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Word Play

Word play is the figurative category that Shakespeare and Groucho Marx shared most in common. A pun is only the most widely known type of word play. There are other ways to play with words.



An unintended use of the wrong word often by someone attempting to sound educated or erudite. “O, villain! Thou wilt be condemned into everlasting redemption for this!” Much Ado About Nothing, 4.2.38. The modern term for this figure is Malapropism.



Assigning to a proper name its literal or homophonic meaning. Falstaff: Is thy name Mouldy? Mouldy: Yea, an’t please you. Falstaff: ‘Tis the more time thou wert used. Shallow: Ha, ha, ha! most excellent, i’ faith! Things that are mouldy lack use: very singular good! in faith, well said, Sir John, very well said.” Henry IV Pt2, 3.2.96. Related to Paronomasia and Polyptoton.



Witty joke where a word or phrase is turned on the user. “Katherine: What is your crest? A coxcomb? Petruchio: A combless cock, so Kate will be my hen. Katherine: No cock of mine. You crow too like a craven.” Taming of the Shrew. 2.1.209.



A modern term for the classical rhetorical figure Acyrologia, a malapropism is confused use of words in which an appropriate word is replaced by a similar-sounding but often ludicrously inappropriate meaning. Malapropism is a neologismA new, deliberately invented word. inspired by the name of the character Mrs. Malaprop (which is an abbreviated portmanteauA neologism created by combining two words. for mal-appropriate) in Richard Sheridan’s The Rivals, 1775. For examples in Shakespeare, see Acyrologia.



Word play, especially involving words with similar sounds but more than one meaning. “Now is the winter or our discontent / Made glorious summer by this sun of York…” Richard III, 1.1.1. Related to Adnominatio and Polyptoton.



Word play for words derived from the same root or cognate. Repeating words in different case forms. “Love is not love / Which alters when it alteration finds, / Or bends with the remover to remove.” Sonnet 116Related to Adnominatio and Paronomasia.



A play on words, sometimes on different senses of the same word and sometimes on the similar sense or sound of different words.