Pretty, witty, kitty… Acclimating to alliterative announcements, and other seductive sounds.
The sounds of words—rhyming schemes, alliterations, tongue twisters and other phrases driven by the sound more than the meaning of words are like heady spices in narrative fiction. A little goes a long, long way, but that dash of saffron changes the color of the text!
A long time ago, when I was in junior high school, I was in ‘My Client Curley’ by Norman Corwin. It was a staged production of a radio play. It’s wonderful and ridiculous. The premise is simple—a theatrical agent recalls the story of his extraordinary client Curley, a caterpillar who dances to the tune ‘Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby.’ The boy who played the agent went on to become a successful actor. (He has a book coming out now about seeing as many Broadway shows as possible when he was a kid, including sneaking into theaters.)
I was among the kids playing multiple roles. Many of my speeches were tongue twisting challenges, some delivered at lightning speed. Think about the comedies of the 1930s and 40s. One of my favorites is ‘His Girl Friday.’ The 1940 Howard Hawks film starred Cary Grant & Rosalind Russell. The rat, tat, tat, tat of their intertwining speeches was like dueling typewriters battling for dominance. It’s hilarious!
I know that I had that ‘His Girl Friday’ tempo and punchy delivery in mind when one of my roles in the play was to “be” the show business newspaper Variety reporting on Curley’s success. I still remember the headline: “Bliz and Driz Fail to Fizzle Biz as Bug Biffs B.O. from N.Y. to L.A.” Translating from Variety-speak that means that neither blizzards nor rain had any impact on Curley’s ticket sales across the country. He was a success.
I still enjoy that kind of tongue twisting gymnastics. I’ve used it in my professional life—in advertising copy or promotional text—but it’s a peculiar gambit in narrative fiction, unless you’re describing a dancing caterpillar.
Do you feel seduced by almost too clever dialog? How do you feel about strings of alliterative words? And who can resist Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on First”?