clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Oscar Wilde's all-purpose verb for any occasion? "Fling."

Oscar Wilde assumes the post-fling position in this statue in Dublin.
Oscar Wilde assumes the post-fling position in this statue in Dublin.

The longer you read an author's body of work, the more clearly certain patterns emerge from his stories.

So you might notice, say, Shakespeare loved phallic puns. Or that Hemingway enjoyed short, choppy prose. Or that Flannery O'Connor really liked freaks. None of these are particularly controversial statements.

Over at the Paris Review, Dan Piepenbring points out one such pattern he has identified in Oscar Wilde's writing.

... as I read through Wilde's plays and then some of his prose, I came to recognize a pattern: his characters were always flinging themselves onto sofas. That was the only word Wilde ever used for it, fling, and he used it inordinately, constantly; the more I looked for it the more it turned up. No one in Wilde's domain, it seemed, could get any thinking or moping done without first flinging oneself onto the nearest possible surface ...

The flinging is always flung dramatically, with the most gravitas the character can command. And, importantly, notes Piepenbring, the word is never substituted for pitched, cast, heaved, hurled, or tossed — words whose connotations don't boast the same amount of pomposity as their distant cousin fling.

Could you imagine, for a moment, our dear, vain Dorian Gray gingerly laying himself down on the divan to cry, "What is it all about?" Or, after loathing his own beauty, merely tossing the mirror to the floor? The resulting silver splinters beneath his heel mean nothing if they are not flung there! The flinging adds all the flair!

Piepenbring compiled a complete list of flinging in Wilde. You can read it at the Paris Review website. But for now, here are our top five Wildean flings.

From A Woman of No Importance (stage directions):

Gets up and flings himself sobbing on a sofa.

Enter Hester in terrorand rushes over to Gerald and flings herself in his arms.

From De Profundis:

It was a blow so appalling that I did not know what to do, so I flung myself on my knees, and bowed my head, and wept, and said, "The body of a child is as the body of the Lord: I am not worthy of either."

From A House of Pomegranates:

And the young Fisherman gave him thanks, and kissed the ring that was on his hand, and flung himself down on the carpets of dyed goat's-hair.

From Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Tales:

In a moment he had seized Mr. Podgers by the legs, and flung him into the Thames.

From The Picture of Dorian Gray, which contains 23 glorious accounts of flinging:

Then he rose from the table, lit a cigarette, and flung himself down on a luxuriously cushioned couch that stood facing the screen.

Happy flinging*!

* — Dramatic and lugubrious flinging only, since flinging, when it is flung properly, is no happy affair.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.