Wordplay in Advertising: Form, Meaning and Function

Sara Laviosa


Generally speaking, wordplay (or pun) is a witticism that relies for its effect on playing with different levels of language, i.e. phonological, graphological, morphological, lexical, syntactic, and textual. Puns are frequently used in commercial advertising as a rhetorical device to promote a given product or service by creating humour, attracting the reader’s attention and adding persuasive force to the message. They also reflect the cultural preferences and traditions of a country, therefore they can be fruitfully used for pedagogic purposes to raise awareness of the specific linguistic and cultural features of the foreign language. In this paper  I examine the form, meaning and function of puns that rely on the different meanings of polysemic words, the literal and non-literal senses of idioms or on bringing two homonyms together in the same utterance to produce witty remarks. After introducing the notions of homonymy, polysemy and idiom I analyse the play on words contained in a sample of advertisements selected at random from two broadsheet newspapers, The Guardian Weekend (1997) and The Independent (1997), two quality weekly magazines, Cosmopolitan (1997) and The Telegraph Magazine (1997), as well as a promotional brochure by Alliance & Leicester plc (2003) and promotional leaflets published in 2000 respectively by Royal Mail, British Telecommunications plc and Johnson & Johnson. Finally, I propose some activities that can be carried out in the LSP classroom either individually or in groups to raise awareness of some of the linguistic and cultural features characterizing the rhetoric of marketing and promotion in business language.

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