logology

A logological observation by Richard Lederer in The Word Circus: A Letter-Perfect Book (1998).

Definition:

(1) The practice and study of word play: that is, the manipulation of meanings, arrangements, sounds, spellings, and other aspects of words and letters. This use of the term logology was popularized by Dmitri A. Borgmann in his book Language on Vacation (1965). Also known as recreational linguistics.

For types and examples of word play, see "Eight Categories" (below).

(2) The study of words, or words about words. This use of the term was introduced by Kenneth Burke in The Rhetoric of Religion (1961). According to William H. Rueckert, logology is "the study of the timeless forms and principles of language, and would thus include rhetoric, in its verbal dimension, as well as grammar and poetics" (Encounters With Kenneth Burke, 1994).

Adjective: logological.

See also:

Examples and Observations (definition #1):

  • Eight Categories of Word Play
    "The eight categories of word play are:
    1. Onomastics: proper names (Bernadette), nicknames (Bernie), pseudonyms (Agatha Christie), eponyms (leotard), toponyms (paisley), aptronyms (D. Bonebreak, M.D.), demonyms (Long Islander), place names (Wilmington), business names (Curl Up and Dye).
    2. Expressions: idioms (hold your horses), proverbs (Too many cooks spoil the broth), slang (greasy spoon), catchphrases (Don't call us, we'll call you), slogans (I like Ike).
    3. Figures of Speech: similes (as due as the rent), metaphors (George is a dictionary), hyperbole (tons of money), euphemisms (between jobs), oxymorons (accreditation wisdom).
    4. Word associations: synonyms (skinny-trim), antonyms (lively-dull), homographs (conduct-conduct), homophones (there-their), collocations (green grass), coordinates (pansy-daisy), subordinates-subordinates (flowers: tulips, daffodils).
    5. Word formations: affixes (un-, -ous), compounds (homesick), acronyms (NATO), initialisms (FBI), portmanteaus (telecast), neologisms (twigloo)
    6. Word manipulations: anagrams (teach-cheat), palindromes (star-rats), rebuses (2 4 T).
    7. Word games: alphabetic (Scrabble), alliteration (Jon Jones from Janestown), rhyming (swift gift), riddles, tongue twisters (sixty sticky thumbs).
    8. Ambiguities: ambiguous words, phrases, and sentences (fish biting off the coast).
    (Dale D. Johnson, Bonnie Von Hoff Johnson, and Kathleen Schlichting, "Logology: Language and Word Play," Vocabulary Instruction: Research to Practice, ed. by James F. Baumann and Edward J. Kameenui. Guilford, 2004)
  • Dmitri Borgmann on the "Finest English Word Ever Formed"
    "Logology, defined as 'the science of words' by The Oxford English Dictionary, consists of two overlapping 5-letter palindromes, LOGOL and GOLOG, followed by a 1-letter palindrome, Y. It is also, by auspicious accident, what is known as a second-order reduplication . . .. As for balance, the careful observer of words discovers that the word alternates not merely vowels and consonants, but letters from the first and last halves of the alphabet. Furthermore, if we replace each letter with the number indicating its position in the alphabet (A=1, B=2, etc.), and add the numbers, the sum turns out to be 108. Dividing 108 by 8 (the number of letters in the word) yields an average of precisely 13.5, showing us that the letters constituting logology are balanced around the exact midpoint of the alphabet, halfway between M and N. Few, indeed, are the words that achieve such an absolute balance!

    "Add to all this the fact that logology avoids using any of the 5 most common English letters (E, T, A, I, and S), and you realize that it is, very fittingly, the finest English word every formed."
    (Dmitri A. Borgmann, Language on Vacation: An Olio of Orthographical Oddities. Scribner's, 1965)
  • Richard Lederer on the "Best of the State Names"
    "MISSISSIPPI. In letter patterning, this is clearly the best of the state names, rivaled only by Tennessee. Both names contain just one vowel repeated four times univocalically, three sets of double letters, and only four different letters.

    "But Mississippi has the distinction of containing a seven-letter embedded palindrome--ississi; three overlapping four-letter palindromes--issi, issi, and ippi,; and a double triple--ississ. And each year is crowned a new Miss Mississippi, whose title consists of three double triplets--Missmiss, ississ, and ssissi--and only four alphabetic units among its fifteen letters."
    (Richard Lederer, The Word Circus: A Letter-Perfect Book. Merriam-Webster, 1998)

Examples and Observations (definition #2):

  • "In the years after the 1930s, [Kenneth] Burke's interest in art and words matured into a comprehensive logology. As he studied words to understand literary appeal or to solve social problems, he came to realize that his entire project was THE WORD. . . . It was this incentive ['to be recognized as a pretty damned good philosopher of language'] that prompted Burke to create logology--the use of words to study words--and to develop a rationale for approaching words as being real, not as artificial devices for conveying knowledge."
    (Robert L. Heath, Realism and Relativism: A Perspective on Kenneth Burke. Mercer University Press, 1986)
  • "[I]n The Rhetoric of Religion, [Kenneth] Burke offers a 'theory' called 'logology.' However, the term 'theory' is deceptive here. Like all of Burke's 'theories,' it is more a loose set of intellectual predilections, commonplaces, and techniques than a full-blown theoretical system. In fact, much of what undergirds logology is precisely the sentiments that occupied Burke's mind for his entire career. . . . In other words, logology is an application of Burke's earlier work to a specific subject matter. The relationship between logology and the dramatism that Burke spent much of his career after A Rhetoric of Motives filling out is exceedingly close."
    (Ross Wolin, The Rhetorical Imagination of Kenneth Burke. University of South Carolina Press, 2001)
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Pronunciation: lawg-AH-la-gee