Monday, June 8, 2015

Wellerisms

Wellerisms, named after Sam Weller in Charles Dickens's The Pickwick Papers, make fun of established clichés and proverbs by showing that they are wrong in certain situations, often when taken literally. In this sense, wellerisms that include proverbs are a type of anti-proverb. Typically a Wellerism consists of three parts: a proverb or saying, a speaker, and an often humorously literal explanation.

Some researchers concentrate on wellerisms found in English and European languages, but Alan Dundes documented them in the Yoruba language of Nigeria (Dundes 1964), with African scholars confirming and adding to his findings (Ojoade 1980, Opata 1988, 1990). They are also found in ancient Sumerian: "The fox, having urinated into the sea, said: 'The depths of the sea are my urine!'"
A special format for Wellerisms called a Tom Swifty incorporates a punning adverb that modifies the manner in which the statement was related.

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