Thursday, April 28, 2016

Definition/Wordplay Etymology Crossover

Definition Wordplay Etymology CrossoverTake a close look at this clue:

Away from home, in the open, dies in battle (7) OUTSIDE
OUT (in the open) (DIES)*; Definition: away from home

The etymology of OUTSIDE is OUT + SIDE, so the clue partly recycles the definition of OUTSIDE in its wordplay OUT (DIES)*.

Try another:

What's used as a religious setting on a piece of furniture (7) RETABLE
RE (on) TABLE (piece of furniture); definition: what's used as a religious setting

The word RETABLE originates from medieval Latin retrotabulum which stands for 'rear table'. In this clue's wordplay, RETABLE splits along its natural etymological join (RE+TABLE), with TABLE retaining its furniture meaning.

Both of those clues show signs of definition/wordplay etymology crossover.

Understanding "definition/wordplay etymology crossover"

When the wordplay of a cryptic clue is etymologically related to its answer, it is a case of definition/wordplay etymology crossover.

You have a definition/wordplay etymology crossover on hand if:

  • The answer is SPACESHIP, the wordplay is SPACE + SHIP
  • The answer is LULLABY, the wordplay is LULL + [b]ABY
  • The answer is MECHANIC, the wordplay is (MACHINE)* + C
  • The answer is ENCLOSES, the wordplay is mEN CLOSE Something [T]

Is this wrong?

In double definition clues, it is widely accepted as good clueing practice to avoid etymology crossover between the two definitions. The same isn't universally followed with other clue types.

In his CU interview, David Stickley mentioned the "no definition/wordplay etymology crossover" rule as applicable to US cryptics, while being acceptable as a setter's tool in UK and Australia. I notice though that some setters of UK cryptics too avoid this device.

In his blog, Australian setter David Astle calls out such clues as "hookworms" in round-ups of weakly constructed clues.

Definition/wordplay etyomology crossover often results in wordplay that is not very cryptic. Crafting a smooth surface exacts less imagination from the setter when the wordplay echoes the definition.

What do you think?

Fine or flawed – what's your take?

Solve These

Three words, two clues for each word: one with definition/wordplay etymology crossover, the other without. Enjoy solving and spotting which one.

Rampant war arising always without peacekeepers (7)
One's taken flight to travel across the Channel (7)

Gangster abandoning accepted rule (4)
Turned on by jolly type (4)

Lost hour of sleep's restored (8)
To expect little is being negative (8)

[Thanks to setter Aakash Sridhar (Axe/Exa) for contributing all the clues for this post.]

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16 comments

Kishore said...

R(UN)AW< AY, dd

NORMal, NO RM

H OPELESS*, HOPE LESS

Superb ones, Exa!

Kishore said...

I feel this is not a problem in f the clues are well written like Exa's

Shuchi said...

@Kishore: Doesn't the etymological closeness between the answer and wordplay, by itself make the "well-written" part questionable?

What would you say to DRINKS = DRINK + S?

Kishore said...

There was an "if" there. No Drink-s, of course, but as I said earlier, Exa's ones left ok fine, imo

Kishore said...

There was a typo in that "if"....

Kishore said...

I personally feel these are ok:

City harbour site (8)
Accommodation on board an interplanetary vehicle (9)

vasant said...

Rampant war arising always without peacekeepers (7)RUNAWAY= R(UN)AW<+AY
One's taken flight to travel across the Channel (7)RUN+AWAY=definition/wordplay etymology crossover

Gangster abandoning accepted rule (4)NORM(-AL)==definition/wordplay etymology crossover
Turned on by jolly type (4)NO<+RM

Lost hour of sleep's restored (8)HELPLESS=H+(SLEEP'S)*
To expect little is being negative (8)(HELP)(LESS)=definition/wordplay etymology crossover
As a solver I dont think it is unfair; but it makes solving easier as in the cases above

vasant said...

Kishore's clues:
City harbour site (8)PORTLAND=(PORT)+(LAND)
Accommodation on board an interplanetary vehicle (9)SPACESHIP=(SPACE+SHIP)
For me too, these are OK if what I parsed is true

Shyam said...

Hi Shuchi,

I think a key point in this discussion relates to how the wordplay components are defined. A clue for SPACESHIP can be a charade of SPACE and SHIP, but both SPACE and SHIP must be defined differently from 'outer space' and 'vehicle' respectively ('blank', and 'despatch' might do). Another example is that of TORCHLIGHT which can be effectively clued as TORCH+LIGHT, as the two words have other meanings not related to a torchlight.

