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Word play

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Word play

A site-specific wordplay painting from Above in Lima, Peru, commenting on the cocaine crisis and exportation

Word play or wordplay[1] is a literary technique and a form of wit in which the words that are used become the main subject of the work, primarily for the purpose of intended effect or amusement. Examples of word play include puns, phonetic mix-ups such as spoonerisms, obscure words and meanings, clever rhetorical excursions, oddly formed sentences, double entendres, and telling character names (such as in the play The Importance of Being Earnest, Ernest being a given name that sounds exactly like the adjective earnest).

Word play is quite common in oral cultures as a method of reinforcing meaning.

Examples of visual orthographic and sound-based word play abound in both alphabetically and non-alphabetically written literature (e.g. Chinese).

Techniques

Some techniques often used in word play include interpreting idioms literally and creating contradictions and redundancies, as in Tom Swifties:

"Hurry up and get to the back of the ship," Tom said sternly.

Linguistic fossils and set phrases are often manipulated for word play, as in Wellerisms:

"We'll have to rehearse that," said the undertaker as the coffin fell out of the car.

Another use of fossils is in using antonyms of unpaired words – “I was well-coiffed and sheveled,” (back-formation from “disheveled”).

Examples

Many businesses use word play to their advantage by making their business names more memorable. This business is located near the United Nations Headquarters and plays on the term UN Peacekeepers.

Most writers engage in word play to some extent, but certain writers are particularly committed to, or adept at, word play as a major feature of their work . Shakespeare's "quibbles" have made him a noted punster. Similarly, P.G. Wodehouse was hailed by The Times as a "comic genius recognized in his lifetime as a classic and an old master of farce" for his own acclaimed wordplay. James Joyce, author of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, is another noted word-player. For example, Joyce's phrase "they were yung and easily freudened" clearly implies the more conventional "they were young and easily frightened", however the former also makes an apt pun on the names of two famous psychoanalysts, Jung and Freud.

An epitaph, probably unassigned to any grave, demonstrates use in rhyme.

Here lie the bones of one 'Bun'
He was killed with a gun.
His name was not 'Bun' but 'Wood'
But 'Wood' would not rhyme with gun
But 'Bun' would.

Other writers and entertainers closely identified with word play include:

Related phenomena

Word play can enter common usage as neologisms.

Word play is closely related to word games, that is, games in which the point is manipulating words. See also language game for a linguist's variation.

Word play can cause problems for translators: e.g. in the book Winnie-the-Pooh a character mistakes the word "issue" for the noise of a sneeze, a resemblance which disappears when the word "issue" is translated into another language.

See also

References

  1. ^ "wordplay: definition of wordplay in Oxford dictionary (British & World English)". Askoxford.com. July 31, 2013. Retrieved August 6, 2013. 
  2. ^ "Forrest Ackerman Obituary at Mania.com". 
  3. ^ Corliss, Richard (6 December 2008). "Forrest Ackerman Obituary at Time.com". 
  4. ^ Miller, G. (1962) Foreword by a psychologist, pp. 13–17, In Weir RH. (1962). Language in the Crib. University of Michigan; Edition 2, (1970) Mouton. OCLC 300988484

External links

  • A categorized taxonomy of word play composed of record-holding words
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