Cecil Hunt ( 1902 – 54) was a journalist, editor, novelist and anthologist best known throughout the English-speaking world for his compendiums of schoolboy ‘ howlers’. His first collection appeared in 1928 and proved to be a best-seller. At various times afterwards he produced other anthologies of howlers as well as guides to journalism, which he had studied at King’s College, London, and creative writing, books on the origins of words and a collection of unintentionally funny letters. He also wrote novels under two pseudonyms ( Robert Payne and John Devon). Interestingly, Hunt was President of the London Writers’ Circle and was instrumental in establishing Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. He died at just 51, but ironically his wife lived to be 107.
Hunt always denied the charge that he concocted many of the howlers that made him famous, explaining that there was no need to cheat, as ‘the genuine supply is ample ‘.
We must take him at his word, though reading some of the following examples from Science and Nature, taken from the second (1957) edition of My Favourite Howlers, it is sometimes easier to believe that they are product of a witty and inventive man rather than a ignorant schoolboy.
Science and Nature
The Solar System is a way of teaching singing
An herbaceous border is one who boards all the week and goes home on Saturdays and Sundays
Iron filings are always attracted by a magnate
An aorta is a man who makes very long speeches.
Lack of vitamins will give rise to crickets
An alkali is a chemical substance without water in it, such as whiskey.
A focus is a thing which looks like a mushroom, but if you eat it, it tastes different.
Use the word’ nitrates’ in a sentence. Night rates are cheaper than day rates.
Where is the elephant found ? The elephant, being a large animal, is very seldom lost.
A ruminating animal is one that chews its cubs
The feminine of bullock is hyphen
Distemper is a kind of fever, common to dogs and ceilings
Paraffin is next in the order of angels above seraphims
Doctors say that fatal diseases are the worst
When men were called the salt of the earth, it meant that they could not be diluted by water or anything else. They remained what they were, even when they weren’t.
The Great Plague was a serious illness which began as a swelling under the left arm and eventually spread all over Europe.
When you die suddenly you are cross-examined by a coroner.
Magnesium is the best food for babies. It will cure almost everything.
An octopus is a person who hopes for the best.
The two main divisions of the animal kingdom are vertebrate and inebriate.
A molecule is a girlish boy.
Some girls grow up into lovely women and others become school teachers.
A sincere friend is one who says nasty things to your face instead of behind your back.
A man who only drinks water is often called an antiquarian.
What are adulterated foods? Foods only fit for grown-ups.
In this country you have to produce a certificate before you can prove that you are born.
If you stand facing north, what have you on your left hand? Fingers.
When a man’s emotions are aroused he is apt to do something he will regret for the rest of his life, such as commit suicide.
The brain of a woman is almost as heavy as a human brain.
Queen Victoria was the longest queen on the throne.
Summer Time is praised by town dwellers but disliked by those who have to be milked.
Every husband is entitled to use martial law, but force is generally only used after a proclamation.
A contour is the outline of a funny shape, such as a broken coastline or a woman.
Pasteurised milk comes from the great French doctor, Pasteur. He was French, but now his milk has gone so far that he really international.
The easiest way to cross a range of mountains is to go round them.
When roused, the British Lion is a very hard nut to crack.
“Ster” is a feminine suffix, as will be seen in spinster, monster and sterile.
A man can get to heaven without being married.
To be continued.