January 24, 2018

LOL: Hortatory Humor

Humor, unlike hubris, ranks high in the hierarchy of hortatory writing. But where does alliteration alight in such alignments? Whether in allegory or analysis, alliteration can sometimes suggest subtlety in craftsmanship. But too many of the same letters or sounds falling close together on the page may ring clumsy or clunky instead.

Humor and alliteration have formed an unexpected and delightful couple for me. I have laughed out loud more than once, not because I finally learned what LOL means in text messages from my adult daughter. Why not “lots of love”? The alliterative arrow that found my heart came with, I promise, the letter “q.”

I like laughing. And, working with words gives me pleasure, even when mostly snaked together into serious subjects. I smile with the joy of the created phrase or the insights inherent in the new copy. But my paragraphs, while not pompous, often do ponder perplexities.

The intellectual Jungian psychologist James Hollis, prolific author and notable speaker, has a similar default, he tells us. In his dense and challenging, What Matters Most: Living a More Considered Life, he promises he will work harder to cut down on his work ethic. Maybe alliteration helped lighten the load as he cranked out another book.

With a furrowed brow and jug of joe, I hung with Brother Hollis all the way to page 4 of What Matters Most, pondering my life as I paused on phrase after poignant phrase. I slowed to nearly a standstill as I studied the sweeping paragraph that took most of the page, pondering the gift of “our human tribe.” Here’s where I slunk to the saunter of a snail:

“Amid this tenebrific onslaught of life, consciousness forms around a tenuous telemetry of survival: what nurtures, feeds, supports, or comforts; what threatens, abandons, punishes, tempts, or tortures; what confounds with querulous quiddities and compelling conundrums?”

Querulous quiddities – really? I need my daughter to explain whether LOL would fit the smirk that spread scalp to sideburns and moseyed over my mouth. The smirk subsumed profundity as well as pomposity. I needed help. Deep into the second thousand of the 2,662-page Webster’s Third New International Dictionary in the corner of my office, I got to the “q’s.” As I read, I actually began a slow journey into the profundity. Not satisfied with isolated insights, I sought community! I dashed off a long email of newfound nuggets to my friend Larry, who was about to help the Charlotte, NC, Jungian Society host Hollis for a weekend of wisdom.

I broke the pivotal paragraph into sections with my exegesis, complete with glossary:

Querulous: whining, peevish, fretful

Quiddities:  trifles

Tenebrific: gloomy

Telemetry: using instruments to measure data and transmit to receiving equipment (akin to a telescope or an electrical device)

Then came concluding thoughts, including this among other observations: So we have a gloomy onslaught, with a tenuous measure of surviving, all the while whining about trifles while we consider and internalize both the supporting and tempting forces.

Does my prose here angle toward parody, or even tilt alliteration to the anankastic (Webster tome, p. 77: arising from a compulsion, especially a neurosis). Even so, are you laughing even a little? I hope so because I am. My book-bag today feels a bit lighter, floating freer than the world-weary seriousness that often weighs me down. Maybe you too are bouncing a bit more in your daily ballet.

Who is to say when one person’s playful compulsion tilts a bit into neurosis? Wondering about the weight of the world, especially of the human heart, comes naturally to me. To keep some balance, I may tilt my alliterations toward the anankastic, especially when I can comfortably call up the clunky. But I see that Hollis held alliteration in check with another tool: his word choices. Just as I find the alliteration on page 4 alluring, I wade with delight into quiddities, tenebrific, and querulous. With this wading, fond memories waft up, the exact moments when I first encountered penultimate, exacerbate, and anodyne – like remembering when I met an old friend. I’ll savor those friendships in another story.

Meanwhile, I’ll find your phone number, Dr. Hollis, and text you: “Querulous quiddities sometimes queue in my quiver. LOL But after walking through all 256 pages of What Matters Most, I now give even greater gratitude for the gift of our human tribe. Lots of L”


  1. Mike Lindsay says:

    Simply staggering such sounds strung together, tickling thoughts that twitter through twists and turns…

  2. Ellen B. MacMillan says:

    I admire your alliterative creations and definitely will not attempt to challenge your mastery. Just one note: My first encounter with penultimate was interesting, but the find dearest to my heart is quotidian. Keep writing.