There seem to be two key signs, or trademarks, of specie intelligence. First is the ability of an animal to communicate with its kind. Second, believe it or not, is the degree to which it engages in social play. As human beings, it looks like we lucked out. Cultures around the world have combined communication and having fun to become masters in, you guessed it, wordplay.
Examples of American favorites include puns, tongue-twisters, cross-word puzzles, anagrams, palindromes, and the list goes on and on. While most people are familiar with puns and tongue-twisters (a great way to improve pronunciation, by the way) few have close relationships with anagrams and palindromes.
Anagrams and palindromes are indeed a mental challenge, replete with the ‘ah-ha’ moment when you finally figure one out. An anagram is a word that allows you to rearrange its letters to create a new word… often with some kind of shared meaning. For example, if you reorganize the letters in ‘Clint Eastwood’ you get, ‘Old West Action’. The word ‘dormitory’ becomes ‘dirty room’. No argument there!
Palindromes are words that have the same meaning when spelled either forwards or backwards. The word comes from the Greek, ‘to run back again’. Examples include ‘civic’ and ‘radar’. A palindromic phrase takes wit and prowess to create; a good example is ‘Murder for a jar of red rum!’ To top the list of most cleverly devised palindromes is the term created to define an irrational fear of palindromes, “aibohphobia!”
Now a holorime is a horse of an altogether different color. These are phrases that sound the same but have very different meanings. As a phonetician, holorimes are of course dear to my heart. Sometimes they make sense and sometimes they don’t. ‘Lettuce get married since we cantaloupe’ is obviously illogical, until you realize it’s actually ‘Let us get married since we can’t elope.’ My favorite? A childcare center called ‘Merry Pop Ins Child Care!’
If you have puns, tongue-twisters, lipograms, spooners, chiasmus, double entendres, or any other example of wordplay that you’d like to share, please don’t hold back!