How to Be Witty

2 Conversations

Words, words, words. That's what we're made of. Herewith some of my thoughts on what we're doing with them.

Writing Right with Dmitri: How to Be Witty

A man in green with a feather in one hand and drawing a theatre curtain with the other

That's an utterly silly title, of course. Nobody can teach you how to be witty. But I sort of wanted to get your attention.

Sometimes we spend too much time designing intricate plots. Or constructing elaborate arguments. Or just droning on and on.

Sometimes it's good to keep it short and sweet.

Especially at the shank end of the year. Especially when we'd like people to laugh. Or cheer up. Or just stop and think. How better to practice being pithy than to write captions?

You think captions, headlines, and straplines aren't important? Go look at the h2g2 Front Page. Then go look at the Post Front Page. Then mouse over all the photos in the Post.

What do you think your Editor spends most of his time doing, hm?


I want to make you work. I'm evil, that way. Write captions for these two pictures. Put the captions in a couple of threads at the bottom of this page. Go on, I dare ya.

Don't take the first one you think of – unless the first one you think of is really, really clever. Make a shortlist, and pick one to share with us. I'll put in a few guide questions to help the process along.

Picture One

Uh-huh, make your own caption.

Isn't she adorable? How do you think she feels about eating ice cream? How do you think she feels about her dress and hair ribbon? Who's she looking at? What might she say to them?

How could you make the caption funny? Could you write it in 1913 babytalk? Or put words into the young lady's mouth that make her sound much older? Urban, sophisticated? A rocket scientist?

What kind of caption would Shakespeare have written? Or Samuel Beckett?

Picture Two

Uh-huh, make your own caption.

Kitties on a fence, dog barking. We know this number. But what are they saying?

Are the cats arch? Is the dog frustrated? Why are the cats ganging up on the dog? Is the dog, maybe, warning them about wet paint? You decide.

You decide, too, whether the cats and/or dog talk in OED English or, well, lolcatz. Which is funnier? Which is more surprising?

See? You can be pithy. Or witty. Or just snarky. It only takes a bit of practise.

And while you're waiting for the clock to strike twelve, why not try your hand at it?

Happy New Year, everyone!

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