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Wordplay in English Language

Updated on August 22, 2014
Gloriousconfusion profile image

I love the English language, it's so expressive and colorful, with its nuances of meaning, metaphors, puns, proverbs and regional slang

This is all about Wordplay and Context

Meanings in English can be very subtle - context and slight variations make a difference

I've always loved playing with words - I learned that at my father's knee - he was a very bright lawyer and people told me he was a genius. So, of course, he was very quick on the uptake, and puns were second nature to him. He was also a stickler for accuracy, and would pick up the slightest nuance and turn it round in a humorous but educational way. He encouraged me to read a lot, and by the age of 12 I was already pouring over his technical medico-legal journals and other law magazines. It's not surprising, given these beginnings, that my ambition was to become a lawyer like my father. And so it came to pass - it took a long time for me to achieve my potential, and, sadly, he was no longer around to see me pass my law exams and qualify as a solicitor. Why am I telling you this? Because of course, words were in effect my stock-in-trade as a lawyer.

Now for some examples of wordplay:

I might, for instance, say "Pakistan plays a mean game of cricket".

The usual understanding for this phrase would be that "the Pakistan team play very well".

However, in the context of disgraceful events in Summer 2010 at Lords Cricket Ground in London, the phrase "Pakistan plays a mean game of cricket" could have an entirely different interpretation, namely that "the Pakistan Cricket team play unfairly (or aggressively)".

And to add another level of confusion, you could say "That's not cricket", which means that it is "not fair or honourable". So you might say that what the Pakistani team did was "not cricket" (even though they were playing cricket).

I can see why people learning English might find this a little confusing.

You Might Find This Helpful: The Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms - Excellent whether you are a native English speaker, or are learning English as a Second L

You can get this on Amazon

Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms (Oxford Dictionary of Current Idiomatic English)
Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms (Oxford Dictionary of Current Idiomatic English)

I have several other Oxford Dictionaries, and find them very useful and helpful. This particular dictionary was recommended to me by someone who has taught English as a Second Language for many years


And what does the word "mean"imply?

"Mean" has so many meanings (forgive the pun)!

I would say "unfair" in the context of my sentence above and that historic Pakistani cricket scandal.

But if you say "I mean to tell you something"", the word "mean" translates as"intend".

It can also mean "parsimonious, unwilling to give". An example would be "he is too mean to give a tip to the waiter".

And yet another meaning is "the average value of a set of quantities" or "equal distance from two points".

What exactly is a "Nice Distinction"?

(as opposed to any other kind of distinction)?

If I say "there is a nice distinction", this means "there is a very subtle distinction".

Whereas if I say "there is a distinction", this means "there is a noticeable difference or contrast".

Would we have so much cheating if the only prize for doing well is a medal or lots of praise? Are we too uptight about sport now that it is big business, or are sportsmen merely pawns in a game which has swept them up so that other people can make money out of them?

Take a vote and See how you match up to other voters

TAKE THIS POLL - Is Money Ruining Sport?

See results

Books on language and punctuation - Buy them from Amazon

I am sure that whatever your reason for visiting this web page, at least one of these items will be of interest to you, and maybe more.

Eats, Shoots, & Leaves
Eats, Shoots, & Leaves

A best seller in the UK!

I've got this book - it's surprisingly esmerizing - you'd never think it's just about punctuation, because it's really fun to read

Oxford American Dictionary & Thesaurus, 2e
Oxford American Dictionary & Thesaurus, 2e

I've got the English version of this -

it's brilliant, and so helpful when you are searching

for meanings, double meanings and distinctions

between meanings


"The Game of Cricket, 1790" - you can buy this poster on Amazon - this is the famous cricket poster that you saw in my introduction

Game Of Cricket, 1790, Art Poster
Game Of Cricket, 1790, Art Poster

I love this painting, so expressive of the game of cricket and the atmosphere - even though it was painted over 200 years ago, it is almost timeless


Do you know what the expression

on the right means?

I'm sure you do!

I love to hear from people,

so please leave your mark.

Is English your home language? Or do you

speak English as a second language?

Either way, I am sure there is plenty to say!

Here is my Guestbook for your Comments - Have your say about the English Language

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    • AcornOakForest profile image

      Monica Lobenstein 3 years ago from Western Wisconsin

      I am a native English speaker and there are still plenty of phrases I don't know or understand. There's definitely a reason that it's one of the more complicated languages to learn. Your word play gave some great examples!

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      @Colin323: absolutely - couldn't agree more - I think you might be right - I wouldn't object - too right!

    • profile image

      Colin323 4 years ago

      The word 'absolutely seems to be rapidly replacing 'yes', if the speaker wants to say 'yes' with more emphasis. But 'absolutely' has a range of meanings, whereas 'yes' is unequivocal. Funny how these words gain momentum and ascendancy (but not 'funny' at all really).

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      @BLouw: Just so!

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      @writerkath: I agree.

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      @Keith J Winter: Thanks for the information about phrasal verbs

    • Palitra27 profile image

      Palitra27 4 years ago

      Great lens, I learned something new today!

    • Keith J Winter profile image

      Keith Winter 4 years ago from Spain

      I have been teaching English as a foreign language for 12 years and I still have problems explaining some of the meanings of English expressions and vocabulary. Most learners have huge problems with phrasal verbs. English speakers use them all of the time without realizing it, and many native speakers don't even know what a phrasal verb is.

      Probably the most difficult word of all to explain is the verb "to get". Just take a look in a good dictionary and see how many pages are dedicated to the it. It "comes up", (phrasal verb), in dozens of phrasal verbs and idioms and often changes its meaning according to context. As "OnMe" says below "The English language can be quite confusing".

    • writerkath profile image

      writerkath 4 years ago

      I cannot imagine trying to learn our language if English weren't my first language. I give people from other cultures a lot of credit when they try to learn!

    • BLouw profile image

      Barbara Walton 4 years ago from France

      I was helping a young French student with her English and I was telling her what a word meant. "What does 'mean' mean?"

      "Ok, mean means ......... " (We resorted to the dictionary and then moved onto 'so'.) So what, I hear you say, what's so hard about 'so'? So we settled down to learn what 'so' meant and it was so difficult ..... so on and so forth. How did we get on with the English language? So so! (Enjoyed your lens so much!)

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 7 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      The English Language is interesting and can be quite confusing. I enjoyed the read. Lensrolled to my Acronyms Rhymes and Songs lens.