'Matter of Laugh or Death,' a humor column
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
WRITER CONFRONTS DREADED ‘P’-WORD
A few weeks ago I wrote about some medical procedures I had recently undergone. When the doctor looked at my test results, he said, “Hmm.”
I observed, “I don’t know about you, but I HATE it when doctors say, ‘Hmm’.”
Soon after, an Alert Reader pointed out to me that back in the early 1990s the most successful humor writer of all time, Dave Barry, addressed the topic of having medical tests. He wrote, “The doctor looked at my cardiogram and made that ‘hmmmm’ noise that doctors are taught in medical school so they won’t come right out and say ‘UH-oh!’”
Then the Alert Reader who told me about the Dave Barry quote used the word that makes all writers cringe, the dreaded P-word: perspicacity, a word no one can spell and no one knows for sure what it actually means. No wait, my mistake. The dreaded P-word is: plagiarism. (I can’t spell this one either, but I do know what it means.)
This reminded me of a time two years ago when I discussed my inability to wrap Christmas gifts. I wrote, “When people see a gift that I have wrapped, they immediately assume it was wrapped by a one-armed, nearsighted chimpanzee on crack. If I am wrapping something the size of, say, a shoe box, and use a piece of wrapping paper the size of a bed sheet, I still somehow end up not quite covering the entire gift. During Christmas season my family does not let me get anywhere near scissors and Scotch tape. It’s just too dangerous.”
After that column appeared in the newspaper, an Alert Reader sent me an email (hmm, it might’ve been the same Alert Reader, now that I think of it) and pointed out that many years earlier Dave Barry had written about wrapping Christmas gifts. He wrote, “I also wrap gifts, but because of some defect in my motor skills, I can never COMPLETELY wrap them. I can take a gift the size of a deck of cards and put it in the exact center of a piece of wrapping paper the size of a regulation volleyball court, but when I am done folding and taping, you can still see a sector of the gift peeking out.”
I think it’s pretty obvious what is going on here. Dave Barry is reading my humor columns, and then he gets into a time machine and returns to the 1980s and ‘90s, and uses my ideas to sell millions of books.
Or maybe there’s another explanation. Maybe I’m a really big Dave fan who owns all his books, and when I write something I sincerely think is a original thought, it actually was planted in my head a decade earlier from reading one of his books.
Nah, that can’t be it. The time machine theory makes more sense.
There is surefire proof that I have not stolen Dave Barry’s work: my way of writing about those particular subjects was infinitely less funny than Dave’s. If I were going to steal his stuff, I would’ve used his much more clever way of phrasing things.
So, to all you Alert Readers out there, I can honestly say I have never swiped anything from Mr. Barry. (Especially the idea of referring to you as Alert Readers. I thought that one up this morning.)
In conclusion, let me share a portion of an original essay I am currently working on: “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created with perspicacity.”
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