Happy Birthday, P.G. Wodehouse!

Today is the birthday of P.G. Wodehouse, the 20th century English author and humorist who used similes in his writing as assiduously as water shapes rock. It is fitting to celebrate this literary device to honor its most joyful of employers.

Let others labor lovingly over a lot of alliteration. The onomatopoeia train can whoosh past: I have no desire to board. Foreshadowing is ham-handed, like narrating alongside a performing mime. And hyperbole should never, ever be touched, not even with a ten-thousand foot pole. Similes, on the other hand, bring dull language to life.

Why settle for saying “I’ll be there” when “as surely as night follows day” can finish the thought? Wodehouse never did. Indeed, the man who gave us Bertie Wooster and his impeccable valet Jeeves seemed to believe the more blithe the phrasing, the better. Wodehouse strove, in his own words, to spread sweetness and light where he could. Nowhere was he more successful than in his beloved similes.

I propose celebrating the wordsmith’s 140th birthday by encouraging readers to sound like Wodehouse at least once over the weekend. To assist, like Jeeves preparing Bertie for a sojourn at Blandings Castle, I’ve provided a menu of options for inspiration, set pieces from people dear to me:

  • Devin attended her friend’s jewelry show but, like a twitchy person at a live auction, worried she’d leave with more than she intended.

  • Liam’s emotions were as conflicted as those of an employee who had unintentionally won his company’s annual ugly sweater contest.

  • Like a meteorologist doing “weather on the 1s” only at 1:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m., Hope’s problem was not in her idea but its execution.

  • Ella’s pep talk was as sure to fail as a coffee customer loyalty program requiring 50 card-punches before the first free cup.

  • Caroline knew better but, like someone who air-guitars whenever the phrase “motley crew” is spoken, didn’t want to change.

  • Kaelan knew his plan wasn’t wrong but, like a man who makes a fifth pass at the grocery-deli cheese samples, wasn’t entirely right.

  • Seeing the other job applicants, Jack, suddenly as confident as a boxer whose opponent had nicknamed his fists Peaches and Herb, liked his chances.

  • Like a man who had passed on a rodeo clown college deanship, Joe knew he’d regret the decision later, even if he couldn’t say why.

  • Thinking it as unwise as a marriage counselor permitting a cheat day into a prescribed couples-diet, Casey passed on the investment opportunity.

  • Rex swore to Molly he’d tried to call her but, like a man who insisted he’d once divided by zero, the facts were squarely against him.

  • As surely as Cortez knew “Burn The Ships” was a better war cry than “Keep the Ceviche Out of Reach-ay,” Grace trusted her gut.

  • Gary was grateful that his mistake, like thanking a head to toe, khaki-clad zookeeper for his service, while awkward, wouldn’t prove costly.

  • Greg found the entire experience as unsettling as hearing the unmistakable sound of somebody eating toast during a hot-stone massage.

Wodehouse never needed to point out that “simile” and “I smile” are anagrams. His writing, all sweetness and light, did that for him. Happy Birthday, P.G. Wodehouse!


About Mike Kerrigan

Mike Kerrigan is an attorney in Charlotte, North Carolina. His writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Charlotte Observer, and at Fox News.

Photo: P. G. Wodehouse (1881 - 1975) at the wheel of an AC Royal Roadster, 1928. Sasha/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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