Tag Archives: Wordplay Wednesday

Wordplay Wednesday – portmanteau words

A portmanteau word is one that is created by blending the sounds and meanings of two other words together to create a new word. The word portmanteau itself actually refers to a large travelling bag made of leather and opening in two equal parts. However it was first used to refer to words by Lewis Carroll in the book ‘Through the Looking Glass’. In this book Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice the coinage of the unusual words in ‘Jabberwocky’ – ‘slithy’ means lithe and slimy; ‘mimsy’ is flimsy and miserable. Humpty Dumpty explains:
‘You see it’s like a portmanteau – there are two meanings packed up into one word.’

Most of us are familiar with many portmanteau words such as:
brunch – breakfast and lunch
wikipedia – wiki and encyclopedia
infomercial – information and commercial
Calgon – calcium and gone
Amtrak – America and track
Verizon – veritas and horizon
velcro – velour (French for loop)  and crochet (French for hook)
jeggings – jeans and leggings
spork – spoon and fork
blaxploitation – black and exploitation
Jedward – John and Edward

Are there any more that you know?

Wordplay Wednesday – pseudonyms

A pseudonym is a fictious name that a person assumes for a particular purpose. The prefix ‘pseudo’ means false. A person’s true or original name is their orthonym. Pseudonyms can be used for any purpose such as to hide gender or race.

Here are some examples of writers who have taken on a pseudonym (also referred to as a nom de plume) followed by their orthonym:
Acton Bell – Anne Bronte
Boz – Charles Dickens
Currer Bell – Charlotte Bronte
Dr. Seuss – Theodor Seuss Geisel
Ellis Bell – Emily Bronte
George Eliot – Mary Ann Evans
George Orwell – Eric Arthur Blair
John le Carré – David John Moore Cornwell
Lemony Snicket – Daniel Handler
Lewis Carroll – Charles Lutwidge Dodgson
Mark Twain – Samuel Langhorne Clemens
Saki – Hector Hugh Monro
Silence Dogood – Benjamin Franklin

In Ancién Regime France, Noms de Guerre were adopted by new recruits as they enlisted in the French Army. These names had an official character and were the predecessors of identification numbers. Noms de guerre were later adopted by the Resistance during the Second World War for security reasons. Here are some examples of noms de guerre you may recognise:
Strongbow – Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke
The Red Baron (pseudonym created by cartoonist Charles Schulz) – Manfred von Richthofen
Carlos the Jackal – Illich Ramirez Sanchez

Politicians may adopt or be given pseudonyms:
An Craoibhín Aoibhinn – Douglas Hyde
Che Guevara – Ernesto Rafael Guevara de la Serna
Chemical Ali – Ali Hassan Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti
Joseph Stalin – Ioseb Bessarionis dze Djugashvili
Leon Trotsky – Lev Davidovich Bronstein
Pol Pot – Saloth Sar
Vladimir Lenin – Vladimir Illich Ulyanov

When actors and singers take on a pseudonym it is often called a stage name. Here are the orthnyms of some actors and singers. Do you know their stage names?
David Robert Jones
Carlos Irwin Estévez
Reginald Dwight
Curtis Jackson
Robert Zimmerman
Paul Hewson
Lee Yuen Kam
Archibald Leach
Quentin Norman Cook
Shawn Corey Carter
Marion Morrison
Brian Warner

Wordplay Wednesday – oxymoron

This refers to a figure of speech in which contradictory and opposite ideas are linked. It is similar to a paradox, but the oxymoron is contained within a phrase whereas the paradox is contained in a statement.

Examples of oxymorons:
cruel kindness
thunderous silence
deliberate mistake
known secret
friendly fire
constant change

Oxymorons in literature:

In Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’, Romeo uses oxymorons when describing his love of Rosaline to Benvolio:
‘Why then, O brawling love! O loving hate!
O anything of nothing first create,
A heavy lightness, a serious vanity,
Misshapen chaos of wellseeming forms,
Feather of lead.’

