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Consonants, Double Letters and the Rule of 3 Part 1

October 4, 2010

Let’s start off this theory post by comparing two sentences from a premise I was editing down recently. See if you can identify which is pre-edit and which is post:

1) I saw a mother walking her child using a leash the other day. Are we treating children like animals now? Is that what’s happening?

2) I saw a kid on a leash the last week. So kids are dogs now? Is that the new plan?

It was probably pretty easy to spot that the second version has been through an additional round of editing just from the tighter wording. But cutting out unnecessary words is not the only thing going on.  In my opinion, it is also important to look at the word choices as well.

The English language includes approximately 250,000 words, which cements its place as the most unwieldy language in the world.  Every word has at least a half dozen synonyms, so that in just a 10 word sentence, you have almost limitless permutations to choose from. This variety is bad news to those learning English as a second language, but GREAT news if you’re a stand-up comic, and saying things just the right way is the difference between a hit and a miss.

As a standard step during editing, I will brush off my mental thesaurus and see if I can replace a lot of the softer-sounding words like “child” and “animal” with punchy, consonant-heavy words such as “kid” and “dog.” Of course, the changes made at this stage are often over-ridden once working a natural delivery on stage, but it’s a good place to start.

Why are hard consonants the boss of you? That’s what I’m here to chat about on this fine Monday morning.

After reading a ton of the How-To comedy books, I found a lot of repeated information. By the tenth go-around, I was pretty fed up with hearing about open mike etiquette, the importance of a tight premise, blah blah blah.

But one thing I found interesting was only a couple of books spent time delving into the theory of joke construction, specifically how word a bit. The two aspects of micro-editing we’ll look at are the use of hard consonants and the rule of 3 in comedy. Let’s start with hard consonants.

Nobody can really explain why puppies and kittens are cute,

or why Nickelback is famous…

(BURN ON YOU, Nickleback!)

But certainly it is true. While we can’t explain exactly why these phenomena occur, we can observe and react to them. After all, we can’t see wind, but that doesn’t stop old people from farting, right?

The Burn Burns Back.

VOWELS = A, E, I, O, U (and sometimes Y)

CONSONANTS = All the other letters

HARD CONSONANTS = Generally consonants that are produced by an explosion of air through your mouth (C, K, B, T, P, etc.)  Compare these with softer consonants (M, N, S, H)

Are we on the same page?  Cool, let’s move on…

For some reason, hard consonants are funnier than vowels. I don’t know why – maybe it’s something about the forcefulness with which you can deliver a hard consonant. Maybe it’s easier to spit out consonant words with venom, or extra conviction. Think of all your favourite words – odds are a number of them have hard consonants at the end or beginning.  In short, they are fun to say.

Is it a coincidence that swear words are often jammed with hard consonants?  I mean, look at Carlin’s “7 words you can’t say on television” bit. He knew what he was doing when he strung ‘em all together.

Hilarity, thy name is consonant.

Even Phyllis Diller had a l’il something to say on this topic even though she sounds flipping crazy:

“Jell-O with a belt – belt is a pow word. Jell-O with hair is soft and lovely – it lets you down.” – Phyllis Diller

Join us tomorrow for Part 2 of this article, where we’ll look at double letters, and the rule of 3.

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