Monday 23 August 2010

Wordplay or Subsidiary Indication?

As we know, most cryptic clues are of the form:

        definition + alternate way to get the answer

Traditionally the "alternate way to get the answer" is called subsidiary indication (SI for short). The term 'wordplay' is its modern equivalent. I prefer 'wordplay' myself, which had led to some discussion in the comments last year. To me that sounds less formal, less formidable than 'subsidiary indication'.

It turns out that there is some disagreement about this usage. A web search led me to this interesting debate in the Crossword Centre message board archives, over the topic of Defining Wordplay [click Detail on that link to read the comments]. Most notably the setter Don Manley [comment#7] writes against equating wordplay with SI:

For me 'wordplay' is to 'subsidiary indication' as 'phonebook' is to 'telephone directory' - ie simpler and neater, but also dumber and less precise!

The main argument is that the apparent meaning of the term 'wordplay' is not consistent with the meaning crossworders give to it. Tim Moorey too writes in the initial chapters of his book How To Master The Times Crossword:

Perhaps strictly accurately the terms should be word and letterplay.

though he does not insist on it and goes on to use 'wordplay' to stand for SI.

What do other sites of note say?

All the crossword guides I recommend use the term 'wordplay' as an alternative name for 'subsidiary indication'. (Well, Big Dave's guide has separate definitions for the two terms but I think they lead to the same meaning.)

A Google search to compare their popularity on crossword-solving sites shows a clear preference for 'wordplay' over SI. The result volumes are in the range below:

Site Subsidiary Indication Count Wordplay
Fifteensquared 117 5100
Times for the Times 5 945
Big Dave's Crossword Blog 11 1360
The Hindu Crossword Corner 3 62

[This considers indexed pages on Google from the sites. It includes the bloggers' as well as commenters' usage counts.]


What do you call it?

What's your preferred name for the part of the cryptic clue that is not the definition?

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Chaturvasi said...

My immediate reaction is why there should be a debate at all on this question.

Use the term 'subsidiary indication' or 'wordplay' or any other that you yourself may think of.

As far as I am concerned, I may use either depending on how my mind works with its senior and junior moments. In senior moments I am forgetful and in junior moments I am playful.

Alec Robins in 'Crosswords' (Teach Yourself Books) uses 'subsidiary indication'.

May Abbot in her book 'The Daily Telegraph: How to do Crosswords' has the term 'secondary clue, the embroidery'.

You can even call it 'the second route' since most cryptic clues have at least two routes to the solution, one the definition and the other, the other! The latter is so multifarious!

anax said...

'Wordplay' is less than spot on if it seeks to accurately define what is otherwise known as 'subsidiary indication', but the latter sounds pompous and technical to me; and it's closer to 10 syllables in length versus the 2 in 'wordplay'.

Aware that some are prepared to argue the toss, in conversation/email I usually discard both terms and use 'treatment' instead.

Big Dave said...

Congratulations on another yet interesting article Shuchi.

On my site we took a collective decision to use wordplay as opposed to the "pompous" subsidiary indication, although reviewers are free to use either term.

Likewise we chose all-in-one as opposed to &Lit.

The main reason we took these decisions was that we are targeting ordinary solvers.

Shuchi said...

@CV Sir: The point of debate is that 'wordplay' is imprecise. When I think of the arguments against it I have to agree, but so long as everyone understands what is meant when we say 'wordplay', I'd prefer to continue using it.

'Second route' is a good substitute!

@anax: 'treatment'? That's a nice one too.

@Big Dave: Thank you. Wise decisions. I'm all for simplicity, though I've continued to use &Lit on Crossword Unclued for consistency with my older articles.

Anonymous said...

Wordplay, though may be considered incomplete in its meaning, is fine as long as we communicate well with it i.e. the reader/auditor understands what you are trying to say. Alternate could be an alternate word for it. In fact, in a double definition, it would be wrong to say one definition is 'subsidiary' to another. Both might be proper in their own way. In that sense, subsidiary too has its weakness.

Calling a spade a shovel is fine, if both the parties understand what it means.

If I am writing a rhyme, I may desire to say,
Instead of subsidiary ind, the word wordplay,
But when I want to show off my scholarly education,
I may like to use the verbose subsidiary indication.

Shuchi said...

Creatively put as usual, Kishore. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

For better or for verse, I am like this only

xwd_fiend said...

"wordplay" for me, as you'd probably have guessed. KISHORE gets close to my reasons - some people think "subsidiary indication" is more precise or indicates more accurately what we're describing, but any book about cryptic clues that uses either term has to tell you what it means, so in principle any word would do. Wordplay gets across a good chunk of the meaning in 2 syllables, just like the terms "browser" or "window" in a computing context (remember how silly "resizable window" looked the first time you saw it?), or the word "definition" in a cryptic crossword context - our "definition" is not always the kind of "definition" you'd see somewhere else, but no-one feels the need to invent a longer and more "precise" term.

There's also a common misconception that experts or inventors get to invent words for things. They often try, but their efforts may fall by the wayside - so we have "tennis", not "sphairistike". My prediction is that 2050, if people are still doing cryptic crosswords, "subsidiary indication" will be as dead as "spahristike".