Word play or wordplay is a literary technique in which the words that are used become the main subject of the work, primarily for the purpose of intended effect or amusement. Puns, phonetic mix-ups such as spoonerisms, obscure words and meanings, clever rhetorical excursions, oddly formed sentences, and telling character names[clarification needed] are common examples of word play.
Word play is quite common in oral cultures as a method of reinforcing meaning.
Examples of visual orthographic and sound-based word play abound in both alphabetically and non-alphabetically written literature (e.g. Chinese).
Puns, phonetic mix-ups such as spoonerisms, obscure words and meanings, clever rhetorical excursions, oddly formed sentences, and telling character names – such as The Importance of Being Earnest (Earnest being both a name and an adjective) – are common examples of word play.
Interpreting idioms literally, contradictions, and redundancies are often used in word play, as in Tom Swifties:
"Hurry up and get to the back of the ship," Tom said sternly.
Linguistic fossils and set phrases are common fodder for word play, as in Wellerisms:
"We'll have to rehearse that," said the undertaker as the coffin fell out of the car.
Another use of fossils is in using antonyms of unpaired words – “I was well-coiffed and sheveled,” (from “disheveled”).