Tag Archives: Dickens

Words at Play

Ah, puns. Love ’em or hate ’em, puns are a part of life. Especially, it seems, in the English-speaking world. I don’t speak any foreign language well enough to know whether puns are used elsewhere, but certainly there is a perception that it’s a curiously English-language phenomenon to play on words.

Personally, I like them. As long as they are not groan-worthy, puns appeal to me. But when I like them, most, is when they are not merely jokes, but a sort of secret code between reader and writer.

Dickens, for example, was very good at making his characters’ names give an extra flavour of the person – Mr Gradgrind, Mr Bumble, Mr Scrooge … Even without having read the books or heard the stories, you would have a sense of those men, wouldn’t you?

Titles, too, can have multiple meanings – are Elizabeth and Darcy meant to represent Pride and Prejudice respectively (and if so, which is which?) or are both little bit of each? Are Sense and Sensibility opposites or two elements of the same personality, and if they are opposites, which is Austen espousing?

In English Literature lessons, I remember being asked to read a great deal into every word and phrase chosen by the author: “ooh, she used lots of sibilants in that sentence to make us feel the wicked nature of the speaker,” or whatever. And often, I suspect the writer did no such thing. She probably didn’t even notice the large supply of s’s and if she did, she probably wondered if it made the work hard to read and she should edit some of them out.

But on the other hand, writers are wordsmiths. We like words and language and we love the meanings of those words. All of them. So sometimes, I think perhaps the author did smile to herself when she used a clever piece of wording – a sentence that appeared to mean one thing but later turned out to mean the opposite, or a description like “devilishly handsome” for a character who turns out to be merely devilish.

I certainly do. Sometimes, I do it by mistake and then catch it in the edit. Sometimes I don’t catch it at all and only get that snatch of pride when someone else points it out. (Sometimes, it backfires horribly and no one gets it, in which case I know I’ve failed on that occasion.) By way of example:

Perms and Combs is a mathematical term for Permutations and Combinations (for example, given 10 digits and 3 spaces, you can make 1000 numeric combinations, whereas 10 digits and 2 spaces gives you only 100 options). But it could also be about hairdressing. And indeed, the hair of the members of Guns n Roses.

Diana and Nadia both have the same letters in their names – apt if they are facing a similar problem from different vantage points. But so does Aidan; (hopefully) with the subtle intimation that he may be as much a victim as the two women.

How do you feel about puns? Do you like to play with words and hide meanings in your writing? As a reader, do you enjoy hunting out the hidden meanings in what you read?


Filed under Writing

In Mon – Cutting Through The Haze

Thursday morning, time for an InMon story! In light of my concerns about writing too many 100 word stories, I deliberately tried to go long this time. It comes in just under 500 words and I have to say there was a definite moment of hesitation at about 120! hopefully it doesn’t show and you enjoy the finished product. Thanks to Steph for a tough set of prompts this week.

The picture comes from wikimedia – I’m not sure about the grammar but I liked the sentiment (which reads: Good people are like street lights along the roads. They do not make the distance short, but they light up the path and make [the] walk easy and safe.)


Night Visitor

Evening fell like a night from a Dickens novel – thick with fog and lit only by the distant glow of obscured streetlamps. The fog shrouded everything, from the lights to the far-off sounds of traffic and revellers. Some headed home, others headed out.

None of them would notice the lone figure on the damp pavement with his head tucked down under the high collar of his jacket. None of them would see him stop at each house, pause in the doorway, and then move on. His touch was like one from the angel of death: no-one saw him come or go, yet everyone felt his visit after he had left.

His feet pounded rhythmically as he moved from house to house, yet the sound went unheard. He traced a route he knew well – cutting across gardens and passing over fences where that shortened the path. Each step confident and accustomed. Each house known and expected.

Occasionally a dog barked, or a cat leapt from its position on a windowsill. Animals’ senses were so much more finely attuned to his presence. They could feel his approach, and it made them wary. Once, a barking dog was silenced by the gruff voice of a man, “Shut up! I can’t hear the TV”, but the man himself had no idea of the meaning and import of that bark; no idea how close he had passed.

At the end of the road, a police car drove by: its lights fuzzy in the fog but its siren cutting through the haze. He froze to the spot, waiting for it to pass out of sight and hearing. The fog seemed to close in, hiding him like the cloak of night.

Though he knew the police wouldn’t touch him, the siren left his heart beating faster. It had been so sudden and so loud in the quiet evening. He paused a moment after it had gone, waiting for the silence to feel comfortable again. Eventually, the sounds of traffic and distant crowds began to settle back in around him. He approached the next house, and a dog barked behind the door.

He was back into his stride now, a few houses from the end of the street.

The barking stopped and the door opened. “Get off my goddam porch before I set the dog on you!” shouted an old woman, silhouetted against the lights of the house. “I don’t want any more bleedin’ pizza leaflets. I’m lactose intolerant!”

Jacob smiled. He would take a break after this. Get a coke from the corner shop, maybe. Perhaps even a hot dog to fuel him for the rest of the shift, certainly not a pizza – he ate enough of those when he worked in the store.


Filed under Inspiration Monday, Writing