Monday, January 21, 2008

Word Play

“The plaque was cloaked because it wasn’t even there.”

There is a moment of confounded silence as Mom, Jacob and I struggle to parse this unusual pronouncement.

“What was your verb?” Mom asks.

“Cloak.” Matthew, my youngest brother, sounds pleased with himself. “Like invisible,” he adds helpfully. We stare silently for a few moments longer.

“It was invisible because…it wasn’t there,” I say, sounding out the idea. For some reason this sends everyone into laughter. “That’s very Zen.”

I’m in town picking up a few forgotten items, and tonight on the car ride home from the hamburger place I mentioned the writing exercise I’d been working on. My mom, always ready for an unusual group activity latched onto the idea of making a family game of it. The idea might have slipped quietly into dormancy, but my littlest brother has been a MadLib fiend since he got two new books for Christmas. There is no escape. Nouns and verbs will be supplied. Adverbs may also be demanded.

We get down to business with only a modicum of tussling over the rules of the game. Jake, who considers himself very funny, is eager to supply words but not particularly interested in forming sentences with them.

“No, everybody’s writing them,” Mom says.

“Well, I’m not.”

“Yes, you are.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Well, if you don’t write them you’re not playing.”

“I’m joking, Mom.”

“Jacob!” she says in exasperation.

“Joking about writing them.”


The four of us each write five nouns and one occupation. Next, everyone writes two verbs for each job, a task which generates some brain stretching. ‘Mad Scientist’ turns out to be remarkably tricky, while ‘Hair Dresser’ leaves the boys stumped. Eventually, however, all the cards are completed, and we’ve all drawn five nouns and eight verbs to try to match up. More brain stretching ensues.

“What the heck is a ‘sproutling’?” I grumble.

“Oh, it’s like a baby plant,” Jake explains.

“That’s a sprout.”

“Or a seedling,” Mom offers.

“No, it’s sproutling,” Jake insists.

“That is not a word,” I say firmly.

“Yes it is!”


“I know it’s a word because it’s on one of my Magic cards.” I give him a look, but don’t dignify that with a response. Mom rolls her eyes. “Fine. I’ll go look it up.”

“Knock yourself out.” I’m actually formulating a sentence with the word ‘sproutling,’ so I’m not all that concerned about its validity anymore.

A little later we’re all waiting on Jacob to finish. Tracking down a dictionary and proving himself wrong ate up his time.

“Are you almost done?”

“Just a second. I’m trying to make the demons dance, but it’s not working.”

“Man, I can think of several sentences with ‘dance’ and ‘demon’,” Mom says.

“Yeah, me too,” I chip in.

“Agh, nevermind. I’m just going to shave the demons.”

“'The demon shaved'?” I say quizzically.

“The demons danced on the cheesecake tempting her,'” Mom offers.

“Ooh, that’s a good one. Or ‘demons danced in his eyes,’” I suggest.

“Fine, whatever, I’m done,” Jake says, throwing his pencil down. “Let’s read them.”

Matthew is eager to go first. He leads off with “Never tease an elephant, or you will get trampled.” His words were ‘elephant’ and ‘trample.’ He apparently misunderstood the thrust of the game, but the results are fascinating. A few of his other gems:

--If you are going to wear an evening dress you should shave or it will look like you threw it on at the last minute.
--Never compose a song on paper or an old lady will throw it down the arroyo.
--I definitely don’t want the style that makes my hair look like a flame.
--Don’t cut that wire or there will be a cataclysm.

Mom and I are more reserved, but we each have our favorite offerings. Mom enjoys her sentence ‘The giant explosion washed over the village like a tidal wave,’ as well as ‘The song plundered the girl’s raw emotions.’ I’m less than impressed with my own ‘The sproutling dueled its way free of the soil,’ but very fond of ‘The telescope snipped out a piece of the night.’ My strangest verb turned into one of my better sentences:

--He wanted to be a football star, but luck bullrushed him onto a different path.

Jacob surprises us all with a remarkably well put together set of sentences, commencing with “The demons shaved away his conscience, slowly blackening his soul.” Looking back I don’t know why I was surprised—the boy lives and breathes sarcasm and banter. Clever wordplay is his forte. Another example:

--The baby was rebounded between nonconsensual parents like a fragile Christmas Lladro that requires infinite amounts of maintenance.

The two most disturbing are my personal favorites:

--The innuendo synthesized an erotic rhythm in the previously nonchalant conversation.
--His hairy epidermis ravaged her tender uncalloused skin.

The game extends itself into one more round, this time with much more excited chattering and diabolical giggles over the word selection. Sentence construction proves to be as interesting as the giggles implied.

“Hey who put ‘castrate’ for spy?” I demand indignantly. “Jacob.”

“It was supposed to be for cowboy,” Mom explains.

“Oh! I was wondering what kind of spy you were thinking of. I knew it wasn’t for neurosurgeon.”

“What does ‘loin’ mean?” Matthew asks.

“It’s the area between your legs,” Mom explains, as Jake laughs, smirking in a self-satisfied manner.

“Okay,” Matt says. “What does ‘probe’ mean?”

Mom chokes and covers her mouth as Jakes’s laughter sputters and turns into a coughing fit. I hold back a giggle fit, and manage to explain, “It means to poke. You probably shouldn’t use those two together.”

This time around, Matthew has the gist of the game, and if his Zen lines about invisible plaque mystify, other sentences impress:

--The cheer assassinated an unexpecting old man’s ears because it was so loud.
--The socks ride on the feet, being guided every step of the way.

The rest of us have plenty to offer as well:

--The glorious spectacle hog-tied the attention of the soon-to-be victim.
--The beer had seen his crimes, and gagged him with his broken promises.
--The grazing deer lobotomized the farmer’s vegetable garden.
--The erupting volcano cantered down the mountainside, snorting smoke and glaring with fiery eyes.
--The socks slipped and slid on the wood floor, scheming his downfall.
--The disaster castrated the man.

I’m tempted to embellish on that last, but it’s so much more fun when open to interpretation. However, the true show-stopper is Matt’s innocently intended combination of two previously mentioned words:

--The loin probes the air because someone needs to go to the bathroom.

Utter pandemonium. I nearly suffocate.

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