Which could exhume a response like, "Lul, nice term for this type of pun subgenre." A pun is

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.

But I'm not sure of this type of subgenre.

Edit: If it's not a pun (the jury seems out on whether it counts, I didn't think it was myself until I saw it included any play on words), an answer on what type of joke it is would then suffice.

  • 5
    Not relevant to your word request, but those aren’t puns. A pun relies on a word having different meanings (or two homonyms with different meanings) see yourdictionary.com/articles/examples-puns
    – Dale M
    Commented Sep 1, 2023 at 13:16
  • 2
    Regarding whether it's a pun, a pun is a play on words. Cambridge defines a play on words as "a humorous use of a word with more than one meaning or that sounds like another word". A play on words is not synonymous with wordplay.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Sep 1, 2023 at 13:23
  • 8
    what is 'cheez dumb' supposed to be a play on?
    – Spagirl
    Commented Sep 1, 2023 at 13:33
  • 5
    Where have you seen this? It seems like something you just made up, so you get to name it. Some forms of wordplay are named after someone famous for using it, like spoonerisms and Tom Swifties. So you could call it a 14094230ism. :)
    – Barmar
    Commented Sep 1, 2023 at 18:48
  • 4
    In the United States, it's called a "Dad joke". Though it's not by any means the only kind. Another term often used is "cringe". Commented Sep 1, 2023 at 19:29

2 Answers 2


Creating new words (neologism) from undoing or modifying an apparent affix is called:

'back formation'

The classic humorous use is:

underwhelm (v.) 1953 (implied in underwhelming), a facetious play on overwhelm, with under.

A famous user of back formation is P.G. Wodehouse:

"He spoke with a certain what-is-it in his voice, and I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled..."

(from The Code of the Woosters)

Many coinages, either entirely new ones or revanchisms of archaic words, are created using back formation. Usually they sound humorous because of their jolting quasifamiliarity.

Another term for this phenomenon is 'filling a lexical gap' or unpaired word, meaning a word that just doesn't seem to have its opposite.

A long example of many negation back formations comes from a New Yorker humor piece:

It had been a rough day, so when I walked into the party I was very chalant, despite my efforts to appear gruntled and consolate. I was furling my wieldy umbrella for the coat check when I saw her standing alone in a corner. She was a descript person, a woman in a state of total array. Her hair was kempt, her clothing shevelled, and she moved in a gainly way. I wanted desperately to meet her, but I knew I'd have to make bones about it, since I was travelling cognito...

A popular media version of this in English invented in the 1980's is called a sniglet for 'words that should be in the dictionary but aren't'.

  • Don't worry, I'm entirely aware of what you're going to complain about.
    – Mitch
    Commented Sep 1, 2023 at 19:34
  • 4
    Now I'm wondering what people are going to complain about.
    – user486619
    Commented Sep 1, 2023 at 20:08
  • This seems like close to like a subgenre of the subgenre I'm asking about. They seem to use opposite terms (that may not exist) that are only parts of the original word or term, like just removing the prefix. Rather than any opposite word.
    – user486619
    Commented Sep 1, 2023 at 20:12
  • This does not answer the question: "adult" is not a back formation of "child"; moreover you can only talk about back formation when the word exists, which is not the case for sky-low, outcline, and all these words in general. On top of that the fundamental idea of opposition is absent from all the concepts proposed. The fact that the morphology is often a matter of back formation in this usage adds little to a definition of the rhetorical process at hand. Morphology can be the basis for a rhetorical device, but it is a separate topic.
    – LPH
    Commented Sep 2, 2023 at 0:18
  • Just to be clear, 'adult' is used as the opposite of 'kid', but good points.
    – user486619
    Commented Sep 2, 2023 at 1:03

There is probably no single-word term.

This is a rhetorical device, otherwise called figure of speech.

(Wikipedia) A figure of speech or rhetorical figure is a word or phrase that intentionally deviates from ordinary language use in order to produce a rhetorical effect. Figures of speech are traditionally classified into schemes, which vary the ordinary sequence of words, and tropes, where words carry a meaning other than what they ordinarily signify.

Among the second of the two categories, i.e. the tropes, are found two subcategories that this series of usages might concern, the puns and the malapropisms.

(Wikipedia) A pun, also rarely known as paronomasia, is a form of word play that exploits multiple meanings of a term, or of similar-sounding words, for an intended humorous or rhetorical effect. These ambiguities can arise from the intentional use of homophonic, homographic, metonymic, or figurative language. […] A pun differs from a malapropism in that a malapropism is an incorrect variation on a correct expression, while a pun involves expressions with multiple (correct or fairly reasonable) interpretations. Puns may be regarded as in-jokes or idiomatic constructions, especially as their usage and meaning are usually specific to a particular language or its culture.

As the words that are used in order to obtain a rhetorical effect do not exist, the device used is not a pun but a malaproprism.

(Wikipedia) A malapropism (also called a malaprop, acyrologia, or Dogberryism) is the use of an incorrect word in place of a word with a similar sound, either unintentionally or for comedic effect, resulting in a nonsensical, often humorous utterance.
Humorous malapropisms are the type that attract the most attention and commentary, but bland malapropisms are common in speech and writing.

Note The process of back formation referred to in another answer does not apply since the words do not exist.

Example (Wikipedia)

  • "Sure, if I reprehend any thing in this world it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs!"
    ("vernacular"; "oracular" is a word but in this compbination it means nothing, so this is just as if it did not exist. Note that this is a bland malaproprism and not a humourous one.)

As there is no finer analysis of this device in Wikipedia or anywhere else I can get my hand on on the net, there is one thing left to define: a category of malaproprism that are conceived on the idea of the substitution of a word or part of a word that is an opposite. One might then speak of antithetical malaproprisms.

(Cambridge Dictionary) antithetical adjective, formal
exactly the opposite of someone or something or of each other

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