The Dictionary Of Wordplay

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Overview

This marvelous reference guide should be at the side of every writer; it's the first wordplay dictionary ever! Concepts like "exquisite corpse," "kangaroo word," and "Jabberwocky," which frequently appear in contemporary writings, are defined here, with examples. More than 1,234 entries are in this book.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
How many different ways can you play with words? More than 1,200, according to Dave Morice (The Adventures of Dr. Alphabet) in what he claims is the first Dictionary of Wordplay. Everyone's heard of the rebus and the palindrome, but what about the megallege and the word worm? In an informative and frisky introduction, Morice describes the history of wordplay including the golden age, which started around 1960 and continues to this day and the many books dedicated to the subject over the years. Fans of Will Shortz's National Public Radio word games will love this quirky reference book. ( Apr. 1) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780915924974
  • Publisher: Teachers & Writers Collaborative
  • Publication date: 1/1/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.67 (d)

Read an Excerpt



Introduction


    by Dave Morice


This book contains words that may surprise you. In it can be found the pun, the anagram, the palindrome, the lettershift, and the univocalic. It has words that can be made in special ways, with telephone dials, typewriter keys, Scrabble tiles, and Morse Code. It presents language most marvelous—words and sentences, lines of poetry, and other elements—behaving in a most unlanguagelike way. It is the first dictionary of wordplay.

    Writers, students, teachers, word puzzlers, and anyone who has looked "beyond language" will discover many kinds of wordplay, familiar and not so familiar, within its pages. In fact, some of the wordplay has been around for thousands of years, and some of it slipped into the book just as it was going to press. This dictionary defines hundreds of terms, ideas, and facts of wordplay in English; and in doing so it shows the vast number of untapped resources available for experiencing the pleasure of language and discovering the play of words.

    Wordplay is always just a word or two away from the words we speak, hear, read, and write. It is present in the home, the school, the office, the store, the streets. It's on television all the time (especially on ABC). It's in the movies (ultimately in the film titled Z). Sometimes it is intentional, and other times it is accidental.

    New York City's highly acclaimed campaign to polish the image of the Big Apple was based on a rebus: I [love] NY. Newspaper headline writers make mistakes (or are they mistakes?)founded on puns: MILK DRINKERS ARE TURNING INTO POWDER. On the other side of the word coin, poets use wordplay as a matter of course. In Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio, having just lost a swordfight in the worst way, has no recourse but to say pointedly, "... Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man." Perhaps poetry is the highest form of wordplay.

    Wordplay has appeared most openly in books of puzzles, language games, and wordplay forms. In the nineteenth century, C. C. Bombaugh assembled hundreds of pages of wordplay in his book Gleanings for the Curious from the Harvest Fields of Literature. It is a classic collection ranging from acrostics to zeugmas, but it was not intended to organize them in any particular way.


The Golden Age of Wordplay


During the past few decades, something amazing has happened to the English language. In his book Language on Vacation (Scribners, 1965), Dmitri Borgmann presented wordplay, which he renamed "logology," in an entirely new light: while wordplay is often considered a pastime, he pointed out that it is also a body of knowledge with its own concepts, principles, and terms. His book earned him the title "father of logology," and it ushered in a Golden Age of Wordplay that continues to this day.

    In 1968, Borgmann founded Word Ways, the first magazine to give writers a forum for articles, stories, poems, puzzles, and challenges involving any and all wordplay forms. The following year, Howard Bergerson took over its editorship. Bergerson later wrote and published a groundbreaking book on palindromes and anagrams, appropriately titled Palindromes and Anagrams (Dover, 1973). In 1970, Ross Eckler became the editor, publisher, and distributor of Word Ways. He has brought out the magazine on a quarterly basis ever since then. Within its pages (over 9,000), a cornucopia of new forms has evolved, giving English the richest body of published wordplay in the history of the world.

    Since the 1960s, wordplay has flourished. For the first time, small-press magazines—Word Ways, Verbatim, Maledicta, The Palindromist, Words Worth, and others—have provided an accessible forum for wordplay writers, much as the "mimeograph revolution" of the 1950s gave poets a place to develop their voices and display their works. In fact, some of the new wordplay books, including specialized dictionaries and lexicons, were also published in alternative press format. The first palindromic novel, Dr. Awkward in Oslo, exists only in mimeograph form.

