W Is for Whimsy

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Whimsy. Noun.

1. Playfully quaint or fanciful behavior or humor. 2. A whim [a sudden desire or change of mind, especially one that is unusual or unexplained.]

As a “serious” writer, I naturally take great interest and delight in the turn of phrase that, for a moment, turns logic and rational progression of thought on its pompous ear in favor of a good, literary smile.

Phrases brimming with Whimsy can be eminently Tweetable—which gives them their moment in the ether—and offers the sweet satisfaction that some unknown “other” across many miles might also be smiling along with us.

As David Bohm has said: “Perhaps there is more sense in our nonsense and more nonsense in our ‘sense’ than we would care to believe.” That makes it worth turning our focus on Whimsy once and awhile in our somber search for Truth.

Proverbs, as a literary form, are often a source of Whimsy—in their melding of concrete details with wisdom for living. “Like snow in the summer and like rain at harvest, so is honor unbefitting for a fool” (Proverbs 26:1).

James A. Fischer, C. M., writes in A Lighthearted View of Wisdom in the Bible (N. Y.: Paulist Press, 2002): “The shrewdness of proverbs often takes the form of wit. Wit is the art of gracious speech. Quintillian, the rhetorician of Latin literature, insisted that ‘wit is a form of repartee which exhibits mental agility and linguistic grace.’ Hazlitt, the English literary critic, said wit is the product of art and fantasy and that the incongruous ‘is the essence of comedy.’ Kierkegaard, the philosopher, wrote, ‘ … wherever there is contradiction, the comical is present’” (p. 28).

There is Whimsy in Charles Williams’ line from his novel War in Heaven: “The universe seemed sometimes to relax a little, to permit a little grace to be wrung from it.”

And might even God be subject to Whimsy? As Elie Wiesel dares to assert: “God created man because he loved stories.” 

But—paradoxical Whimsy needn’t always be so metaphysical.

I love this quip by Dorothy L. Sayers, creator of the inimitable and dapper sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey: “Time and trouble will tame an advanced young woman, but an advanced old woman is uncontrollable by any earthly force.” In her later years, I’m sure she embodied this wisdom. Her works of wit and force speak for themselves.

Oh, to be both witty and wise. To artfully blend Whimsy with more straightforward serious talk that actually helps people.

When we encounter that in our favorite writers, or manage to strike close to it ourselves, that surely is grace.

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2 responses »

  1. Perfect example of a whimsical proverb on Twitter today 🙂

    @gypsynester “Wisdom is the quality that keeps you from getting into situations where you need it.” —Doug Larson

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