Word Play

Using Fun Figures of Speech

What’s a figure of speech? Words taken out of their literal meaning to create a vivid or dramatic picture. Play with them in your writing!


Matching or repetition of consonants or repeating of the same letter (or sound) at the beginning of words. Examples:

  • Papa’s potatoes and poultry were a big hit at the potluck.
  • Dewdrops danced on the Day Lilies’ tongue.    


Aphorisms are short, pointed sentences expressing a wise or clever observation or a general truth.

  • A good time to keep your mouth shut is when you’re in deep water.
  • If you don’t have a sense of humor, you probably don’t have any sense at all.
  • There are no new sins; the old ones just get more publicity.


A sentence that reads forward and backward like a mirror, often used in speeches in an artistic, persuasive way. Examples of chiasmuses:

  • Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country. (John F. Kennedy)
  • People in cars cause accidents and accidents in cars cause people. (Garrison Keillor)
  • Gossip is the art of saying nothing in a way that leaves practically nothing unsaid. (Walter Winchell)


Colloquialisms are informal expressions (slang) that play a role in how we communicate, but shouldn’t be used in formal speech or writing (unless it’s dialogue). Examples: 

  • Gonna and wanna
  • There ain’t nothin’ to it.
  • He done good.


“Proper names that have become improper and uncommonly common.” That’s how author Willard R. Espy described eponyms, which are words coined after people’s names.  

Byronic: One who is melancholic, passionate, melodramatic, and disregards societal norms. Named after poet Lord Byron (1788-1824) who displayed these characteristics as did his poetry.

Orwellian: Of or relating to a totalitarian state in which citizens’ activities are tightly controlled. Named after George Orwell, pen name of Eric Blair (1903-1950), whose novel Nineteen Eighty-Four depicted a futuristic totalitarian state.

Draconian: Unusually harsh. Named after Draco (late 7th century BCE), Athenian legislator, noted for the harshness of his code of laws.


These are words that are spelled the same but differ in pronunciation. Examples:

  • Close – (CLOZE) to shut; (CLOHSS) nearby
  • Lead – (LEED) to guide; (LED) a metallic element
  • Tear – (TARE) to rip; (TEER) a drop of the clear liquid emitted by the eye

Homonyms and Homophones

Homonyms are spelled the same but differ in meaning while homophones are pronounced the same but differ in meaning, origin, and sometimes spelling. Examples of homonyms:

  • Bank (a place to deposit money) and bank (a river’s edge)
  • Fair (county fair), fair (reasonable), fair (in appearance as fair-skinned)

 Examples of homophones:

  • Cite (to quote as an authority or example), sight (to see), site (location or place)
  • Sea (body of water) and see (vision)


This figure of speech adds exaggeration to your writing. Hyperbole (hy-PER-buh-lee) statements are not literally true but are used for emphasis. Examples of hyperbole:

  • Her feet were as big as skis.
  • I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.
  • I’ve heard that joke a thousand times.


Named after Richard Sheridan’s character Mrs. Malaprop in The Rivals, malapropisms are a comic misuse of language (akin to Word Trippers but not the same). Examples of malapropisms:

  • He had to use a fire distinguisher.
  • Dad says the monster is just a pigment of my imagination
  • My sister has extra-century perception.


A metaphor lets us use one image to conjure up another. Overused metaphors are considered clichés. Examples of metaphors:

  • You are my sunshine.
  • All the world’s a stage.
  • The thick blanket of snow covered the frozen field.

These three metaphors about life were recently featured in one of my all-time favorite ezines, Dr. Mardy’s Quotes of the Week.

“Life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act.”  – Truman Capote

 “Life is a great big canvas, and you should throw all the paint on it you can.” – Danny Kaye

“Life is the art of drawing without an eraser.” – John W. Gardner


An oxymoron takes two incongruous or contradictory terms and puts them together to express two contrasting qualities in one concept. Examples of oxymora:

  • Old news
  • Dull roar
  • Open secret
  • Random order


A word, phrase, verse, or sentence that reads the same backward or forward. Examples of palindromes:

  • Straw – warts
  • Do geese see God?
  • Never odd or even


A pangram uses all 26 letters of the alphabet. Examples of pangrams:

  • The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.
  • Watch Jeopardy! Alex Trebek’s fun TV quiz game.


A figure of speech that gives “human” characteristics (emotion, honesty, volition, etc.) to an animal, object, or idea. Examples of Personification:

  • The haughty peacock strutted around his mate.
  • Fate frowned on her success.
  • My car was happy to be washed.


Pleonasm consists of two concepts (usually two words) that are redundant. Examples of pleonasms:

  • boiling hot
  • cash money
  • dark night
  • empty hole
  • little baby
  • pair of twins


Makes a comparison using “as” or “like” to show how two things that are not alike in most ways are similar in another way. Examples of similes:

  • Busy as a beaver.
  • Mad as a wet hen.
  • The snow was as thick as a down blanket.


Words or phrases in which letters or syllables get swapped. Examples of spoonerisms:

  • I’m driving in the right lane, for I’m driving in a light rain.
  • Tease my ears, for Ease my tears.
  • Wave the sails, for Save the whales.

Most of these figures of speech came from Karen Reddick’s Grammar Done Right, a highly recommended book that explains grammar simply and clearly.

One response to “Word Play

  1. Thank you for referencing Grammar Done Right in this week’s blog. I never get tired of reading these.
    – Karen Reddick, author of Grammar Done Right

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