) is a literary technique
and a form of wit
in which words 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
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 text-based (orthographic) word play are found in languages with or without alphabet-based scripts; for example, see homophonic puns in Mandarin Chinese.
Some techniques often used in word play include interpreting idioms literally and creating contradictions and redundancies, as in Tom Swifties:
Linguistic fossils and set phrases are often manipulated for word play, as in Wellerisms:
Another use of fossils is in using antonyms of unpaired words – "I was well-coiffed and sheveled," (back-formation from "disheveled").
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, is another noted word-player. For example, in his Finnegans Wake 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.
This page was last edited on 8 June 2018, at 13:00 (UTC)
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