Juliet also uses some oxymorons when she finds out about Romeo killing her cousin:
‘O serpent heart, hid with a flow’ring face!
Beautiful tyrant, fiend angelical,
Dove-feather’d raven, wolfish ravening lamb,
A damned saint, an honourable villain!’

Wordplay Wednesday – pangrams

Anybody who has learned how to type will probably know what a pangram is. It is a sentence that uses every letter of the alphabet. Here are some well know examples:

The quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog.
Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs.
How quickly daft jumping zebras vex.

None of the above, however, is a perfect pangram – a 26-letter sentence containing ever letter of the alphabet only once. Perfect pangrams are an anagram of the alphabet and tend not to make much sense. An example is:

Mr Jock, TV quiz PhD, bags few lynx.

Lorem Ipsum
Lorem Ipsum is dummy text that is used in the printing industry to demonstrate the way different fonts look. It has its root in a book by Cicero called ‘De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum’ (‘The Extremes of Good and Evil’, published in 45BC). Latin only has 23 letters – it does not use J, V or W (however, V is occasionally used to represent U and J is occasionally used to represent I). The standard piece of Lorem Ipsum used is usually:

‘Neque porro quisquam est qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisci velit . . . ‘

This roughly translates as:

‘There is no one who loves pain itself, who seeks after it and wants to have it, simply because it is pain . . . ‘

Why do we use Lorem Ipsum?
It is widely believed that a reader will be distracted by looking at the readable content of a page when looking at its layout. The point of using Lorem Ipsum is that the appearance of Latin on the page is similar to that of readable English. Many desktop publishing packages and web page editors use Lorem Ipsum as their default model text. Various versions have evolved over the years, some due to typing errors and some due to subtle additions of humour by the designers.

Wordplay Wednesday – Tom Swifty

Last week’s Wordplay Wednesday was all about puns and they received a great response from everyone. Even though there are no classes this week, I thought that I would continue with the theme of puns and give you a variation – the Tom Swifty.
The term comes from a series of books written by Victor Appleton (pseudonym) in which the young scientist hero, named Tom Swift, undergoes adventures involving rocket ships, ray-guns and other inventions.
The author went to great lengths to avoid over use of the word ‘said’, or at least to modify it in some manner. The modification was usually one which related both properly and punningly to the sentence of reported speech.
Here are some examples:

‘I’m wearing a ribbon around my arm,’ said Tom with abandon.
‘I’m losing my hair!’ Tom bawled.
‘It’s twelve noon,’ Tom chimed in.
‘I’ve struck oil!’ said Tom crudely.
‘Don’t let me drown in Egypt!’ pleaded Tom, deep in denial.
‘Who discovered radium?’ asked Marie curiously.

Wordplay Wednesday – pun

A pun is a joke exploiting the different meanings of a word or the fact that there are words of the same sound and different meanings. Here are some examples:

  • I wondered why the basketball was getting bigger. Then it hit me.
  • I’m reading a book about anti-gravity. It’s impossible to put down.
  • Did you hear about the guy whose whole left side was cut off? He’s all right now.
  • I couldn’t quite remember how to throw a boomerang, but eventually it came back to me.
  • I was going to look for my missing watch but I could never find the time.
  • There was once a cross-eyed teacher who couldn’t control his pupils.
  • The man who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran.
  • I’ve been to the dentist several times so I know the drill.

Shakespeare was famous for his use of puns. Here are some examples:

‘Richard III’ Act 1 Scene 1
‘Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York . . .’
Context: These are the opening lines of ‘Richard III’. King Richard III was the son of the Duke of York.

‘Romeo and Juliet’ Act 1 Scene 4
‘Give me a torch: I am not for this ambling.
Being but heavy, I will bear the light.’
Context: Romeo is reluctant to attend a party because he is suffering from a broken heart.

‘Romeo and Juliet’ Act 1 Scene 4
Mercutio: ‘Nay, gentle Romeo, we must have you dance.’
Romeo: ‘Not I, believe me. You have dancing shoes
With nimble soles; I have a soul of lead
So stakes me to the ground I cannot move.’
Context: Romeo is reluctant to attend a party because he is suffering from a broken heart.