    The massive amount of material generated in the past few decades has been collected in numerous books of wordplay. This proliferation suggested that chaos was once again in need of order. In 1998, Eckler published Making the Alphabet Dance, in which he defined "letterplay" as wordplay in which letters are manipulated like the pieces of a game or a puzzle. His book organized this complex field into a coherent whole made of many intricate parts. Eckler's and Borgmann's books serve as bookends on the shelf of modern wordplay.

    Other developments expanded the audience for the other side of language. In 1988, Richard Lederer's book Anguished English came out from a small publisher, Wyrick and Company. The book presented real-life language bloopers in a rapid-fire, entertaining way. So entertaining was it that Jay Leno read from it for eight minutes on "The Tonight Show." After that, sales of the already-popular book shot through the roof. It was republished by Bantam Doubleday Dell in a mass-market paperback edition that helped launch the Intrepid Linguist language series. It became the first wordplay book to make the New York Times bestseller list and launched Lederer's role as the great popularizer of wordplay. His subsequent wordplay books, including Get Thee to a Punnery, Crazy English, and The Word Circus, have sold well and have continued to bring wordplay to a wider audience than ever before.

    In recent years, more wordplay books of all kinds—by Willard Espy, Will Shortz, Martin Gardner, Peter Newby, and others—have been published than ever before. Some focus on a specific, well-known form, such as the palindrome, the anagram, or the pun. Others attempt to cover the entire field by dividing it into major categories and presenting each category in a separate chapter. Still others present wordplay in puzzle books, cartoon books, joke books, almanacs, and other formats.


Poetry, Prose, and Play


Wordplay has been a natural part of "mainstream literature" all along. Rhyme and regular rhythm are elemental forms that some people believe to be essential to poetry, but many other forms are also a natural part of it—assonance, alliteration, onomatopoeia, and others. In fact, all poetic forms are based on wordplay forms. What else could they be based on? Some forms are less constrictive than others. A free-verse poem is one of the least constrictive, but it, too, involves manipulating the sounds, meanings, and placements of words.

    In the twentieth century, wordplay of different types became a significant, even major, part of works by writers such as James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, and E. E. Cummings. In Ulysses, Joyce layered the narrative with multilingual puns in order to tell a complex story in a way that was appropriately complex. In Three Lives, Stein gave words new meaning by altering the grammatical environment in which they existed. In poetry, Cummings broke single words apart to yield new meanings through typography. One wonders to what extent form determined content in these writers'—and other early Modernists'—work.

    In the 1940s, Concrete Poetry began to show up around the world. More than ever before, poets let words do things that amounted to "art for wordplay's sake." Their writings, linked by the movement's catchy name, used different concepts to guide them. Some created works based on sound, some on shape, some on other linguistic elements. Works ranged from random letter poems such as those invented by the Lettrists to complex architectural/alphabetical structures such as John Furnival's "The Fall of the Tower of Babel." In the late 1960s, Something Else Press published The Anthology of Concrete Poetry, which became highly successful and influential in spreading the word about this avant-garde literary movement.


Wordplay Writing


While free-verse poets and concrete poets have their own approaches, there is a special kind of writing endemic to wordplay: the writer chooses a specific wordplay form to use throughout a text. The choice of form almost always limits the choice of words. Word choice may focus on letters (palindromes, lipograms), sound (puns, rhymes), or meaning (slang terms, real names, made-up words).

    In 1960, François Le Lionnais and Raymond Queneau founded Oulipo (an acronym of Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle), a group of writers who devise literary structures based on wordplay. Many writers have consciously used wordplay, but few have used it so thoroughly and with such originality as Queneau, who wrote 100,000,000,000,000 Poems, a sonnet sequence. It works like the children's books whose pages are cut into sections that combine to make different texts and pictures. In Queneau's sonnet sequence, ten pages with fourteen lines on each page are cut so that each line occupies a strip of paper. The strips can be turned like miniature pages to form different combinations of lines, and each combination makes a different sonnet. This, like many Oulipian strategies, extends the boundaries of convention. Oulipo writers have devised ways to use palindromes, anagrams, acrostics, puns, lipograms, and other wordplay forms listed in this dictionary.

