Wordplay has been a mainstay of the British sense of humour from Shakespeare onward. Double meanings lead to misunderstandings, chaos and hilarity. The style has been adopted and adapted enthusiastically in the US. This joke, which could have been invented either side of the Big Pond, reached me not long ago:
‘A man is out in the countryside enjoying a day’s shooting. He has a fair bag of innocent creatures when he comes across a man’s body in some woodland. Luckily he’s within mobile range, so he rings the Emergency Service. “I think he’s dead!” he says, in a bit of a panic. “Just keep calm,” says the operator, “Breathe slowly. If you think he’s dead just put the phone down a moment and and make sure.” There is silence, then a loud bang. “Right, now what do I do?”‘
That shows that you can’t be too careful about what you say, what you hear [or think you hear] and what you write! The spoken word can be usually corrected without too much difficulty, unlike that joke, but the written word – from email to encyclopedia, from text to thesis – needs to be selected with great care. Words are the cement that holds life together. In this site we will be exploring this and other aspects of writing along the way.