My second point is that to judge a clue, we need the bigger picture on what the overall surface story is. LAMELY clued as "Def 1 of LAME; Def 2 of LAME; lazy, exhausted" is a (er) lame clue; however if the non-intersecting word can be worked well to make an (semi)&-lit (eg BABY in LULLABY), then the clue may not turn out to be so bad after all.

tl,dr: Don't judge a clue merely by its etymological cleavage!

michael said...

Flawed. Forgivable for obscure etymologies, I suppose, but definitely seems almost like cheating.

@Kishore "Accommodation" seems fine, as it's not the same type of "space"... I suppose they might be similar ideas (an empty region), but they are two separate definitions. Maybe it's not great, because they probably do have a shared etymology, but it's acceptable.
"On board" for ship is not good in my view. A ship is a word for different types of vehicles. That includes spacecraft as well as seacraft. In America, I believe it can also include aircraft (though I can't remember anyone actually using it that way).
Ship can also mean to send something, although I would guess that probably diverged from the nounal definition relatively recently (within the past few hundred years probably, while space's definitions have probably been around awhile) so I wouldn't use that either, personally. But "ship" as slang for wanting fictional characters to get into a relationship would be acceptable (if you ignore the slanginess) because they clearly have separate etymologies.

anax said...

Perhaps it's a question of easy or hard rather than right or wrong. Generally I'd avoid crossover, but if I was briefed to set an easy puzzle I might go for it on occasion, probably never more than one per puzzle though.
Some years ago I wrote this clue:

Go mad in the office (12) DEPARTMENTAL

It was among my list of favourites for a long time, but if you check the etymology of DEPARTMENT it does actually come from DEPART, so it's sometimes easy to be caught out. In this instance, perhaps we're rescued by the fact that many solvers wouldn't suspect such a close – or indeed any – link.

Shuchi said...

Thanks for the very interesting comments.

I think there is a wide spectrum with crossover. All these points put together matter:

(1) How is the answer broken up for wordplay?
DRINKS = DRINK + S is an extreme case.
OUTSIDE = OUT (DIES)* is better since at least the SIDE bit of the word is clued differently.

(2) After the word is broken up, how far removed is the meaning used in the wordplay from the meaning in the answer?
For me, a clue using a synonym different in meaning/POS is superior to a synonym that retains the same meaning/POS, even though both rely on crossover.

With the breakup RE+TABLE for RETABLE, a clue that uses TABLE (propose, verb) instead of TABLE (furniture, noun) has the stronger wordplay.

Shuchi said...

@Kishore: Too close etymologically, not OK for me. Thanks for mentioning Exa who sportingly wrote a few of those clues only to demo crossover.

@vasant: I don't think it is unfair either. It is just not so...stylish?

@Shyam: Thank you for the well-thought out comment, and good to see you here after long!

I agree with your first point - how the wordplay components are defined makes a difference to me too. The second point about the surface, not so much. Clues with etymology crossover tend to have good surface stories by virtue of the crossover.

@michael: Ref your opening line - we think alike :-)

@anax: DEPARTMENTAL comes from DEPART - count me among those who wouldn't spot the link. This reminds me of DA's comment on a clue for ELABORATE, which used the word LABOR in the wordplay. I wouldn't have noticed during a quick solve that these words, too, share a common root.

DA said...

This is a two-level argument.

By my reckoning, the hookworm clue duplicates an answer's sense (or element of that answer) in the wordplay. Take this clunker from Wiglaf in the Indy:

Nobleman accompanies girl soldiers to see civic official = LORD MAYOR

Here we have LORD matching in both solution, and supposed wordplay. That's a hookworm.

The second misdemeanour - by far the slighter - is the bookworm, as Anax highlights in his DEPARTMENTAL clue. It's called a bookworm as it's an erudite hookworm. This is where the overlay is genetic, so to speak. Such as the historic link between geezer and disguise, or genetic and general, etc. One example of a bookworm in my own work played with LABOR sitting in ELABORATE, when then two were close cousins, as both derive from Latin's labor.

Both are undesirable, though when the etymological link is remote, I feel the bookworm is far more forgivable.

Shuchi said...

Thanks DA. I love the terms you use for these "bugs" - hookworm and bookworm!

Martin DeMello said...

My personal line is "no readily recognisable common etymology". If someone has to go look up a dictionary to prove that the two uses are actually related even though they don't seem so, I think the clue is fine.