The World’s First Quip Thesaurus with Literally Billions of Quips
Caleb Spalding Atwood
Reviewed by David K. McDonnell for Reader Views (05/14)
“Quip Thesaurus” by Caleb Spalding Atwood is the follow-up to “Quip Factory.” This topic might be too narrow to require a sequel, but Atwood invested thousands of hours assembling this latest work. Not having read “Quip Factory” or any other quip book, I cannot say what, if anything, “Quip Thesaurus” added to the study of “Quipology”, but it is intriguing and useful in its own right.
“Quip Thesaurus” defines the quip, distinguishing it from a joke or an ordinary sarcastic remark. It then breaks down the quip into its essential elements, and thus becomes an excellent primer on how to construct a decent quip. Over half of the book is the actual thesaurus, with the synonyms organized in a way easily used in the construction of quips. The book uses several convenient quip formulas. The common denominator in each is incongruity – a premise and a contrast such as “Isn’t that like trying to fight fire with napalm?” Almost any quip is made better with rhyme and alliteration, and even better if the premise and contrast is delightfully incongruous, for example “a bull moose in a bikini.” Animals, especially predators and prey, are particularly useful in creating a quip like “sheep herding wolves.” Even a reader of this review who is not conspicuously astute will notice a few quips. Each was constructed using “Quip Thesaurus.”
Atwood boasts “literally billions of quips” and the claim is not ridiculous. The number of words in the English language and the near infinite ways in which words can be arranged does yield mind-boggling combinations. Atwood shows that his basic quip formulas, with creative use of the thesaurus, could lead to as many quips as one would ever need.
Unfortunately, Atwood didn’t stop there, and seemed compelled to show the reader a billion combinations. I felt that his effort to be thorough affected the book’s clarity and efficacy. A writer struggling to create the perfect quip might get lost in the overwhelming data, curing writer’s block much like curing a drought with a flood.
The thesaurus itself is over 100 pages in the appendices and organized for ease of quip creation. One section pairs alliterative animals with objects like a “dachshund at a disco,” and another pairs rhyming combinations such as an “alligator at a refrigerator.” There is a separate thesaurus for verbs, adverbs, and adjectives. Once a basic quip is constructed, the thesaurus should simplify the search for the perfect combination of words – alliterative or rhyming and squarely on target.
I found this book to often be guilty of overkill. Chapter 1 opens with this definition as a subchapter heading:
“Quip: clever, curious, droll, eccentric, funny, odd, pointed, sarcastic, taunting or witty characterizations, observations, remarks, replies, responses or verbal thrusts that amuse, tease, taunt, surprise, shock, denigrate, enrage or eviscerate”
If that weren’t enough, the first sentence in the chapter states:
“Quips are responses, reactions, replies or rebuttals of people, policies, plans, perceptions, ideas, opinions, organizations, movements, legislation or anything else believed to be harmful, idiotic, inane, insane, adverse, perverse or worse.”
“Quip Thesaurus” is indeed repeatedly repetitive. Rather than pulling out a word or two from the exhaustive appendix to provide a good example, entire chunks of the appendix are reproduced in the body of the book. Even its best phrase, “alliteration and rhyme are the music of language,” loses some impact by its overuse, and the book would have benefited from a thorough editing as well as another round of proofreading.
Once past all this to the heart of the matter, “Quip Thesaurus” by Caleb Spalding Atwood is quite good for a limited audience. A witty writer may need a quip thesaurus like a walrus needs a waffle iron, and may be a must for any writer (including a speech writer or politician) who wishes to skewer the other side, without appearing overly mean-spirited or cruel.