Quotes on wordplay

What writers and others say

Quotes on wordplay

Image by Adam Solomon

“The writer has to take the most used, most familiar objects — nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs — ball them together and make them bounce.”
— Maya Angelou, poet, writer and educator, quoted in Smithsonian Magazine, April 2003

“Why isn’t ‘phonetic’ spelled the way it sounds?”
The Atomic Café

“You can taste a word.”
— Pearl Bailey, American popular singer, quoted in Newsweek

“When you write, you make a sound in the reader’s head. It can be a dull mumble — that’s why so much government prose makes you sleepy — or it can be a joyful noise, a sly whisper, a throb of passion.”
— Russell Baker, U.S. columnist and journalist

“Words are things, and a small drop of ink, falling like dew upon thoughts, produces that which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.”
— Lord Byron, notorious Romantic poet and satirist

“Words fascinate me. They always have. For me, browsing in a dictionary is like being turned loose in a bank.”
— Eddie Cantor, American comedian, singer, actor, songwriter

“I’ve known all my life that I could take a bunch of words and throw them up in the air and they would come down just right.”
— Truman Capote, American author of In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s

“The search is for the just word, the happy phrase, that will give expression to the thought, but somehow the thought itself is transfigured by the phrase when found.”
— Benjamin N. Cardozo, U.S. Supreme Court Justice

“Literary people are forever judging the quality of the mind by the turn of expression.”
— Frank Moore Colby, American encyclopedia editor and essayist

“Poetry: the best words in the best order.
— Samuel Taylor Coleridge, British poet

“Words are free born, and not the vassals of the gruff tyrants of prose to do their bidding only. They have the same right to dance and sing, as the dew drops have to sparkle, and the stars to shine.”
— Abraham Coles, author, in The Evangel

“One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper pattern at the right moment.”
— Hart Crane, modern American poet

“Language is half art, half instinct.”
— Charles Darwin, author of On the Origin of Species and creator of the theory of evolution

“How lovely are the wiles of words.”
— Emily Dickinson, prolific American poet

“To speak of ‘mere words’ is much like speaking of ‘mere dynamite.’”
— C. J. Ducasse, French-born professor of Philosophy at Brown University

“Words are the legs of the mind; they bear it about, carry it from point to point, bed it down at night, and keep it off the ground and out of the marsh and mists.”
— Richard Eder, literary critic

“Words are one of our chief means of adjusting to all the situations of life. The better control we have of our words, the more successful our adjustment will be.”
— Bergan Evans, literature professor and TV quiz show host

“All the fun’s in how you say a thing.”
— Robert Frost, four-time Pulitzer Prize-winning poet

“A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanging, it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and time in which it is used.”
— Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., U.S. Supreme Court justice

“If a picture is worth a thousand words, please paint me the Gettysburg Address.”
— Sam Horn, author, POP! Stand Out In Any Crowd

“The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.”
— Sam Horn, author, POP! Stand Out In Any Crowd

“Words that roll off the tongue stay in the brain.”
— Sam Horn, author, POP! Stand Out In Any Crowd

“Words are the hummingbirds of the imagination.”
— Elbert Hubbard, American writer, editor and printer

“A tune is more lasting than the song of birds. And a word is more lasting than the wealth of the world.”
— Irish Proverb

“In the beginning was the Word.”
— John 1: 1

“I am not so lost in lexicography as to forget that words are the daughters of earth, and that things are the sons of heaven.”
— Samuel Johnson, English writer, lexicographer, critic, and conversationalist

“Ultimately, literature is nothing but carpentry. With both, you are working with reality, material just as hard as wood.”
— Gabriel García Márquez, Colombian novelist, journalist, publisher and political activist

“Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree.”
— Ezra Pound, American modernist poet

“Every misused word revenges itself forever upon a writer’s reputation.”
— Agnes Repplier, American essayist

“Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little.”
— Tom Stoppard, English playwright

“The difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”
— Mark Twain, American author and wit

“A powerful agent is the right word. Whenever we come upon one of those intensely right words, the resulting effect is physical as well as spiritual, and electrically prompt.”
— Mark Twain, American author and wit

“My grandfather invented Cliff Notes. It all started back in 1912 … well, to make a long story short.”
— Steven Wright, American actor, writer and stand-up comedian

“What’s another word for Thesaurus?”
— Steven Wright, American actor, writer and stand-up comedian

“Words and words and words, how they gallop — how they lash their long manes and tails.”
— Virginia Woolf, British author
  • Play With Your Words

    Cut through the clutter of competing messages

    There's a little piece of your brain — it's called the Broca's area — that's responsible for helping you sort through all of the many messages you get each day.

    Play With Your Words: Cut through the clutter of competing messages

    Well-worn phrases and familiar ideas don't activate the Broca's area. Plain old 'splainin' doesn't do anything for it either. But creative techniques like wordplay do.

    At Master the Art of the Storyteller — our two-day hands-on creative-writing master class on July 25-26 in Portland — you’ll learn how to tickle your readers' Broca's area — and cut through the clutter of competing messages — with wordplay. Specifically, you’ll learn how to:

    • Go beyond twist of phrase: Learn to flip phrases; compress details; sub soundalikes; list, rhyme and twist — even coin new words.
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