tailed nudniks.
2. If you’d rather play outside of a draft, feel free to borrow any of the Funny Money words above and make a list. How many words/phrases can you list in place of “birthday”?
Have fun! And feel free to share your brilliant/silly/funny results.
Sarah Garfinkel is a writer, educator, and reformed party planner. She lives in San Francisco and also Google Docs. Sarah contributes humor writing to The New Yorker, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Electric Literature, The Rumpus, and other fun publications. At Harvard and Columbia University, she teaches creative nonfiction, opinion writing, academic writing, and more. She offers editing and coaching services, and you can learn more/read her writing at sarahgarfinkelwriting.com.
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