Feghoots and Funny Endings

A brief overview of the story form of the feghoot.

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I saw a tweet the other day that contained a photograph of a car which had landed in a swimming pool. It was posted as an invitation to write a six-word story. There were many responses, the majority of which made no attempt to follow the narrative of a story – unlike the famed “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” – but were instead funny captions and poorly made jokes.

This set me off wondering about the use of puns and jokes as the endings to stories, something which I’ve never viewed as a type of resolution pleasing to readers. The journey led me to discover the existence of a rare book by Grendel Briarton (a nom de plume for, and an anagram of, Reginald Bretnor) called The Compleat Feghoot.

I’d never heard of him, or the feghoot, before, so to fill in, the feghoot is a close relation to the shaggy-dog story and provides a special kind of anticlimax, usually a (bad, or not-so-funny) pun. Briarton’s writings about a character called Ferdinand Feghoot, which are collected in the book, are the origin of the term for this story style.

One of the most famous writers of feghoots is the better-known author, Isaac Asimov, and for some reason the style seems somewhat attached to science fiction. To quote the ending of one Asimov’s feghoots, “A niche in time saves Stein”, and niche is certainly a word for this type of storytelling. (The quote is from “A Loint of Paw”, a title which itself is an act of word play.)

For most, this style of wordplay is too obvious and groan worthy, it sits close to dad jokes, and not too far from “I woke up and it was all a dream”. Its lack of popularity in mainstream fiction is unsurprising, but for those wishing to research further, I highly recommend taking the time to learn about this type of storytelling.

Anthony Levings is a writer compelled by capturing moments in time and history.

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