Olsson's Book Bits

by Greta Olsson

Viva La Prepartee by Mardy Grothe
28O pages
Copyright 2005

Richard Lederer, author of Anguished English, wrote: "Mardy Grothe's exquisite collection of retorts, ripostes, and rebuffs celebrates language in its most clever, precise, and hilarious form." I also recommend this book most highly for all of us who "wish we had said that."

Chapter 1 deals with classic retorts:

"After the opening performance of Arms and the Man in London in 1890, playwright George Barnard Shaw joined the actors on stage to acknowledge a rousing, appreciative ovation. Amidst the sustained applause, a solitary voice cried out: 'Boo! Boo!' Shaw looked in the direction of the voice and said; I quite agree with you, my friend, but what can we two do against a whole houseful of the opposite opinion?'

"A similar story is told about the reception Oscar Wilde received after one of his plays. After an extended period of warm applause, during which the author was presented with a number of floral bouquets from admiring fans, one disgruntled person in the audience threw a rotten cabbage at the playwright. Wilde simply leaned over, picked up the foul-smelling vegetable, and coolly replied: 'Thank you, my dear fellow. Every time I smell it, I shall think of you.'"

Chapter 2 has classic quips, ad-libs, and off-the-cuff remarks.

Chapter 3 is laconic repartee. For example, "In fourth century B.C., after Spartan troops won the Battle of Thebes, the victorious general sent a message back to his superiors saying, 'Thebes is taken.' Laconians prided themselves on never using two or three words when one would do, so this three-word message was judged too wordy for the Commanders back in Sparta. They sent the General a reprimand that said, 'taken would have been sufficient.'"

Many anecdotes had only a one word reply that felled the speaker.

Chapter 4 is stage and screen repartee. Mae West played with W.C. Fields in My Little chickadee. In one scene Mae appears before a judge who is not pleased with her courtroom demeanor. When the judge says, "Are you showing contempt for this court?" she wisecracks, "I'm doing my best to hide it."

The topic of chapter 12 is chiastic. Samuel Johnson was pestered by a young writer who wanted help. Johnson tried to ignore him but was finally forced to answer: "Your manuscript is both good and original: but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good."

Chiasmus is a literary device in which the order of words is reversed in two parallel phrases. For example, Mae West said, "It's not the men in my life, but the life in my men." Cicero said, "One should eat to live, not live to eat." An implied chiasmus occurred when Kaufman's daughter, a student at Vassar, told her father that a friend of hers had eloped and was dropping out of school. "After only a moment's reflection, he observed: 'Ah, yes, a case of putting the heart before the course.'"

Chapter 13 addresses oxymorons. "A two word construction like jumbo shrimp, pretty ugly, old news, or according to some military intelligence." "'Acting is happy agony,' a famous observation from English actor Alec Guinness, is also a beautiful blending of two normally incompatible words." From Robert Browning we get "Less is more." Lao-Tzu advised, "To lead the people walk behind them."

Other chapters include literary, political, written, round table (obviously the Algonquin group could not be left out), relationship, senior citizen, sports, inadvertent, and risque.

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