Short Forms - English Oral Literature Notes

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  • A riddle is a question, statement or description in a figurative language that is intended to test the listener’s ability to use their wits to unravel the meaning. Riddles are words puzzles in which familiar objects or situation are referred to in a figurative terms for us to decipher what is actually meant.

Characteristics of Riddles

  • Riddles are word puzzles: a game where you have to think about carefully in order to answer.
  • They have an opening formula ‘riddle riddle’
  • Riddles are short witty statements usually clever and amusing.
  • Riddles use the question—answer format e.g. q..I have a riddle?
    Ans... Say it.
  • Riddles have a hypothetical priz
  • riddles are based on situations or ideas which are imagined or possible rather than real and true.

Classification of Riddles

  1. Declarative riddles are described in form of a statement. E.g. Catch my tail and we go. Ans. A jembe.
  2. Interogative riddles poses questions to be answered e.g. What is bouncing in the house? AnsA churning gourd.
  3. Idiophonic/ sound riddles—it employs idiophones that should be unravelled. E.g. Huyu huyu poa! Ans. A night runner.
  4. Simple riddles. They are brief e.g. Water standing up? Ans. Sugarcane.
  5. Epigrammatic/ Complex riddles—Such riddles are presented as a series of puzzles. E.g.
    - The four-legged sitting on the four-legged waiting for the four-legged. Ans. A cat sitting on a table waiting for a rat.
  6. Riddles on people e.g. Best food for a baby. Ans. Sleep.
  7. Riddles on plants. E.g. What tree has only one thorn? Ans. A sisal plant.
  8. Riddles on parts of the body. E.g.
    - Thirty-two seated, one lady dancing. Ans. Teeth and the 
    - Four gates that produce water. Ans. A cow’s udder.
  9. Riddles on waste products. E.g. A hill on the veranda. Ans. Excrement.
  10. Riddles on modern technology. E.g. A camera on my body. Ans. Eyes.
  11. Riddles on natural phenomena. E.g. When dressed she isn’t as beautiful as when naked. AnsThe moon.
  12. Riddles on animals. E.g. The white lady in the office. Ans. The jigger.

Functions of Riddles

  • for entertainment or fun and humour
  • for sharpening wit/ to enlarge our imagination
  • to expand our knowledge of the environment
  • To enhance our figurative use of language or creativity e.g. describing things without naming them
  • to teach values and morals
  • to pass a secret message by old people

Stages in a Riddling Session

  1. Invitation—the challenger or riddler draws the attention of the audience with an opening formula e.g. Riddle riddle/ I throw a riddle/ I have a riddle
  2. Acceptance—The respondent or audience responds by saying; state it, say it, throw it or let it come
  3. The riddle itself—the challenger states or poses the riddle e.g. I have a house that has no door.
  4. Guesses—the audience tries to solve the riddles by giving guesses. E.g. An orange. If they are unable to find the solution or if all guesses are wrong then the riddle will have stage 5.
  5. Prize—The challenger asks for the prize e.g. Give me a prize. She is given a prize, usually a town, a city etc, which he rejects until given the city or prize of choice that she would accept. She will then say she has gone and visited the city and brought the greeting from the people there. The audience would acknowledge the greetings.
  6. The challenger gives the solution/ right answer. E.g. The answer is an egg.

Proverbs and Sayings

  • Proverbs are wise sayings that hide meaning in metaphors or similes that they employ, Proverbs are slightly different from sayings because sayings do not employ metaphors and similes.

Characteristics of Proverbs

  • They are short and fixed
  • they have a summative function
  • they are incorporated in speech
  • they are sometimes used to introduce a story
  • they are common within a particular language or community or they are communal

Functions of Proverbs

  • They are used to flower one’s speech
  • They act as a mirror to society
  • They summarize situations
  • Can be used for entertainment


When analysing proverbs, you should be able to identify

  • the type of the proverb
  • objects of reference
  • the communal philosophy in the proverb or the general message conveyed
  • a similar proverb that can replace it

Types of Proverbs

  1. Proverbs of fate e.g.
    • Accidents will happen.
    • Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
    • Action speaks louder than words.
    • Advice is least heeded when it is most needed.
    • A chain is no stronger than its weakest link.
    • A fool and his money are soon parted.
    • Easy come, easy go.
  2. Cautionary proverbs. E.g.
    • He who steals with a woman will live in fear till he dies.
    • An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
    • An empty purse frightens away friends
    • An idle mind is a devil’s workshop.
    • A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.
  3. Proverbs on communal life E.g.
    • Unity is strength.
    • A problem shared is a problem half-solved.
    • If you fall for me and I fall for you we can call it a game.
    • On the way to one’s beloved there no hills.
  4. Epigrammatic proverbs. These are longer than usual. E.g.
    • A man who marries a beautiful wife is like another who plants maize near the road in a poor neighbourhood.
    • A man stung by a bee doesn’t go around smashing all bee-hives.
    • If a gut allows a knife to be swallowed, the anus must wonder how it will get out.
    • When trouble knocks at your door and you tell it you have no extra seat, it will tell you not to worry because it had brought its own stool.
    • When a rat smiles at a nearby cat, just know that its hole is nearby.
  5. Summative proverbs or those proverbs that best summarize issues and stories
    • Beauty is only skin deep.
    • Change is as good as rest.
    • A friend to all is a friend to none.
    • A good example is the best sermon.
    • A new broom sweeps clean.
    • A stitch in time saves nine.
    • A watched pot never boils
    • A man who causes trouble for others also causes trouble for himself.
    • A man roasting maize doesn’t wander away from the fireplace for too long.
    • A young bull mounts the cow from the head.
    • A drum is heavier on the return journey.
    • However long it takes, a stammerer will call ‘baba’.
    • Staring at water doesn’t quench your thirst.
    • The pen is mightier than a sword.
    • When in Rome, do as the Romans.
    • The squeaky wheel gets the greese.
    • When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
    • No man is an island.
    • Fortune favours the bold.
    • People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.
    • Hope for the best but prepare for the worst.
    • Birds of a feather flock together.
    • Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.
    • A picture is worth a thousand words.
    • There is no such a thing as free lunch.

