For example, given a common saying or sequence of words, like

A picture is worth a thousand words

One reverses the order and obtains

A word is worth a thousand pictures

Is there a name for this kind of wordplay/whatever it is? I seem to hear them all the time, I can give more examples if needed.

  • Ronald, quoting from your question "A word is worth a thousand pictures" is not common usage, but in situations where using "A word is worth a thousand pictures" can sound brilliant, using it is not restricted, but I do not seem to recall any specific terminology describing what you have questioned about because it is not common usage. More examples would be helpful.
    Dec 13, 2012 at 3:13
  • A word is not worth a thousand pictures.
    – Luke_0
    Dec 13, 2012 at 3:22
  • 7
    @Luke Not even "Polaroid"?
    – Ian Atkin
    Dec 13, 2012 at 4:00
  • 1
    @Luke: What if the word is "Om"? Or if it's the word that became flesh? Dec 13, 2012 at 4:03
  • I suppose I'll recant that... Polaroid. LOL
    – Luke_0
    Dec 13, 2012 at 14:16

2 Answers 2


An inversion such as "a word is worth a thousand pictures" is described as an implied chiasmus by Wordsmith.org founder, Anu Garg, here, quoting these immortal words of Kermit the Frog:

Time's fun when you're having flies.

A chiasmus is "a rhetorical inversion of the second of two parallel structures." In the link, which is well worth reading, the examples of the inversion are of the sort: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." So the implied chiasmus would be simply the second part, where the first (unspoken) one is the better known aphorism ("time flies when you're having fun" or "a picture is worth a thousand words").

  • 1
    Frankly dam, I don't give a deer!
    – Ian Atkin
    Dec 13, 2012 at 3:57
  • 2
    Excellent link. The word's a new one on me - but examples certainly abound, so that's a handy addition to my lexicon, thanks! Dec 13, 2012 at 3:59
  • +1 great answer. I suspect the kind of straight inversion in the OP's example is at best a special sub-set of (implied) chiasmus.
    – Kris
    Dec 13, 2012 at 5:43


Screaming: Words speak louder than actions ("Actions speak louder than words")

is a structure that imitates OP's example of "A word is worth a thousand pictures", then it is a

Transpositional pun (Wikipedia)

a complicated pun format with two aspects. It involves transposing the words in a well-known phrase or saying to get a daffynition-like clever redefinition of a well-known word unrelated to the original phrase. The redefinition is thus the first aspect, the transposition the second aspect.

"A hard man is good to find." - Mae West
"No Left Turn Unstoned"

TP on UNCF's motto, "A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste."

(source: wasteisaterriblethingtomind.com)


  • 1
    No down vote, but the changing in meaning of one of the words required by the pun seems to discount this as an answer.
    – user14070
    Dec 13, 2012 at 13:27
  • @JoshuaDrake Change in meaning is not a requirement, according to the definition above. Is there another definition of TP that you know of?
    – Kris
    Dec 13, 2012 at 14:51
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    How is it not a requirement when; "The redefinition is thus the first aspect"?(emphasis mine)
    – user14070
    Dec 13, 2012 at 17:07
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    That is a redefinition of terms as used in the original. Where as in the OPs question no redefinition occurs. As I said, no down vote, as the idea is related, but not identical. :P
    – user14070
    Dec 14, 2012 at 17:28
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    Joshua Drake has the high ground in this argument, but I share his implicit gratitude (no down vote) to Kris for having brought our attention to the transpositional pun as a close cousin of the implied chiasmus that provoked the OP's post. Dec 18, 2012 at 23:25

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