Words, words, words

As William Shakespeare crafted plays such as Hamlet, he also generated many new turns of phrase which have entered into English use. One of those is the following exchange between Lord Plotinus and Hamlet:

“Lord Polonius: What do you read, my lord? 
Hamlet: Words, words, words. 
Lord Polonius: What is the matter, my lord? 
Hamlet: Between who? 
Lord Polonius: I mean, the matter that you read, my lord.”

― William Shakespeare, Hamlet

There is more to meaning than the plain sense of a word.

For people whose “wordsmithing” has a serious objective in effective communication, playing with words can offer new possibilities to engage our audience and create shared meaning.

Repetition can add emphasis, but if extended it can suggest irrelevance.

Multiple potential meanings—even for a simple and familiar phrase—challenge both the writer and the reader.

If we are seeking clarity, we may wish to minimise the inherent ambiguity. If we are wishing to seduce our readers into unfamiliar possibilities, we may exploit the ambiguity.

Native speakers acquire some natural facility with these word games, but those seeking mastery of another language need to be intentional about the art form of effective communication.

Practice makes perfect.

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