What is the meaning and significance of the phrase "wild wag of" in this quotation from the novel The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: "Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there."

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The term "wag" is normally seen in contemporary speech as a verb, as in the phrase "the dog wagged its tail." When used as a noun, the word has a second meaning that was current in the sixteenth century, and continued to appear in literary contexts through the twentieth, albeit more commonly in British than American English. The term "wag" is used to refer to someone with a droll or mischievous sense of humor. In Shakespeare's "Henry the Fourth Part 1," for example, Falstaff, very much a wag himself, repeatedly addresses Henry as "wag" or "sweet wag" (II.1).  

The particular phrase appears in Chapter 2: 

The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic-their irises are one yard high. They look out of no face, but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens, and then sank down himself into eternal blindness, or forgot them and moved away.

This paragraph describes a colorful billboard consisting of a picture of glasses and eyes, not attached to a face, but appearing to float in a disembodied fashion over the highway against a drab landscape. Because the narrator considers them bizarre and funny, he presumes the oculist was a "wag".


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