All of us like surprises, at least the pleasant kind. Even when lit up screens have pushed printed pages to the background, you can delight your reader if you add a bit of wit to what you write. More so in the heading.
“Mosquitoes ‘play’ menace at Bal Gandharva, people ‘clap loudly’... to kill them!” screamed a headline just this morning. Bal Gandharva is a popular auditorium in the city where I live. “Instead of artistes, the mosquitoes had taken centre stage,” the report went on to say.
When a famous cricketer passed away recently, wordsmiths gave it a real tweak: “He took us for a spin, left without a Warne-ing.”
Of course, when you have been a famous cricketer, the pitch condition can disturb your stance even when you are alive: “Imran Khan c Constitution b Supreme Court of Pakistan.”
Technical glitches can get unappetizing for food delivery apps, especially when the media add a dash of spice: “Hungry users fume as Swiggy, Zomato take a ‘lunch break’.”
However, witless use of words can backfire. When a decomposed limb was found in a playground, and the police had no clue, a tabloid boldly announced: “LEG STUMPED”. While the play on stump was, perhaps, not lost on the readers, many found it insensitive, even morbid.
Yes, a little twist can get attention. But your readers must immediately grasp the context. They must not only spot but also appreciate the play on words. If there is even a whiff of controversy, it can raise hackles. The ensuing debate may overshadow the substance of your message.
Which makes it a tricky tool to use in the office, definitely not safe for work.
In the head office of the bank, where I used to work a long time ago, it was routine to send reminder letters to branches. It was my job to prepare the template, change the number of the reminder (REMINDER No. 5) and submit it to the officer for signature. Nothing ever changed except the number. Not that it mattered to the recipient who hardly bothered to respond, even if the number reached double digits.
A young new officer took charge and decided to freshen up things. And I was happy to be his partner in crime. This is the reminder he sent, probably the shortest in the bank’s history.
Within days there was some very officious uproar about the breach of “protocol” and violation of the bank’s “style of correspondence.” I do not remember if that reminder managed to get the report it was seeking. But, for a long time, even a little note from that officer got immediate attention from everyone. His boss pleaded with him to use “normal English.” And they transferred me.
Yes, go ahead and give it a twist if it gives you a kick. But make sure all will get it, and none will be upset. Else, you will end up with snubbed toe.