‘Hamlet’ Act 1 Scene 2
Claudius: ‘But now, my cousin Hamlet, and my son’
Hamlet: [aside] ‘A little more than kin, and less than kind.’
Context: Hamlet is upset that his uncle Claudius has married his mother. Think of ‘kind’ as also short for ‘kindred’.

‘Much Ado About Nothing’ Act 2 Scene 1
Beatrice: ‘The count is neither sad, nor sick, nor merry, nor well: but civil, count; civil as an orange, and something of that jealous complexion.’
Context: Beatrice is referring to the character Claudio. There is a type of bitter orange that comes from Seville, Spain.

For students of ‘Hamlet’, follow this link for more puns from the play with their explanations:


Time for a challenge
Are there any more puns you know of? I would be particularly interested in seeing if any of you can remember puns that we noted while studying our poetry!

Wordplay Wednesday – etymology

Etymology is the study of word origins – where they come from and how and where they were created. Many words that we use today come from different languages that have evolved and changed over time. To discover where a word comes from often puts it in an entirely new light. The following are some interesting and amusing examples.

Meaning: (n.) a person who murders someone for political or religious reasons
Etymology: In the literal sense an assassin was a person who used cannabis. The root of the word, which entered English in the 16th century comes from the Arabic for ‘hashish eater’. It was first used in reference to the Nizari branch of Ismaili Muslims who ruled part of northern Persia in the 12th and 13th centuries, during the time of the Crusades. Renowned as militant fanatics, they were reputed to use hashish before being sent to murder the Christian leaders.

Meaning: (n.) 1. exaggerated or aggressive patriotism 2. excessive or prejudiced support or loyalty for one’s own cause, group or sex
Etymology: Named after Nicolas Chauvin, a Napoleonic veteran noted for his extreme patriotism.

Meaning: (n.) a danger or risk; (v.) to risk the loss of
Etymology: The term evolves from the Arabic ‘al zahr’, meaning ‘the dice’. In Western Europe the term came to be associated with a number of games using dice, which were learned during the Crusades in the Holy Land. The term eventually took on the connotation of danger because, from very early on, games using dice were associated with the risky business of gambling and con artists using corrupted dice.

Meaning: (n.) a violent and aggressive man, especially a criminal
Etymology: Thug comes from the Hindi word thag ‘swindler, thief’, and beyond that goes back to ancient Sanskrit. The original Thugs were an organisation of robbers and assassins in India, followers of the goddess Kali, who waylaid and strangled their victims in a ritually prescribed manner. The modern sense, denoting any violent man, was first recorded in 1839.

Meaning: (adj) of little value or importance
Etymology: Trivial entered Middle English from Latin trivium ‘place where three roads meet’, from tri- ‘three’ and via ‘road, way’. A medieval trivium was an introductory course at university involving the study of grammar, rhetoric and logic. In the Middle Ages seven ‘liberal arts’ were recognised, of which the trivium contained the lower three and the quadrivium the upper four (the ‘mathematical arts’ of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music). This association with elementary subjects led to trivial being used to mean ‘of little value or importance’ from the 16th century.

Meaning: (n.) offence or annoyance
Etymology: Umbrage is first recorded in the late Middle Ages. It comes from Latin ‘umbra’ meaning ‘shadow’. The first meaning of umbrage in English were ‘shade or shadow’ or a ‘shadowy outline’. The latter sense gave rise to the meaning ‘ground for suspicion’, which led in turn to the current meaning. Umbrage is also related to the words umbrella, sombre, umber and adumbrate.

Wordplay Wednesday – pleonasm

Pleonasm is an unusual word for a simple idea. Pleonasm is the use of more words than are necessary to convey meaning. Students who use redunant words in their writing will lose marks for the coherence of their piece of work. If a word is not necessary and does not add to the overall meaning of the sentence, then leave it out.

