10 September 2009

The Woggle-Bug’s Thorough Command of the Language

One of L. Frank Baum’s creations in his second Oz book, The Marvelous Land of Oz, was H.M. Woggle-Bug, T.E.

The “H.M.” stood for “highly magnified,” because this insect had been expanded (through a school overhead projector of a sort no longer made) to human size. “T.E.” stood for “thoroughly educated,” the degree the Woggle-Bug had conferred on himself after leaving that school.

Like Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty, the Woggle-Bug felt that to be educated meant to have control over words. Here is a passage shortly after he joins the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and their motley friends:

They soon discovered that the Saw-Horse limped, for his new leg was a trifle too long. So they were obliged to halt while the Tin Woodman chopped it down with his axe, after which the wooden steed paced along more comfortably. But the Saw-Horse was not entirely satisfied, even yet.

"It was a shame that I broke my other leg!" it growled.

"On the contrary," airily remarked the Woggle-Bug, who was walking alongside, "you should consider the accident most fortunate. For a horse is never of much use until he has been broken."

"I beg your pardon," said Tip, rather provoked, for he felt a warm interest in both the Saw-Horse and his man Jack; "but permit me to say that your joke is a poor one, and as old as it is poor."

"Still, it is a Joke," declared the Woggle-Bug; firmly, "and a Joke derived from a play upon words is considered among educated people to be eminently proper."

"What does that mean?" enquired the Pumpkinhead, stupidly.

"It means, my dear friend," explained the Woggle-Bug, "that our language contains many words having a double meaning; and that to pronounce a joke that allows both meanings of a certain word, proves the joker a person of culture and refinement, who has, moreover, a thorough command of the language."

"I don't believe that," said Tip, plainly; "anybody can make a pun."

"Not so," rejoined the Woggle-Bug, stiffly. "It requires education of a high order. Are you educated, young sir?"

"Not especially," admitted Tip.

"Then you cannot judge the matter. I myself am Thoroughly Educated, and I say that puns display genius. For instance, were I to ride upon this Saw-Horse, he would not only be an animal he would become an equipage. For he would then be a horse-and-buggy."

At this the Scarecrow gave a gasp and the Tin Woodman stopped short and looked reproachfully at the Woggle-Bug.
Eventually the Tin Woodman has to twirl his sharp axe meaningfully to make the Woggle-Bug drop this line of argument.

(And eventually Baum began to write of “the Wogglebug” and “the Sawhorse.”)

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