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Word play or wordplay is a literary technique in which the words that are used become the main subject of the work. Puns, phonetic mix-ups such as spoonerisms, obscure words and meanings, clever rhetorical excursions, oddly formed sentences, and telling character names are common examples of word play.
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]]).
Puns, phonetic mix-ups such as spoonerisms, obscure words and meanings, clever rhetorical excursions, oddly formed sentences, and telling character names – such as The Importance of Being Earnest (Earnest being both a name and an adjective) – are common examples of word play.
Interpreting idioms literally, contradictions, and redundancies are often used in word play, as in Tom Swifties:
- "Hurry up and get to the back of the ship," Tom said sternly.
- "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,” (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 ingenious 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.
Word play can enter common usage as neologisms.
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