Wordplay


Wordplay is an irresistible pasttime; the urge to play with words can pop up while writing a dreary report, or in the middle of a friendly ego competition. The varieties of entertainment to be found are vast.

While alchemists struggled to turn LEAD into GOLD, I spent months trying to turn OUNCE into POUND. I wish I had had a list of five letter words, which also comes in handy when playing jotto. Of course, this also meant many hours browsing the dictionary, during which I ran across more than anyone's share of weird words and words derived from letter names, special words and hapax legomenon.

After knocking myself out for half a year compiling the five letter word list, it took me ten minutes to make a list of two letter words.

If the "pentagram" file contains too many obscure words, you might want to look at Donald Knuth's 5-letter word file used in a demonstration program for the Stanford Graph Base.

Inspired by the game of Stinky Pinky, I've kept an eye out for many kinds of reduplication, including:

And then there's unrhymes, words that ought to, but don't rhyme, back slang, the Bingo Code, and silent letters that ought to, but don't make a sound.

I have a small list of rebus words that can be broken up into smaller words. An elaborate rebus puzzle was printed in Kim Palmer's "The Dream: A Rebus".

There are lots of puns and other wordplay, but sometimes you encounter double puns that takes you unaware when you'd thought you'd figured it out.

What about a list of multinyms, a multiple homonym, or a single sound with three or four different spellings?

Then there are those equivocal words you can't figure out how to pronounce, the I-before-E words you can't figure out how to spell, the nonwords that aren't even words, the game of short circuits, and some odd words that end in AGE or ugly words that end in IFY or ugly words that end in IZE or the unusual words that end in OON or oafly folly or delovely deformities or the Ad-Hoc NESS monster or Squeamish Beamish or ESQuire or other "ugly babies".

Then there are a few bad names for characters of books or movies.

Did you ever notice all THE countries, (and regions, and towns) whose names begin with the and words beginning with the Arabic "al"?

Pangrams are sentences that use each letter of the alphabet (at least) once, or panvowels, words that use every vowel just once, or double letter words, or multigrams that use one letter several times.

A silly acronym caught our attention, and we all jumped in to name the CTC.

The strange look of the word "vacuum" led me to listing words with two U's; then there are words that begin and end with the same letter.

One day, all the trucks that said "Danger! Inflammable!" were repainted to say "Danger! Flammable!" and it got me thinking about autoantonyms and antiautonyms. A related idea is pairs of antagrams, that is, words of opposite meaning that can be formed from the same set of letters.

Once I faced a paperback copy of Andy Warhol's "a", and thought I should begin the world's first collection of one letter book titles. Then I thought about numerical book titles and dated book titles. You might want to be appalled by The Oddest Book Titles or charmed by A Bouquet of Books. And then there's the minor letter swap puzzle.

You might want to explore the language known as Headline Pidgin or conventions of NPR radio articles that we consider in Taglines, the stereotypical jargon of "24", and Junk Phrases I'd prefer not to hear any more and By Definition, a catalog of the misuse of a phrase, as well as Cockney Rhyming Slang.

I once had an enormous Adam and Eve collection; novels, plays, poems, records, audio cassette tapes, video cassette tapes, paintings, cartoons, jokes, statuettes, socks, and on and on. A tiny remnant of that collection is a glossary entitled Adam and Eve in Phrase and Slang.

I've started keeping track of Classic Crossword Clues, and the subtleties of television subtitling, and noticed the COMPLEX complex, some Obnoxious Observations, Intense Contents, an inquisition, the Idiot's Idiom and Singular Plurals and Shtrange But True.

In the world of speculative nonfiction, I have wondered about the etymological analysis of groups of words with a common root, and have come up with a Para-ble.

I once bought a copy of HL Chace's Anguish Languish for ten cents at a library, and was entranced by Ladle Rat Rotten Hut, which has since turned up unattributed around the web. It took me more than two years to work out my own story, called Rhombus Kills Ten. I have recently added another, called Deep Eyed Pauper. You might also enjoy Bill Reynolds's version of a famous poem, Flopping Dry Goods. And I encourage you to look around on the web for the hilarious "Gender Cyst". You can also consider Meredith Willson's prank on "I've Got a Secret" in which he produced a mangled version of "In the Good Old Summertime".

I thought I had discovered a new play by Shakespeare! I was browsing the spines of DVD's in our local library's collection, and came across the BBC/Time-Life production whose printed title was "TITUS AND RONICUS". Sadly, the front cover did not repeat this version! And then there is Miss Pell's List of her favorite words, and An Ear Miss of words and phrases that weren't quite properly understood. Don't miss the puzzle of Is That Really a Word?.

Every now and then, I'll be reading a novel from a much older time, and come across a modern slang phrase. You may want to know more about such anachronyms.

For crosswords and other games, it's sometimes useful to have a table of names of letters of the alphabet:

You can go to the Fun page.


Last modified on 23 January 2014.