February Feature: A “Quip” Interview with Caleb Spalding Atwood

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By Edward S. Garza

A resident of Houston, Caleb Spalding Atwood is the author of Quip Factory: Millions of Quips, Rips, Dingers, Zingers and Barbs. Part thesaurus, part lexical buffet, the book celebrates witticisms and offers myriad ways to create your own. Moreover, 100% of profits contribute to the Wounded Warrior Project, which provides programs and services to meet the needs of injured service members (www.woundedwarriorproject.org).

Before retiring, Atwood worked in labor relations, where his abilities earned him employment at such established organizations as The Detroit News. In addition to his corporate work, he eventually served as an adjunct professor at the University of Houston’s College of Technology. He and I discussed his book, inspirations, and quip tips.

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What were some of the driving forces behind the creation of Quip Factory?

In order to answer this, it’s first necessary to define “quips.” Most people think “quip” is just another name for a “joke.” That’s understandable because incongruity is the key to both. They differ in that the objective of jokes is to get laughs while the objective of quips is to express opinions and get people to understand, think, act or react to them.

Joke: The Lone Ranger and Tonto are trapped in a canyon under attack by hundreds of Indians. Lone Ranger: “It looks like we’re done for, Tonto.” Tonto: “What you mean “we” white man?

Quip: “Isn’t trying to combat inflation by printing vastly more fiat money kind of like trying to combat cancer by smoking vastly more cigarettes?”

Quipping was an effective means of maintaining attention and reinforcing messages when teaching, training, and consulting during my career in labor and employee relations. What may surprise some, however, is that quipping was also effective in labor negotiations. If, for example, a union committee proposed something foolish—call it stupid, inane, insane, perverse or worse—it would have been foolish to respond by criticizing the union representatives. It was preferable to “quip” the proposal itself. Example: “We’ll consider that when Playboy starts running Barney Frank centerfolds.” Quips were so helpful that I began writing them down decades ago. After retiring, I thought a quip list might also benefit others, so I decided to collect even more and write a book. Originally my goal was to collect 1,000. In the process of collecting them, I quite unexpectedly learned how to create literally millions with ease. That led to the book’s title: Quip Factory: Millions of Quips, Rips, Dingers, Zingers and Barbs. In retrospect, the subtitle was ill-chosen. Even though “millions” is modest, it seems preposterous because, even with a “mere” two million, it would have to average well over 6,000 quips per page and that seems about as likely as a tricycle winning the Indy 500.

Why is it important to study and arm ourselves with quips?

It’s beneficial to have an ample supply of quips available to reinforce your opinions, recommendations, et cetera, so people will remember, repeat, and respond to them. However, studying is not necessary because there are literally millions available in the Quip Factory along with an explanation of how you can easily create substantially more of your own. They won’t all be world-beaters, but with dozens or even hundreds of alternatives to choose from, chances of finding some that work for you are at least as good as the chances of a blind acorn finding a squirrel.

Who are some of your quip idols?

Groucho Marx, Woody Allen, Phyllis Diller, Dick Gregory, Dennis Miller, Ann Coulter, Charles Krauthammer, Dorothy Parker, Gloria Steinem, Mark Twain, and Ambrose Bierce (Bierce is actually the inspiration for an article, possibly book, I’m writing titled “Interpretology: The Science of Determining How What People Say or Write Could, and Possibly Should, Be Interpreted”). I greatly admire their quipping skills even if, as is often the case, I disagree with them. Speaking of Gloria Steinem, if I had to pick one favorite among them it would be her, because she came up with “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” I’m indebted to her for that because it led to my finding out how to create literally millions of other quips.

Since you wrote the book, have you heard or read any quips that you would have liked to mention in it?

Yes, dozens, some of which can be easily adapted to produce more quips. My favorites among them:

1.) “My parents were not conspicuously honest.” This is from Mark Twain’s autobiography. With at least 89 practical alternatives for “honest” and 41 for “conspicuously,” that quip of Twain can be adapted to produce thousands of other quips. To illustrate:

Person X isn’t conspicuously delusional, dense, loathsome, malicious, sober, et cetera, but at least (s)he doesn’t brag about it.

2.) Lately I’ve heard lies described as “Pinnochios.” Depending upon seriousness, a lie may be deemed a single, double or triple Pinnochio. That’s somewhat more polite than calling someone a liar. I’ve adapted Pinnochios to Van Winkles to rate sleep-inducing boredom. “Triple Van Winkle” works well if someone or something is snore inducing boring. “Einsteins” will also work to rate levels of stupidity.

What other factors—verbal or non-verbal—would you say make for a great quip?

Not sure I’m a good person to ask. When I quip or tell jokes, most people respond by clapping with one hand—against their head. There are, however, some things even I can attest to:

▪ Try not to laugh at your own quips, especially when no one in your audience does.

▪ Pick quips that suit your audience. Quips can be hilarious—when they express ideas people share, but aggravating if not.

▪ If your audience groans, groan with them.

▪ If your audience gets tired of listening before you get tired of quipping, have them stand up and turn around so you can escape unscathed.

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To preview and buy Quip Factory, visit the book’s Amazon page: www.amazon.com/QUIP-FACTORY-Thousands-Dingers-Zingers/dp/1453638008/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1294774485&sr=1-1.

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