    Wordplay writers have engaged in similar techniques for centuries, calling it "constrained verse." In constrained verse, the writer attempts to achieve a goal, such as making a poem in which each line is a palindrome. Can it be done grammatically, syntactically, and semantically? For the Oulipo writer, the question is: What forms can be used to create poetry or fiction in a new way?

    In every language at every time in history, poetry and wordplay have co-existed and interacted. Poets use wordplay to enhance their poetry; wordplay writers use poetry to enhance their wordplay. The English language, whose words come from more than 100 other languages, from Latin to Pig Latin, invites such cross-pollination.


The Purpose of this Dictionary


The purpose of this dictionary is to bring some of the myriad forms of wordplay together and organize them in the most basic of ways—alphabetic order. Although it may seem simple, it has been very tricky. For one thing, wordplay books assume that the reader has a basic knowledge of wordplay; otherwise, he or she wouldn't be reading them. Thus many concepts were previously undefined, and many were identified by more than one term. The problem grew immensely. It was sometimes difficult to determine who did what. In some cases, one person came up with the concept, another the term, and another the example.

    To put the dictionary together in the best way that I could, I took the following approach. First, I made a list of sources that I believe must be included. Then using some of the most basic on the list, such as those discussed above, I began choosing terms, definitions, and examples. After building a foundation of essential forms, I went through numerous sources and found other forms to add to the list. Thus the dictionary would contain the basic forms and many more based on the basics. Soon the problem became limiting the entries. There are so many forms that, without limitations, the book might have grown to the size of the Oxford Unabridged Dictionary.

    I used three principles to guide my writing of definitions: be clear, be concise, and use interesting material. Defining words can be tricky, especially since definitions are made up of words, too. I tried to avoid making the definitions too simple on the one hand, and too detailed on the other. However, it sometimes became necessary to violate the principles in order to include important entries. Over a six-year period, I rewrote much of the dictionary two, three, or more times. There were many entries that didn't make the final cut.

    Most entries in this dictionary define wordplay forms ranging from general to specific, from well-known to unknown, from acrostic to reverse bialphabetic word. Some entries define forms that are topical as well as linguistic: e.g., presidential anagrams, which are like other anagrams except that they use the names of presidents. Some entries define forms that are hybrids of other forms: combining palindrome with pangram results in a palindromic pangram (also called a pangrammatic palindrome). Some entries define other things that have held a special place in the lore of wordplay—for instance, Yreka Bakery and the Zzyxjoanw Hoax.

    In arranging the entries, I often had to list related items in widely separated places and then cross-reference them. Ordinarily a book of wordplay talks about a major form like the anagram in a single, large section. A wordplay dictionary, however, must be a dictionary first. There is an entry for anagram, but there are also entries for, anagram name, palindromic anagram, and other anagrammatic forms that might otherwise be placed together in a single section.

    A few wordplay terms were especially problematic. Recently some writers have tried to upgrade some of the older, more traditional terminology. Some believe that pyramid should be replaced with triangle. Some feel that redivider should replace charade. The terms in the dictionary are usually those that have appeared most often in print. Any other terms may be listed as synonyms, or they may appear as separate entries with a brief notation that cross-references them to the older terms.

    In order to maintain consistency, the exact wording and spelling of some terms was changed slightly: for instance, transposal and transition mean the same in almost every case. Transposal appears to be the older, more frequently used of the two terms. Consequently, I changed transition to transposal whenever it had the same meaning. Similarly, I used the word alphabetic instead of alphabetical in all cases. Such alternate word changes are discussed and cross-referenced in the entries.

    Of course, there may be errors, and these will be changed in future editions. And, of course, there are many terms that could have been included, some of which will be added later on. The dictionary is not entirely about individual terms but about the set of terms as they relate to each other. This interlocking of definitions shows the vast panorama of language facts that have become known as letterplay, logology, recreational linguistics, and, of course, wordplay.


The Structure of the Entries


Most of the entries are structured in three blocks of text: (1) term, definition, and discussion in the first block—usually a single paragraph; (2) examples of the entry—a poem, a story, a list, etc.; and (3) synonyms and cross-references. In the example below, the first block has the term "Tom Swiftie" followed by its definition and a brief discussion to further illuminate the term's meaning. Next come two examples. The third block lists synonymous terms ("adverbial pun") and cross-references, in small capitals, to other entries in this dictionary (CROAKER, DOUBLE CROAKER, HERMAN).


