Monday, January 09, 2006

Word Play

When you work with words, as lawyers and librarian do, you ought to play with them, too. English is a fun language. As Richard Lederer, author of several books on language humor and a website host, notes, ours is a language where your nose can run and your feet can smell.

There are a number of ways we can play with words. Puns may be the most common form of wordplay. A pun either plays off several possible meanings of a word, or of a similar-sounding word. Here is an example:

If lawyers are disbarred and clergymen defrocked, doesn't it follow that
electricians can be delighted, musicians denoted, cowboys deranged,
models deposed, tree surgeons debarked and dry cleaners depressed?

It's a safe bet that you=ve heard many puns before. They have a long history in English, appearing often in Shakespeare's plays, for instance. Another common word play is the anagram, where letters are scrambled. The games Scrabble and Transogram are based on anagrams. There are a number of clever rearrangements that can sometimes make a point. For instance, SENATOR => TREASON.

But there are a number of other word plays you may not know. Palindromes read the same backwards as forwards. The best even make sense. Some good ones are
Madam, I'm Adam
Race car
Do geese see God?
A man, a plan, a canal: Panama!

Another less-known word play is a Spoonerism. This was named for the gentle and unfortunate Reverend William Archibald Spooner, an English clergyman, scholar and professor at Oxford University. He lived from 1844 to 1930, and his affliction has been immortalized (to his chagrin, surely) in the Spoonerism. Reverend Spooner often "Tungled his tang," producing such wonderful statements as "You have hissed my mystery lectures," instead of telling the student he missed the history lectures. He became so famous for these switches that his sermons and lectures were well-attended as students and colleagues waited to hear his next slip of the tongue. One of my favorites is his statement about farmers as "noble tons of soil." He also said "Our Lord is a shoving leopard." You can see the possibilities.

Cool web sites featuring these wordplays:

Anagram Servant-- automatically runs possible anagrams

Palindromes with


Spoonerisms with
(Has a section on Spoonerisms, too. This site includes the Reverend Spooner's own originals)

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