In his book Humorous English, Evan Esar gives example uses of devices he broadly labels synonymics. He writes of synonymic puns:

  • Many a wife sends her husband to an early grave with a series of little digs.
  • They are made for each other. He owns oil wells, and she's always gushing.

The cleverness of these jokes consists in their use of commonly associated words—grave and digs in the first, oil wells and gushing in the second.

And of synonym grouping:

  • Our florist has two children—a girl who's a budding genius and a boy who's a blooming idiot.
  • I went to see a spiritualist. She wasn't good, just medium.

Similarly, these jokes rely on the use of closely related words—florist, budding, and blooming; and spiritualist and medium (intended both as the noun meaning spiritualist and as the comparative between good and bad).

Throughout the book, which is a catalogue of comedic techniques, Esar coins original terms for the phenomena he describes, and so they aren't to be found elsewhere. The use of synonym to describe these devices seems a bit misleading, because they don't use synonyms. They do, however, use words that are quite closely related (but aren’t synonymous). Does anyone know of a technical term for this kind of wordplay? And does anyone know of any examples of its use anywhere else?

  • 1
    If an author resorts to coining expressions for the phenomenon, my guess would be that they did not find an expression extant in the language already. And since the author supposedly studied the phenomenon, my gut would tell me to accept the possibility they may be right.
    – oerkelens
    Feb 10, 2015 at 7:43
  • Sort of aphorisms? In modern usage an aphorism is generally understood to be a concise statement containing a subjective truth or observation cleverly and pithily written.
    – user66974
    Feb 10, 2015 at 7:47
  • @Josh61: but aphorisms do not necessarily rely on synonyms...
    – oerkelens
    Feb 10, 2015 at 8:17
  • There are also related words ( florist-budding) , Anyway I am only suggesting they are 'sort of'! :)
    – user66974
    Feb 10, 2015 at 8:30
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    Isn't synonymic wrong. I don't see any synonyms present. I do, however notice homonyms i.e. dig, gush, budding, and blooming. A synonym is a word which has a meaning similar to that of another word, totally different in appearance and spelling. A homonym is a word which can mean two or more different things.
    – WS2
    Feb 10, 2015 at 8:42

2 Answers 2


These are examples of a witticism known as Puns.


1. the humorous use of a word or phrase so as to emphasize or suggest its different meanings or applications, or the use of words that are alike or nearly alike in sound but different in meaning; a play on words.


It seems to be a form of double entendre (sometimes hyphenated)

a word, phrase, etc, that can be interpreted in two ways, esp one having one meaning that is indelicate

the type of humour that depends upon such ambiguity


There is no real indelicacy in these examples, and they tend to use pairs of words to elicit the double meaning. Perhaps double entendre puns might be used to distinguish them.

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