For instance:

Gravity keeps you down-to-earth!

This was the only example I could say off the top of my head. However, I've seen this done a couple of times.

It's a kind of play on the word down-to-earth—words and phrases that are usually intended as a metaphor being used so literally.

What is this phenomenon called?

  • 5
    It is a pun (17th century- etymology unknown) or play on words.
    – WS2
    Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 10:16
  • The earliest reference the OED has to a pun is from 1644, which post-dates Shakespeare by nearly 30 years. I mention this since the Bard was one of literature's greatest exponents of the play on words e.g. the opening lines of Richard III - "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York", where the speaker Richard is referring to himself, a son of the House of York.
    – WS2
    Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 16:41

1 Answer 1


Such a play on words is called a pun or paronomasia (Greek: lit. "name change"). It may, as here, depend upon literalizing a metaphor or upon exploiting the near or exact homographs or homophones so frequent in English.

A pair of hunters, one from Prague, the other from Vienna, were attacked and devoured by hungry bears, a large male and his mate. A pathologist determined that the Czech was in the male.

  • Guess somebody didn't like the joke!
    – KarlG
    Commented Jan 17, 2018 at 20:24
  • LMAO. Fantastic joke, that one! Commented May 22, 2018 at 12:33

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