* * *


Tom Swiftie: a sentence that has a quote attributed to Tom Swift (or anyone) and that ends with an adverb punning on the quote. Tom Swift was a character appearing in a series of books by Edward Stratemeyer in the 1920s. Tom sometimes spoke sentences of this type:


"I'll try to dig up a couple of friends," said Tom gravely.
"I got the first three wrong," she said forthrightly.


Also called "adverbial pun." See CROAKER, DOUBLE CROAKER, HERMAN.


* * *


There are, of course, entries that don't follow this basic structure. In some cases, especially for basic forms like ANAGRAM and PALINDROME, discussion and examples are followed by more discussion and examples. In other cases, there may be no need for discussion, examples, synonyms, or cross-references. In a few cases, the format differs out of necessity.


A Word about "Word"


In most of the entries, the word "word" is used in the definition, even though in some cases the examples include names or phrases. In a some definitions, "word, name, or phrase" is used, for emphasis.


15 Commonly Used Terms and Their Definitions


The following list gives brief definitions for some of the broadest concepts. These should provide a quick introduction to the main body of the dictionary.


ALPHABETIC VALUE: the number signifying a letter's position in the alphabet. Examples: A = 1, B = 2, ... Z = 26.


ANAGRAM: a word or words formed by rearranging the letters of another word or words related in meaning. Example: OCEAN = CANOE.


BIGRAM: a pair of letters considered as a single unit. Examples: AP, GH, NN, TO.


CHARADE: a word or words formed by redividing but not rearranging the letters of another word or words. Example: DOGMA—DOG MA.


CIRCULAR ALPHABET: the alphabet arranged in a circle so that it has no beginning or end and so that Z continues on to A.


LADDER: a series of three or more words formed by making a specific change in each word to generate the next word, as in this case each word has one letter replaced with another to form the next word. Example: DAWN-DARN—DARK—MARK—MURK—MUSK—DUSK.


LETTERSHIFT: a word whose corresponding letters are the same number of steps down a CIRCULAR ALPHABET. Examples: ADDS—BEET (one step), SLEEP—BUNNY (nine steps).


NUMBER NAME: one of the words used to signify the counting numbers. Examples: ONE, TWO, NINE VIGINTILLION.


PALINDROME: a word or words that read the same in both directions. Example: LEVEL.


PANGRAM: a sentence or other text that contains all the letters of the alphabet one or more times. Example: THE QUICK BROWN FOX JUMPS OVER THE LAZY DOG.


PUN: a word or phrase that has two meanings, one of which makes the text humorous.


REBUS: the representation of words by means of letters, numbers, or other symbols that are interpreted by their sound, placement on the page, et cetera. Examples: XPDNC = EXPEDIENCY, 10S = TENNIS.


REVERSAL: a word formed by spelling another word in reverse. Example: SLEEP—PEELS.


TRANSPOSAL: the same as an ANAGRAM, but the words in a transposal don't have to relate in meaning.


TRIGRAM: a set of three letters considered as a single unit. Examples: ABC, HKX, TOM, VVV.


WORD SQUARE: an arrangement of letters in a square format to spell words across and down. Example:

ITS
THE
SEA


A


abbreviated rhyme: a rhyming poem that uses abbreviations for some of its words, including the ryhmes. "A Mrs. Kr. Mr." is a poem using real and made-up abbreviations (kr. = kissed her), beginning with these lines:


The Mrs. kr. Mr.
Then how her Mr. Kr.!
He kr. kr. kr.
Until he raised a blr.


abstemious word: a word lacking the five vowels, AEIOU. The word abstemious (meaning "temperate") was chosen because it contains the five vowels in alphabetic order.

GYPSY NYMPH PYGMY SLYLY RHYTHM


accidental acrostic: a poem or part of a poem in which the initial letters of consecutive lines going down spell a word. The opening stanza, or rubai, of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám as translated by Edward Fitzgerald is an accidental acrostic.

Wake! For the Sun behind yon Eastern height
Has chased the Session of the Stars from Night;
And, to the field of Heav'n ascending, strikes
The Sultán's Turret with a Shaft of Light.


See ACROSTIC.


acro-equation: the representation of a set of related words, such as the days of the week, as an algebraic equation in which the words are replaced by their initials. The group appears on one side of the equal sign and the name of the group appears on the other.


