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Wordplay Week

Friday, April 6, 2012

The moment you've all been waiting for: Oulipian writing contest results

Posted By on 04.06.12 at 04:33 PM

Why show you this hooded merganser? Youll find out after the jump.
  • John James Audubon
  • Why show you this hooded merganser? You'll find out after the jump.
As part of Wordplay Week on the Bleader, we announced a contest based on an Oulipian-style exercise. If you've been paying attention like you should, you know that "oulipian" refers to the Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle ("workshop for potential literature"), a club founded in Paris in 1960 and dedicated to investigating language from a structuralist point of view. Members created texts according to conceits of their own devising: a novel without the letter "e"; a poem that's reconstituted by systematically substituting new nouns for the originals; a book of ten sonnets in which each line appears on a separate strip of paper, allowing—according to the book's title—for a "hundred thousand billion" possible poems.

Our version of an Oulipian conceit was to ask Reader staffers and readers to retell a classic joke their own ways. Here's the joke:

One day a duck walks into a bar, hops up on a stool, and asks the bartender, "Got any grapes?" The bartender says, "No," and the duck walks out. Next day the duck comes back, hops up on a stool and asks, "Got any grapes?" Again the bartender says, "No," and the duck leaves. Third day, the duck walks in and hops up on the stool, but before he can say anything the bartender yells, "No, I don't have any grapes—and if you ask me one more time I'm going to nail your beak to the bar!" The duck stares at him a minute, asks, "Got any nails?" The bartender replies, "No." The duck says, "Got any grapes?"

We got brilliant in-house responses from Steve Bogira, Mike Miner, and Sam Worley. Contest submissions ranged from the raunchy to the sly and (sort of) sweet. The winner, who will receive our sincere wishes for the best weekend ever, is . . .

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A grape hops into a duck

Posted By on 04.06.12 at 07:36 AM

Oulipian wordplay? Youll do grape!
  • Nanimo
  • Oulipian wordplay? You'll do grape!
(Wordplay Week involves a series of Oulipian twists on a classic joke. First read the template duck joke. You'll also find guidelines there for offering your own Oulipian version of the story, which could win you a memorable prize.)

Part one:
One day a duck got into a bar, walks up on a stool, and hops the bartender, "Ask any grapes?" The bartender got, "No," and the duck says out. Next day the duck walks back, comes up on a stool and hops, "Ask any grapes?" Again the bartender got, "No," and the duck says. Third day, the duck leaves in and walks up on the stool, but before he can hop anything the bartender says, "No, I don't yell any grapes—and if you have me one more time I'm going to ask your beak to the bar!" The duck nails at him a minute, stares, "Ask any nails?" The bartender got, "No." The duck replies, "Say any grapes?"

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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Acorny post about puns

Posted By on 04.05.12 at 07:58 AM

Flickr? I hardly know 'er!
  • joshme17/Flickr
  • Flickr? I hardly know 'er!
Like most things, the eggcorn is neither an Easter morning side dish nor an unusually large growth on the bottom of the foot. It is a seed, encased in a shell, that falls off trees and provides snacks for passing wildlife. Bear with me, though the eggcorn might seem like a lark—I’m nut oaking.

“Eggcorn,” of course, sounds roughly the same as “acorn,” but it’s also a term that linguists coined to describe an apt, if erroneous, linguistic substitution—a malapropism that actually sort of works. For instance, “financial heartship,” or “on the spurt of the moment.” I learned about eggcorns when I was shocked to discover that the phrase “You’ve got another thing coming” is incorrect. Because the clause that traditionally precedes it is “If you think that,” the other thing you have coming is actually another think—an eggcorn because the substitution of thing doesn’t much alter the meaning of the phrase.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A yokel walks into Chicago

Posted By on 04.04.12 at 07:24 AM

No ducks were harmed in the writing of this story
  • No ducks were harmed in the writing of this story
(Wordplay Week involves a series of Oulipian twists on a classic joke. First read the template duck joke. You'll also find guidelines there for offering your own Oulipian version of the story, which could win you a memorable prize.)

Dear folks. Everyone is so interesting here in the big city. I am interning at a drinking establishment that is popular with the legendary writing crowd. I get to take home all the uncracked peanuts I find on the floor when I sweep it out at the end of business, and one of the regulars told me he should be so lucky. He’s a famous local blogger.

Last night Ray, the boss, gave me an assignment. He sent me out to buy some grapes and some nails. I asked him why he needed them and he said he had a big decision to make. He made it sound pretty existential. I asked if it had something to do with the raven hovering over the bar and he said it was not actually a raven although said bird did not mind giving that impression. If said bird ever took a bath, he said, I would have a better idea of its avian credentials. But yes, said Ray, the bird did figure in his deliberations.

