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Winning wordplay

Many people around the world have enjoyed watching the triumphant scenes in Tahrir Square these last few days, as the Egyptian people celebrated the removal of their unpopular leader, Hosni Mubarak. Check out this great article from Ben Zimmer, all about how the Egyptians used wordplay on their protest signs to help get the message across, not just to Mubarak, but to the whole world. It seemed that English was the language of choice for many of the signs. In England we have a fine tradition of political wordplay. In the 1980s when Margaret Thatcher stopped the State from providing free milk to school children, a rhyming couplet was coined – Maggie Thatcher, milk-snatcher! – and in 2003 when millions in the UK protested against a war with Iraq, protest placards deliberately misspelled Tony Blair’s surname as Bliar, referring to the Prime Minister’s broken promise not to invade. It looks like the Americans enjoy such wordplay as well. Barack Obama’s surname was corrupted into a bomber by his detractors, when he first came to power. It just shows that wordplay can prove a powerful tool, not just in the realms of comedy or advertising but also in changing our world.

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Beth Penfold

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