Some common pleonasms are in the list below. Remove the superfluous word and you will not detract from the overall meaning of the expression:

absolutely essential
advance planning
alternative choice
ATM machine
basic necessities
blend together
brief summary
closed fist
completely annihilate
consensus of opinion
current trend
desirable benefits
drop down
end result
fellow classmates
fly through the air
green in colour
harmful injuries
look ahead into the future
meet together
natural instinct
old cliche
past memories
personal opinion
proposed plan
re-elect for another term
regular routine
three a.m. in the morning
unintentional mistake
very unique

Here are some pleonastic sentences from celebrities:

‘And that’s a self-portrait of himself, by himself.’
Richard Madeley

‘It looks like being a busy weekend on the ferries, particularly Saturday and Sunday.’
Peter Powell

‘It was a sudden and unexpected surprise.’
Old Bailey correspondent for the BBC

‘I never make predictions, especially about the future.’
Samuel Goldwyn

‘It’s deja vu all over again.’
Yogi Berra

‘Anyone who goes to a psychiatrist ought to have his head examined.’
Samuel Goldwyn

‘Sometimes you can observe a lot by just watching.’
Yogi Berra

‘The answer’s an affirmative yes.’
Nigel Mansell

‘I don’t normally do requests, unless I’m asked to.’
Richard Whiteley

‘The robbery was committed by a pair of identical twins. Both are said to be aged about 20.’
Paul Hollingsworth

‘Smoking can kill you, and if you’ve been killed, you’ve lost a very important part of your life.’
Brooke Shields

‘Football is an incredible game. Sometimes it’s so incredible, it’s unbelievable.’
Tom Landry

Feel free to comment on your favourite (or most hated), or add your own pleonasm.

Wordplay Wednesday – malapropisms

The term malapropism comes from a play called ‘The Rivals’ by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, which was first performed in 1775. This play featured a character called Mrs Malaprop who frequently misspoke, with great comic effect. Her name, of course, comes from the French term mal á propos, meaning inopportune or not to the purpose.

When someone uses a malapropism it is because:

  • They’ve used a word that was not what they intended, given the context
  • The word sounds similar to the one intended
  • The word used actually means something different (i.e. it is not a made-up word)

Malapropisms are often the same part of speech, begin or end in the same way, or have the same rhythm when spoken.

Here are some expamples from ‘The Rivals’:

  • ‘Promise to forget this fellow, to illiterate him, I say, quite from your memory.’ (obliterate)
  • ‘She might reprehend the true meaning of what she is saying.’ (comprehend)
  • ‘He’s as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile.’ (alligator)
  • ‘He is the very pineapple of politeness.’ (pinnacle)

Here are two examples from ‘The Merchant of Venice’, both spoken by Launcelot:

  • ‘Certainly [Shylock] is the very devil incarnal.’ (incarnate)
  • ‘That is the very defect of the matter sir.’ (effect)

Some other funny examples:

  • Dad says the monster is just a pigment of my imagination. (figment)
  • He’s a wolf in cheap clothing. (sheep’s)
  • My friend has extra-century perception. (sensory)


President George W. Bush was famous for some of his malapropisms, and not without good reason:

  • ‘We cannot let terrorists or rogue nations hold this nation hostile or hold our allies hostile.’
  • ‘It will take time to restore chaos and order.’
  • ‘They have miscalculated me as a leader.’
  • ‘I am mindful not only of preserving executive powers for myself, but for my predecessors as well.’
  • ‘We need an energy bill that encourages consumption.’

Wordplay Wednesday – Palindromes

A palindrome is a word or phrase that reads the same in both directions. They can be very short and simple like:

  • Navan
  • Madam
  • Racecar

or they can be much more lengthy. Have a look at some of these and, as always, write a comment on this post if you can add any more.

  • Was it Eliot’s toilet I saw?
  • Murder for a jar of red rum.
  • No trace; not one carton.
  • Sums are not set as a test on Erasmus.
  • Go deliver a dare, vile dog?
  • A man, a plan, a canal – Panama!