Whether we know it or not, we’re always playing little tricks with the language. Wordplay appears to be inborn. And every rhetorical device we use apparently has been given its own term to describe it. (The linguists cartel saw to this.)
Here’s three nice ones:
Litotes (LIE-tuh-zees) – The most cautious way to be nice, the double negative compliment is really not all that bad.
Syllepsis (seh-LEP-sis) – Sometimes a word is given two jobs at once. Like burned here: “Yes, a multi-tasker: She burned breakfast, and me up, at the same time this morning.”
Apophasis (uh-PAY-feh-sis) – I would never suggest that people who are into playing with words are possibly a little dorkish.
- Can you find three of your own favorite words about words?
- Which word is doing double duty in this quote from Churchill, and what are its two meanings? “There is at least one thing worse than fighting with allies – that is, without them.” Now write a syllepsis yourself. Maybe something that includes a goat.
- Turn to the deskmate on your right and “compliment” him or her through litotes. Feel free to focus mostly on their hygiene.