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Word Play

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

Acyrologia

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Acyrologia (ak-ir-o-lo’-gi-a) is 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. Dogberry used “redemption” instead of “damnation.” The modern term for this figure is malapropism.  Malapropism is a neologismA new, deliberately invented word. inspired by the name of the character Mrs. Malaprop, in Richard Sheridan’s The Rivals, 1775. Her name is an abbreviated portmanteauA neologism created by combining two words. for mal-appropriate.

Adnominatio

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Adnominatio (ad-no-mi-na’-ti-o) is the 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.

Asteismus

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Asteismus (as-te-is’-mus) is a witty joke in which 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.

Malapropism

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See acyrologia, which is the classical term for malapropism, a confused use of words in which an appropriate word is replaced by one with a similar sound but a ludicrously inappropriate meaning. Malapropism is a neologismA new, deliberately invented word. inspired by the name of the character Mrs. Malaprop, in Richard Sheridan’s The Rivals, 1775. Her name is an abbreviated portmanteauA neologism created by combining two words. for mal-appropriate.

Paronomasia

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Paronomasia is 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.

Polyptoton

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Polyptoton is 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 antanaclasisadnominatio and paronomasia.

Pun

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Puns are word play using different senses of the same word and or similar senses or sounds of different words.