Полисемия и омонимия как средства достижения комического эффекта | Статья в журнале «Юный ученый»

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Рубрика: Иностранные языки

Опубликовано в Юный учёный №2 (5) март 2016 г.

Дата публикации: 05.03.2016

Статья просмотрена: 17 раз

Библиографическое описание:

Недельчева Е. П., Деркач Т. П. Полисемия и омонимия как средства достижения комического эффекта // Юный ученый. — 2016. — №2. — С. 36-38. — URL https://moluch.ru/young/archive/5/315/ (дата обращения: 21.01.2020).



The object of study is paronomasia as a unique phenomenon and polysemy and homonymy as essential vehicles to create a humorous effect.

The subject of the research is a pun in English literature: its role in texts and some peculiarities of paronomasia.

The purpose of the investigation is to analyze paronomasia as a complex phenomenon created by polysemy and homonymy.

A pun is a play on words in which a humorous effect is produced by using a word that suggests two or more meanings or by exploiting similar sounding words having different meanings.

Humorous effects created by puns depend upon the ambiguities words entail. For instance, in a sentence “A happy life depends on a liver”, liver can refer to the organ liver or simply the person who lives. Similarly, in a famous saying “Atheism is a non-prophet institution” the word “prophet” is used instead of “profit” to produce a humorous effect.

Words which sound the same but have different meanings are called puns. A better way to describe it would be “a play on words”. Although such terms render ambiguity to a sentence, it is often added for a humorous or rhetorical effect.

Polysemy and homonymy are essential vehicles to create such linguistic phenomenon as paronomasia.

Polysemy is the coexistence of many possible meanings for a single word or phrase.The word polysemy comes from the Greek words πολυ-, poly-, “many” and σήμα, sêma, “sign”.

Flour was a polysemic word meaning both the grain used for bread and the flowers of plants. The word ‘flower’ was created to retain the same sound, but to distinguish the two meanings. In a twist, ‘flour’ has largely the one meaning, but ‘flower’ has taken on the meanings associated with the word ‘blossom’ as well to become a polysemy.

Homonymy is coexistence of the words that sound like one another, particularly when they are pronounced in the same way, but spelt differently. The term is derived from Greek “homonymous” (homos — “the same” and onoma — “name”).


Q: What's purple and conquered the world?

A: Alexander the Grape!

Not quite the knee slapper either, but this joke is an even better example of homonyms in action. Grapes are purple, and «grape» sounds close enough to «great» to act like a homonym here, but that's not nearly all.Concord is a type of grape, and «concord» is a homonym with «conquered». It's really quite clever when you think about it, and the leaps of the mind to make all those connections in a few moments are pretty amazing not to mention enjoyable.

Types of puns

A pun can be of two types: Typographic and Visual. A visual pun ispun involving an image or images (in addition to or instead of language), often based on a rebus.

Typographic is further divided into five:

Homophonic pun: This type of pun uses homonyms (words that sound the same) with different meanings. For example: “The wedding was so emotional that even the cake was in tiers.”

Homographic pun: This type of pun uses words that are spelled the same but sound different. These puns are often written rather than spoken, as they briefly trick the reader into reading the “wrong” sound. For example, “You can tune a guitar, but you can’t tuna fish. Unless you play bass.” In this case, “tuna fish” is a homophonic pun because it is a homonym for “tune a.” The word “bass,” though, functions as a homographic pun in that the word “bass” pronounced with a long “a” refers to a type of instrument while “bass” pronounced with a short “a” is a type of fish.

Homonymic pun: A homonymic pun contains aspects of both the homophonic pun and the homographic pun. In this type of pun, the wordplay involves a word that is spelled and sounds the same, yet has different meanings. For example, “Two silk worms had a race and ended in a tie.” A “tie” can of course either be when neither party wins, but in this pun also refers to the piece of clothing usually made from silk.

Compound pun: A compound pun includes more than one pun. Here is a famous compound pun from English rhetorician and theologian Richard Whately: “Why can a man never starve in the Great Desert? Because he can eat the sand which is there. But what brought the sandwiches there? Why, Noah sent Ham, and his descendants mustered and bred.” There are several separate puns, including the pun on “sand which” and “sandwich,” as well as “Ham” (a Biblical figure) and “ham” and the homophonic puns on “mustered”/“mustard” and “bred”/“bread.”

