How a Nincompoop Became a Prick

21 May

I recently had a short piece accepted for a new anthology, Flash Fiction Funny. The editor is Tom Hazuka, one of the editors of the original Flash Fiction anthology, and I suppose one of the people most responsible for that term gaining currency. My piece, “Double Date,” was originally published in North American Review in 1993, and the premise is that Hamlet and Ophelia and the Macbeths go to a restaurant on a double date. I think I probably had used Leona Helmsley as my model for Lady Macbeth. In the piece as originally published, Lady Macbeth refers to the waiter as a nincompoop. Tom didn’t feel that word really worked, and he made a suggestion that led to the most amusing editorial exchange I suppose I’ve ever had.

When Tom sent back a revised manuscript with several edits, Lady Macbeth was now calling the waiter a varlet. Varlet! I had to look it up. It’s certainly not a word I’ve ever used. Of course, it’s a Shakespearean word, but that’s just what I didn’t want. I wrote back to Tom and told him that I didn’t want to use varlet, and that I felt nincompoop conveyed the anachronistic mood I was aiming for.

Tom’s response was, “‘Nincompoop’ doesn’t work for me.  ‘Punk’?  ‘Schmuck’?  ‘Loser’?”

My next move was, “For nincompoop replacement therapy, of the 3 you suggest I’d go with ‘schmuck,’ but if we’re going that far how about ‘asshole’?” Why not use the official word of New York, I figured.

Less than an hour later I got an email back from Tom: “I like schmuck or prick.”

I shot back a one-word email: “Prick!”

Tom: “Is it better alone or with ‘pompous’?”

I replied, “Let’s stick with just plain prick. While I like the alliteration, I think adding pompous would mitigate her crudeness.” And that’s how a nincompoop became a prick.

Compromise. Accord. Agreement.

If only the Middle East were this easy.

“Are you gong to take that from this nincompoop, varlet, punk, schmuck, asshole, prick?”


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