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No pun left behind

Posted By on 04.04.12 at 06:39 AM

Brain cells firing in the insular buttock during punning
  • neurollero
  • Brain cells firing in the insular buttock during punning
Puns, I realize, aren't everyone's cup of tease. What's brilliant to one person is moronic to another. There's likely a wider gap between pun lovers and pun haters than between Democrats and Republicans. In a referendum on puns, voters definitely wouldn't see aye to aye.

I myself am of the punning perversion. So I agree with the poet Ernest Hartsock, who once wrote that puns "are mainly objected to by Puritans" and that great literature "must arise from a healthy and daring experimentation with words"—an experimentation epitomized by punning. "I have a suspicion that a reason for the disdain of some of our pedants toward puns is a natural inability to grasp wit of any kind," Hartsock said, "—yea, to grasp anything except an air of dignity."

Hartsock's essay, "In Defense of Punning," was published in the linguistic journal American Speech. "The stigma of the pun has been long enough with us," he observed. And he wrote this in 1929.

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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A duck walks into a Republican

Posted By on 04.03.12 at 07:48 AM

Voters stream to the polls in the Wisconsin primary
  • sweet_redbird
  • Voters stream to the polls in the Wisconsin primary
(The first in a series of Oulipian twists this week on a classic joke. First read the template duck joke on our, uh, website. You'll also find guidelines there for offering your own Oulipian version of the story, which could win you a memorable prize.)

A duck walks into a bar, hops up on the stool, asks the bartender, "Got any grapes?" The bartender, Rick Perry, says, "Hey, sure, pardner! We got two kinds: one's got seeds, and—oh, hell, what's the other kind again?"

Next day the duck returns, hops up on a stool, asks the bartender, "Got any grapes?" The bartender, Newt Gingrich, says, "I am appalled that you would ask that question."

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More better crosswords

Posted By on 04.03.12 at 07:18 AM

Do this, not that
  • Do this, not that
In addition to the weak effort that somebody was foolish enough to feature on the cover of last week’s paper, the Reader runs a regular crossword written by Ben Tausig, a bona fide professional, who syndicates it to other alt-weeklies, too. Tausig has been constructing puzzles since 2004; he’s a sage mentor, as I found out, as well as a hell of a puzzle maker, and one who’s committed to, after the alt-weekly fashion, raciness and contemporary references. Six dozen of Tausig’s puzzles, including ones that have appeared in these here pages, are collected in the new volume Crosswords From the Underground: 72 Puzzles From Alternative Newspapers. If after picking up a copy you’re jonesing for more, there's more to be found.

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Monday, April 2, 2012

Who's up for some Oulipian writing?!

Posted By on 04.02.12 at 04:02 PM

Raymond Queneau, exercising his styles
  • Raymond Queneau, exercising his styles
As part of Wordplay Week on the Bleader, we'd like to invite you to participate in a classic exercise that puts your literary wit to the test.

The Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle ("workshop for potential literature") was a club cofounded in Paris in 1960 by Raymond Queneau and Francois Le Lionnais. Called the Oulipo for short, it comprised mathematicians and writers who investigated language from a structuralist point of view by creating texts according to conceits of their own devising: a novel without the letter "e," for instance; a poem that's reconstituted by systematically substituting new nouns for the originals; a book of ten sonnets in which each line appears on a separate strip of paper, allowing—according to the book's title—for a "hundred thousand billion" possible poems.

Here's where you come in.

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Starting today on the Bleader: Wordplay Week

Posted By on 04.02.12 at 09:56 AM

The puzzling cover of our March 28 issue
You think you're pretty clever, don't you. Clever enough to have completed the enviably witty crossword puzzle constructed by Reader staff writer Sam Worley (whose cruciverbalist adventures, recounted in last week's cover story, led him to conclude that "sometimes ASSFACE is the only word that works")?

If so, then perhaps you're ready for your next challenge.

In the newest installment of the Bleader's weekly Variation on a Theme series, we invite you to try to outperform us at our own obsession. Join several members of our editorial team in a round of Oulipian writing (details to be posted on the Bleader later today) or battle a Reader staffer in a game of Words With Friends (potential competitors: e-mail your favorite seven-letter word to wordplayweek@chicagoreader.com). Those selected to participate in either challenge will receive a prize. Just don't be upset if the prize is nothing more than the glory of almost beating a skilled wordsmith at his or her own game.

Of course, if all this is cleverness is giving you a headache, might we suggest retreating to last week's Variations on a Theme series, which celebrated (or, rather, lamented the loss of) silence. While we can't promise that our Silence vs. Noise Week observations will soothe, we can say that you'll earn a whole new appreciation of what 3 AM tweeting really means.

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