Similarities Between Riddles and Proverbs

  • Both are brief
  • Both employ figurative language
  • Both are fixed—a riddle has a fixed response while a proverb has a fixed wording.

Differences Between Riddles and Proverbs

  • Riddles have an opening formula
  • Riddles require at least two performers while a proverb just one to say it.
  • Riddles are common with children while proverbs common with adults.
  • Riddles are used as preludes to storytelling sessions while proverbs are used in conversation.
  • Riddles are witty statements or word puzzles while proverbs are sayings of wisdom.

Tongue Twisters

  • A tongue twister is a word game that is intended to test a speaker’s fluency to utter without hesitation or faltering a sequence of words with particular problems of articulation.

Characteristics of Tongue Twisters

  • A tongue twister is a word game that plays on words with problems of articulation
  • It employs alliteration, assonance and consonance
  • They are mostly ungrammatical or they need not make sense.
  • hey are brief

Functions of Tongue Twisters

  • They entertain or create fun
  • They aid in learning pronunciation
  • Enhances confidence by helping one overcome shyness and enjoy communication
  • they help train concentration and memorization
  • they promote creativity
  • they help develop one’s ability to recite
  • They help one to learn a foreign language with particular problems of articulation

Examples of Tongue Twisters

  • She sells sea shells on the sea shore
  • A disorganised organizer cannot organize a disorganized organization
  • The red long lorry rolled down the long Limuru road
  • Four hundred and forty four frightened fools fought for food
  • Peter Piper picked a peck of speckled pepper
  • How high up has he heaved his heavy hoe?
  • Kantai can tie a tie, untie a tie and dye a tie like Dyre who can tie a tie, untie a tie and dye a tie; so, if Kantai can tie a tie, untie a tie and dye a tie, why can’t I tie a tie, untie a tie and dye a tie like dyre?


Read the text below and answer questions that follow.

Betty Botter bought a bit of butter

But he said the butter’s bitter
“If I put a bit of bitter butter in my butter
It’ll make my better butter bitter
But a bit of better butter will make the bitter butter better.”
So she bought a bit of butter
Better than her bitter butter
She put it in her butter
And her butter wasn’t bitter
‘twas better Betty Botter bought a bit of better butter

  1. Identify three cases of elision in the item above and write the expressions in full.
    • Butter’s—butter was
    • It’ll—it will
    • ‘twas—it was
  2. Identify with a reason, the item above?
    • It is a tongue twister because it has words following each other that are challenging in terms of pronunciation and employs alliteration and assonance.
  3. State five benefits a form one student would get by reading this item.
    • Reading the tongue twister would entertain him
    • It would help the student learn the pronunciation of /b/ in difficulty situations
    • It would sharpen the student’s fluency
    • It would promote creativity in the student
    • It would develop the student’s ability to recite
    • it would enhance the student’s concentration
  4. Identify stylistic features evident in this tongue twister
    • Alliteration e.g. Betty Botter bought
    • Rhyme e.g.
    • Repetition of words e.g. bitter, butter
  5. This item is a word game. State the rules the performer would apply when reciting this.
    • Recite fluently without hesitation
    • Strictly follow the order of words
    • Say it quickly
  6. What would be the effect of translating this item into another language?
    • The effects of sound, especially /b/ and /t/ would be lost. One may end up with a sequence of words which may not be recognized as of the same kind as the item above.


  • A pun is a wordplay which involve words that have similar spellings but different meaning or homonyms e.g. can(a container), can(auxiliary verb and homophones (words with same pronunciation but different spellings and often different meanings) e.g. some and sum. Puns thrive on ambiguity of words to create fun within a sentence. Puns also employ metaphors and literal meaning of words.
  • A person who is fond of using puns is called a punster.

Examples of Puns

  1. A bicycle can’t stand alone because it is two-tyred.
  2. A will is a dead giveaway.
  3. A backward poet writes in verse.
  4. In a democracy, it is your vote that counts.
  5. She had a boyfriend with a wooden leg but broke it off.
  6. With her marriage, she got a new name and a dress.
  7. A boiled egg in the morning is hard to beat.
  8. When two egoists meet it is an I for an I.
  9. Scientists have finally discovered the wrong thing about a female brain: that the left side has nothing right and the right side has nothing left.
  10. What do you call a sleeping bull? A bull-dozer.
  11. He bought a donkey because he thought he might get a kick out of it.
  12. Why are fish so smart? Because they live in schools.
  13. I was struggling to figure out how lightning works then it struck me.
  14. Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
  15. Have you ever heard of an honest cheetah?
  16. I have been to the dentist so many times so I know the drill.
  17. Speaking ill of the dead is a grave mistake.
  18. I fired my masseuse today. She rubbed me the wrong way.
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