Recursive pun: This type of pun requires understanding the first half of the joke to understand the second. For example, “A Freudian slip is when you say one thing but mean your mother.” The term “Freudian slip” was coined by the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud to refer to a mistake in speaking where one word is replaced with another. Freud proposed that these mistakes hinted at unconscious or repressed desires. He also had several theories about the relationship between children (especially boys) and their mothers. Therefore, this pun requires knowledge of Freud’s theories and recognition that the pun itself is a Freudian slip with the substitution of “your mother” for “another.”

  Puns in the “Importance of being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde

Most of Wilde’s puns are based on polysemy. Such puns are realised in succession, that is at first the word appears before a reader in one meaning and then in the other.

This realization is more vivid in dialogues, because in such cases the pun acquires more humorous effect as a result of misunderstanding. In many cases the addressee of the dialogue is the main source of interference.

Almost all Oscar Wilde’s puns based on polycemy are realized in dialogues, in fact the remark of the addressee.

e.g. “Lady H.: she lets her clever tongue run away with her.

Lady C.: is that the only Mrs. Allonby allows to run

away with her?”

The first meaning of the expression “to run away with” — is “not to be aware of what you are speaking”, and the second meaning is “to make off taking something with you”. The first meaning is figurative and the second is direct.

e.g. “Mrs. Allonby: the one advantage of playing with fire is

that one never gets even singed.

It is the people who do not know how to play with it

who get burned up”.

Here the first meaning of the expression “to play with fire” — “to singe” is direct, and the second “to spoil one’s reputation” is figurative.

e.g. “Jack: as far as I can make out, the poachers are the

only people who make anything out of it.”

The first meaning of the expression: “to make out” — “to understand” is figurative, and the second — “to make benefit from something” is direct.

Puns in the “Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare.

Mercutio: Nay, gentle Romeo, we must have you dance.

Romeo: “Not I, believe me. You have dancing shoes with nimblesoles; I have a soulof lead” (Romeo and Juliet)

Sole the underside of footwear or a golf club

Soul the immaterial part of a person; the actuating cause of an individual life

One of the cleverest and most morbid poems comes as a joke from a fatally-stabbed Mercutio, who stops joking to explain that “tomorrow … you shall find me a grave man.” Grave means serious, but here it also alludes to his imminent death.

Puns in the novel “Great Expectations” by CharlesDickens

“They seemed to think the opportunity lost, if they failed to point the conversation to me, every now and then, and stick the point into me”

The first “point” means transfer. The second “point” means the idea.

Multilingual pun

I have noticed a unique use of multilingual puns in Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita”. For example, the name of a character “Humbert” is a pun in two languages. In French it means “Shadow” and in Spanish it means “man”. Similarly, “Lolita” changing her name to “Dolores” which means pain in Latin and her nick name “Dolly” refers to a toy in English.


Puns in “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll

[Alice:] ‘You see the earth takes twenty-four hours to turn round on its axis–‘

‘Talking of axes,’ said the Duchess, ‘chop off her head!’

Lewis Carroll was yet another author who was a fan of using puns in his work. In this example of pun, Alice is trying to impress the Duchess with her worldly knowledge. When she uses the word “axis,” though, the Duchess makes the homophonic connection to “axes” and calls for Alice’s execution.

No pun intended!

The phrase “no pun intended” is quite common. People say this when they unintentionally say something that could be construed as a pun, but in fact they don’t mean to make light of the situation. Consider the following situation:

A band breaks up and when explaining why, the lead singer says, “We’d hit a low note. No pun intended.” The “low note” here acts as a cliche for something being bad, yet could be taken literally since the band makes music together. The singer makes clear, however, that she means “low note” in the figurative sense.

Some people consider puns to be quite foolish and worthy only of eye-rolls or groans. However, puns can require a good deal of knowledge on the part of the audience (especially in recursive puns, as explained above). If the puns are particularly clever they are rewarding for the reader or listener when they decipher the pun. Many famous authors used puns to great effect, perhaps none more so than William Shakespeare. Shakespeare used language with such dexterity that his puns often delight and surprise the reader.

Paronomasia is a rhetorical device which can be defined as a phrase intentionally used to exploit the confusion between words having similar sounds but different meanings.




  1.                Ginzburg R. S. et al. A Course in Modern English Lexicology.M., 1979 pp.72–82
  2.                Lewis Carroll Alice's adventures in Wonderland pp. 23–24
  3.                Longman Lexicon of Contemporary English.Longman.1981pp.23–25
  4.                Charles Dickens Great Expectations pp.57–60
  5.                The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English. Oxford 1964., pp.147, 167, 171.
  6.                Oscar Wilde “Importance of being Earnest” 30–54

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