S+M+T+W+T+F+S=W (Sunday+Monday+ ... = a Week)

ME + NH + VT + MA + RI + CT = NE
(Maine + New Hampshire + ... = New England)

4J + 4Q + 4K = FC (4 Jacks + 4 Queens ... = the Face Cards)


acronym: a word formed from the first (or first few) letters of several related items (e.g., RADAR, SONAR, ANZAC).


acronymic palindrome: an ACRONYM that is also a PALINDROME. RADAR, one of the best known, is a palindrome about a palindromic process: radio waves go out and bounce back (RADAR = RAdio Detecting And Ranging).


acrostic: a text in which the initial letters of certain words are determined in advance. The commonest type of acrostic is a poem in which the initials of the lines from start to finish spell the name of the individual to whom it is addressed. Lewis Carroll concluded his second Alice in Wonderland book, Through the Looking-Glass, with an acrostic that spells the name of the real Alice, Alice Pleasance Liddell. (In the book, Alice Liddell is also punningly referred to as "little Alice.") The initial letters of the lines in the first two stanzas spell ALICE P:


A boat, beneath a sunny sky
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July—
Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear—


Acrostics can be written in a variety of prose and poetry forms. In ALPHABETIC POEMS, for instance, the word choice is guided by ALPHABETIC ORDER. In AUTOMYNORGAGRAMS, the choice is based on the letters as they occur in the text itself. The letters of the acrostic can appear in places other than the beginnings of the words, too (SEE DOUBLE ACROSTIC, TELESTICH, TRIPLE ACROSTIC).


acrostic dictionary: a dictionary in which the words are arranged by first and last letter (A-A, A-B, A-C.... Z-Z), and then alphabetically by the letters within each first-last letter combination. Thus, if dear precedes deed in a regular dictionary, deed would precede dear in an acrostic dictionary, since D-D words come before D-R words.


acrostic equation: a numerically correct equation made of NUMBER NAMES whose initials on one side of the equal sign spell the answer on the other side.

One hundred - Ninety-one - Eight = ONE 100 - 91 - 8 = 1
Twenty + Eighty - Ninety = TEN 20 + 80 - 90 = 10


acrostic poem: an ACROSTIC. (Usually the word "poem" is unnecessary—most acrostics are poems.)


acrostic puzzle: a poem composed of riddling lines whose solutions form an acrostic that spells out the answer to the puzzle. One 10-line poem written in praise of a lady posed five riddles with solutions whose first letters spelled out the lady's last name (Green):


GRAVE
RING
EVENING
EASE
NO


add-a-line couplet: a two-line poem formed by taking a well-known line from a classic and adding a rhyming line that turns the original into a humorous parody of itself.


I think that I shall never see—
My contact lens fell in my tea.
Tyger, Tyger, burning bright,
How you save electric light!


adjacent-letter switch: a transposal in which two letters next to each other in a word change places to form another word. This is a special case of METALLEGE.

SALVE = SLAVE NUTHATCH = UNTHATCH


adjacent pronoun speller: a word with strings of consecutive letters that spell a large number of different pronouns. The letters in USHERS can spell five:

U S H E R S
U S
S H E
H E
H E R
H E R S


adjacent word speller: a word with strings of consecutive letters that spell a large number of words. The letters in THEREIN can spell ten.

ERE
HE
HER
HERE
HEREIN
IN
RE
REIN
THE
THERE


AEGINRST transposal problem: the challenge of finding as many words as possible that are TRANSPOSALS of the letters AEGINRST, one of the ULTIMATE TRANSPOSAL SETS. The words can come from any published source. So far, some 150 transposals of AEGINRST have been found. In the examples below, the first line has five tranposals that are common words. The next five lines have transposals that are uncommon words, each followed by its definition and source.

ANGRIEST GRANITES INERT GAS INGRATES RANGIEST

(Continues...)


Excerpted from The Dictionary of Wordplay by Dave Morice. Copyright © 2001 by Dave Morice. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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Table of Contents

Foreword by Ross Eckler X
Introduction by Dave Morice xi
Wordplay Entries, A-Z 1
After Word by Richard Lederer 255
Appendix A: Alphasets by Dave Morice 258
Appendix B: "Interesting" Number Names by Dave Morice 259
Appendix C: Inventors, Authors, and Sources for the Entries 261
Appendix D: Bibliography 285
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