Published: 12th January 2019
Using creativity in language: How are one-liners written so that they are witty and thought-provoking?
One-liners (OLs) are short jokes or witty remarks. They provide not only humour but also food for thought
I’m writing this column on the day when I conducted a workshop on creative writing in English at Ethiraj College as part of the Chennai Literary Festival 2019. Over 60 students from different colleges in the city participated in the workshop.
The focus of my session was on the need for using language creatively. We use language to communicate with others. It is important to capture the readers’ hearts and minds through creative words. When words and phrases are used creatively in any piece of writing, they have the ability to sharpen the readers’ thinking and provide them with aesthetic pleasure. The feeling they experience while reading a piece of literature will always be memorable. That is the reason why we read pieces of creative writing such as poems and one-liners. American poet Maya Angelou says, “People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Authors connect with readers through their creative work. The connection becomes stronger if the language is used creatively and powerfully.
One-liners (OLs) are short jokes or witty remarks. They provide not only humour but also food for thought. In the modern world, everyone is busy and people do not have time to read long tales that were once popular. OLs do not have more than 15 words and each word in it is important to convey the message/humour intended. English language learners can improve their English language skills by reading and trying to write OLs. Most one-liners have two parts: the setup and the punchline as in this example:
- Always borrow money from a pessimist. He won’t expect it back.
In this OL, the setup (Always borrow money from a pessimist) sets the reader’s mind in one direction. When the reader expects a different ending, he is given a punchline (He won’t expect it back) which twists what the reader was expecting. This punchline changes the meaning of the entire sentence and thus provides humour and food for thought.
The two important rules that one should follow while writing OLs are: i) the distance between the setup and the punchline should be shorter and ii) the punchline should be at the end.
There are some words which have more than one meaning. Look at these examples:
- Change is good, but dollars are better.
- If money doesn’t grow on trees why do bank have branches?
In the OLs above, the words ‘change’ and ‘branches’ have two different meanings. It is very important to know the different meanings of the words to appreciate the one-liners.
In some one-liners, we find reverse humour. The setup makes listeners/readers expect one thing but the punchline surprises them with the exact opposite, as in this example:
-A mysterious man was knocking all night long on the popular model’s door. Come morning, she was fed up with it, so she let him out. (Source: www.huffingtonpost.com/omri-marcus/10-ways-to-write-one-line_b_501324.html)
The punchline surprises the listener/reader with a twist. The meaning of the punchline is that the mysterious man was inside the house. There are many other techniques used to make OLs effective. Learners interested in developing their English language skills should read more one-liners and try to analyse the language used in the short and succinct jokes. It is a good way to fall in love with the language.
Here are some humorous and thought-provoking one-liners:
-A hotel will be opened in the largest shopping mall. The main target audience — people who failed to find their car in the parking lot.
-Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.
- Common sense is not so common.
- Ninety-nine per cent of lawyers give the rest a bad name.
-If you steal from one author, it’s plagiarism; if you steal from many, it’s research.
-Love may be blind but marriage is a real eye-opener.
-Take my advice — I’m not using it.
-I fell in love at first sight. I should have looked twice.
-Change is good, but dollars are better.
-A bus station is where a bus stops. A train station is where a train stops. On my desk, I have a work station.