Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Word play is a literary technique in which the nature of the words used themselves become part of the subject of the work. Puns, obscure words and meanings, clever rhetorical excursions, oddly formed sentences, and telling character names are common examples of word play.
All writers engage in word play to some extent, but certain writers are particularly adept or committed to word play. Shakespeare was a noted punster. James Joyce, whose Ulysses, and even more so, his Finnegans Wake, are filled with brilliant writing and brilliant word play is another noted word-player. For example, Joyce's phrase "they were yung and easily freudened" clearly conveys the meaning "young and easily frightened", but it also makes puns on the names of two famous psychoanalysts, Jung and Freud.
Other writers closely identified with word play include:
- Lewis Carroll in his Alice books
- Willard R. Espy, who collected several anthologies of word play
- Vladimir Nabokov
- George Bernard Shaw. The well-known spelling of fish as ghoti comes from Shaw: " gh as in tough, o as in women, ti as in station".
- Van Dyke Parks
Plays can enter common usage as neologisms.
An extreme form of playing with words is creating a fictional language.
A taxonomy of word play together with record-holding words in each category is available here: Taxonomy of Wordplay
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