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I’m wondering if English has a verb or verb phrase that (in its transitive usage) describes the act of using a word or phrase with an intention of making a pun, double entendre, etc. in which that word or phrase creates a humorous or rhetorical effect with another, or one that (in its intransitive usage) describes the result of such an act in a word or phrase or a pair of words or phrases.

For instance, the following example (taken from the Wikipedia entry for word play) uses the word “sternly” with a double meaning of “stern” as “the rearmost part of a ship or boat”.

"Hurry up and get to the back of the ship," Tom said sternly.

I’m wondering whether this situation can be described in either of the following structures.

The author [transitive verb] “sternly” [preposition (e.g. with, against)] “stern”.

“Sternly” [intransitive verb] [preposition (e.g. with, against)] “stern”.

“Sternly” and “stern” [intransitive verb].

For those who understand Japanese, I’m looking for an equivalent of かける, as in なぞかけ, or its intransitive version かかる. (This meaning is not among the definitions in the linked pages.)

I already suspect there may be no exact match. In that case, I would still like to know how to concisely describe a similar situation.

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quip

As a noun, "quip" means: a witty remark. As a verb, "quip" means: to make a witty remark. (e.g., The author quips with "sternly," referencing both Tom's harsh demeanor and the location Tom was directing to at the back—or stern—of the ship.)

pun

"Pun" isn't just a noun. It's also a verb. So in those examples you gave, you might use the verb "pun." (e.g., The author puns with "sternly," referencing both Tom's harsh demeanor and the location Tom was directing to at the back—or stern—of the ship.)

By the way, since your example comes directly from Tom Swift, I might, if I were you, be inclined to employ a Tom Swifty by adverbifying that eponymous noun for such wordplay. (e.g., Author Edward Stratemeyer Tom-Swiftly quips, referencing with "sternly" both Tom's harsh demeanor and the location Tom was directing to at the back—or stern—of the ship.)

Also, you'll notice my use of present tense in the examples. While the author obviously wrote that in the past, the convention is to use what is called the "literary present tense," always using the present tense when talking or writing about writers or artists as they express themselves in their work, even when that action is complete and in the past.

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  • Thanks. Your answer has helped me conclude there is no simple way to directly describe the relationship two words or phrases are put into in wordplay. Your examples all consist of a verb that describes the act of making a witty remark, such as "quip" and "pun", followed by an additional explanation in "referencing..." The Japanese verbs directly work on the word or phrase used in it. It's like saying "to hook word A on word B".
    – aguijonazo
    May 16 at 13:12

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