15 Ways You Can Use Word Play To Delight Your Readers

15 ways to delight readers using word play

15 Ways You Can Use Word Play To Delight Your Readers

By Leigh Holland.

What is “Word Play”? Word play is also called “a play on words”. A word play is a literary technique writers use to imbue words with greater or different meaning, so that the main subject becomes the word. Word play is designed to produce an intended effect in the reader. Although often employed for the purpose of amusement, this technique can be used to convey any meaning a writer wants to.

Here are some types of word play.

  1. Onomatopoeia– The word is the sound. This has the benefit of setting the mood right away, is a literal word play that can’t be misunderstood, and immediately imparts imagery into the mind of the reader. Use appropriately and sparingly. Example: Rumble-boom went the sound of the dynamite, whoosh went the wind from the blast as it blew past Erin.
  2. Mondegreen- Homophones or near-homophones; a string of such words is called an oronym (“I scream for ice cream”). This device most commonly occurs in songs and poems.These work off of confirmation bias- we hear what we expect from our everyday lives rather than what is there. Our minds are continually trying to make sense of information entering them and sort words based on prior experience. In music, this is called “misheard lyrics” or “soramimi”. A lyrical example is “…and laid him on the green” misheard as “…and Lady Mondegreen”, from which the device takes its name. Warning: sometimes your reader may not understand what the intended effect was. Example: “Come You Nigh Kay Shuns” by Lawrence A. Perkins has as its title and plot a new communications system encoded with mondegreens. In my novel “2042”, the elusive yet omnipresent figurehead of the corporate-religious dystopian regime is called “the Profit” instead of “the Prophet” in order to drive home the financial corruption of this ‘spiritual’ leader.
  3. Spoonerism- A deliberate switching of consonants, vowels, or morphemes in multi-word phrases, quite often to humorous effect. Example: belly jeans (as opposed to jelly beans), sew me to another sheet (show me to another seat).
  4. Palindrome- A word that reads the same backwards and forwards. Example: Never odd or even, tacocat, “Doc: note, I dissent. A fast never prevents a fatness. I diet on cod.”, able was I ere I saw Elba, Hannah, civic, kayak, level, A Santa lived as a devil at Nasa.palindrome image
  5. Acrostic- A hidden message within a text, usually comprised of the first letter of a repeating sequence, such as the first letter of each word, the first letter of each paragraph on a page, etc. Example: Edgar Allen Poe’s “An Acrostic”:

Elizabeth it is in vain you say

Love not”—thou sayest it in so sweet a way:

In vain those words from thee or L.E.L.

Zantippe’s talents had enforced so well:

Ah! if that language from thy heart arise,

Breath it less gently forth—and veil thine eyes.

Endymion, recollect, when Luna tried

To cure his love—was cured of all beside—

His follie—pride—and passion—for he died.

6. Backronym- An acronym is a word derived from the letters of a longer string of words. For example, the word “radar” comes from RAdio Detection And Ranging, the letters were chosen to fit the words they represent. In a backronym, the words are chosen to represent the letters. The can be used seriously or humorously. Example: Arby’s 1980 ad campaign slogan “America’s Roast Beef, Yes Sir!”, “Mother Of All Bombs”, AA’s ‘slip’ as “Sobriety Losing Its Priority”, SPAM= “something posing as meat”.

7. Contronym- A word with multiple meanings, one of which is the reverse of another. Example: Sarah’s outfit is sick, Tim’s jacket is bad as hell, a man should leave his parents and cleave to his wife; he cleaved the enemy in two.contronym example

8. Neologisms- A word not yet fully accepted into the language but that was created recently and is in common use. A portmanteau, for instance, is a word created by blending two or more other words together, such as “snark” (snake and shark), and “brunch” (breakfast and lunch). Often, acronyms will enter language as neologisms. Once the word is accepted it is no longer a neologism. Example: grok, McJob, quark, cyberspace, Catch-22, Orwellian, Kafkaesque, scrooge, pollyanna, coke when referring to any soft drink, affluenza, animatronic, bionic.beheadedness.jpg


9. Oxymoron- A rhetorical device putting together contradictory terms to form a self-contradicting phrase in order to make a point. Example: keenly stupid, barely clothed, affordable caviar, terribly good, be cruel to be kind, proudly humble, delightful sorrow, scalding coldness.

10. Malapropism- When an incorrect word is used that is nonsensical in context, but sounds similar to the intended word. Example: It is beyond my apprehension, she plummeted to the top, going up and down like a metronome, we cannot let terrorists hold our allies hostile, he was a man of great statue, they have miscalculated me as a leader.

11. Aptronym- The use of a personal name for a character that describes their profession. Example: Anthony Weiner (politician with a sex scandal), Jules Angst (anxiety disorder psychologist), Sara Blizzard (BBC Meteorologist), Thomas Crapper (sanitary engineer), Francine Prose (American novelist), Rosalind Brewer (Starbucks Executive).

12. Paraprosdokian- A figure of speech in which the last part of a sentence or dialogue is so surprising the reader must return to think about the first part. Often used in comedy. Example: On his feet, he wore blisters; Take my wife-please; I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it; I haven’t slept for ten days, because that would be too much; I don’t belong to an organized political party, I’m a Democrat; on the other hand, you have different fingers.

13. Conversion- Creating a new meaning or alternate part of speech for a word by deriving it from itself. Examples: The golf green is called a green because it is the color green, Beer me, He was eyeing her, she googled the info, he was texting, Let’s not Rumsfeld Afghanistan, she downed a pint, Petruchio is Kated.

14. Paronomasia- A “pun”. This form of word play exploits multiple meanings of words, or of similar sounding words, for rhetorical effect, based on ambiguities. It treats homonyms as synonyms. Many forms of word play fall under this category as it can arise from metonymic, homophonic, or figurative language. Examples: When it rains it pours (Morton Salt), time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana (Groucho Marx), Kings worry about a receding heir line, I used to be a tap dancer until I fell in the sink.

15. Double Entendre- A phrase that has a double meaning, one often being demeaning or insulting. One meaning is obvious, the other meaning is often implied through innuendo. Example: “I’m having an old friend for dinner.”(Hannibal Lecter) “I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.”(Mae West)


“Hanging is too good for a man who makes puns, he should be drawn and quoted.”

-Fred Allen



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