The Clowning Linguist: How to Write using Word Play


The idea of “wordplay” is putting words together to form new words, puns, witty words, funny sounds, juxtaposing meanings, double meanings, exaggerations, strange combinations, clever wording, a play on words, or sounds and words that are funny because they contain explosive sounds like the letter k, p, b, t, d, and g.

The examples and exercises below are phrases I have come up and used in my stories, in titles of workshops I have taught and even in my every day usage. If I am going to write a funny story, I let the reader know what to expect upfront with a title like, “Putting the Romance Back into Necromancy,” “Aladdin’s Neti Pot,” or “Debby Does Delta Draconis.”


Examples of Wordplay:

Hipster Jesus, Shabby sheik, crap-tacular, bellylicious, the clowning linguist, oxymoronic, Putting the Romance Back into Necromancy


Examples of Puns:

The pun-isher, “That’s so punny,” Edgar Allen Poetry, Cthulhu only uses conscentacles, vampires suck, “A hangover is a wrath of grapes,” “I went to a shellfish disco last week and pulled a muscle,” “I bet you’re up to your ears in corn.”

Read some shaggy dog stories like Reginald Bretnor/Grendel Briarton’s Feghoot stories.


Examples of Malapropism:

Misuse or substitution of a word. Salivation Army, decapitated coffee, comma sutra, “That’s so punny.”


Example of funny sounds:

Cute, Crunchy Kittens


Examples of Exaggeration:

My helping of goat soup was as big as a plus-sized troll.

She was like literally going to the mall when she literally fell head over heels in like literal lust for him.



Funny Sounds exercise: Create a list of words that start or end with the letters k, p, b, t, d, and g. String a couple of them together to make a sentence or phrase.

Pun Exercise: The element that makes a pun funny is context. Be aware, without the context of a story, these aren’t going to seem witty, funny or clever. But this exercise will stretch your pun-tastic skills.

Step 1: List some words that sound similar but have different meanings. (Example: ear, hear, here, hair, hare)

Step 2: Write an ordinary sentence that uses one of these words. Cross out the selected word and replace it with the word that sounds similar. (Example: I went to the hair dresser.)     Insert Hare

Step 3: Context

Think about you this would be used for your target audience. If my target audience is a group of seven-year-olds this would be perfect:

Q: Where do rabbits go to get their fur cleaned?

A: The hare dresser.