The following is a figure of speech I've seen a couple of times in my native language of German.
Though I have no reason to doubt it exists, I don't remember ever seeing it used in English, so I've come up with two examples myself:

  • Every time you wear your heart on your sleeve, or give someone short shrift, you're using a phrase coined by Shakespeare.
  • People who take everything for "granite" might not be the most educated.

These sentences deal with the mentioning of these terms - saying "I'm wearing my heart on my sleeve", or misspelling "granted" as "granite" - but they're worded like they deal with their using, as if they were about actually wearing your heart on your sleeve or taking things for granted.

To once again illustrate the difference, here are the same sentence with the figure of speech removed:

  • Every time you say "I'm wearing my heart on a sleeve", or use the phrase "to give someone short shrift", you're using a phrase coined by Shakespeare.
  • People who say "take for granite" instead of "take for granted" might not be the most educated.

No list I've used has mentioned this figure of speech. I could just name it "equating usage and mentioning" and call it a day (and by calling it a day, using a phrase originating in the 19th century, just by the way), but I'd really like to know if this has been observed before, and given an official name.

  • They're generally called "play on words", I don't know if there's a more specific term for this particular type.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jan 16, 2015 at 19:08
  • 3
    Philosophers just call them "use/mention equivalences" or "use/mention confusions". Commented Jan 16, 2015 at 19:13
  • 1
    Isn't the phrase "to give someone short shrift"/ (No a or the). books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – Jim
    Commented Jan 16, 2015 at 23:49
  • @Jim seems to be the case; edited.
    – vvye
    Commented Jan 17, 2015 at 4:56

2 Answers 2


They're puns that depend on the use-mention distinction, as many puns do, so we could reasonably call them "use-mention puns", a phrase that's had some use, but not a lot.

  • 3
    The second one is definitely a pun on granite/granted. The first seems not to be in the same category at all.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jan 16, 2015 at 20:18
  • @AndrewLeach suggesting that Shakespeare is involved in what you are actually doing is punning. It's not a slap-your-thighs, split-your-sides, wet-your-pants hilarious pun, but it's a pun.
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Jan 16, 2015 at 20:30
  • I have to agree with Andrew Leach. And the use-mention distinction appears to come from philosophy. I assumed the question was about English usage...
    – user106437
    Commented Jan 16, 2015 at 20:48
  • @daniel are you trolling?
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Jan 16, 2015 at 20:58
  • Because I disagree with you and agree with AL I am being disruptive? Wow.
    – user106437
    Commented Jan 16, 2015 at 21:07

To me, there is a double meaning that occurs because the sentence is first parsed literally, and then parsed figuratively. This kind of word play may be considered a type of paraprosdokian:

A paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence, phrase, or larger discourse is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe or reinterpret the first part. It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect, sometimes producing an anticlimax.

I do agree that the second sentence may qualify as a pun on granite/granted.

  • While I still maintain that the first is also a form of pun, I think you have the better answer here; though you don't address the use-mention aspect of it, "a use-mention paraprosdokian" seems reasonable, and I think you're on the button by thinking of paraprosdokians rather than puns.
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Jan 18, 2015 at 16:20
  • I'm not sure this qualifies as a paraprosdokian, since to me that implies that the "punchline" must be at the end and changing its position would diminish the quality of the sentence as a paraprosdokian. The examples I gave, however, would work just as well in reverse: "You're using phrases coined by Shakespeare every time you..."
    – vvye
    Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 9:44
  • @vvye: I assumed that the "figure of speech" of failing to distinguish use from mention was intended for humor, since otherwise it is just an ambiguous statement or a logical error.
    – jxh
    Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 23:48

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.