On Doing Things Through Topical Puns and Near-Synonyms in Conversation

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In spontaneous talk, speakers occasionally use one expression where another one might be expected. For example, a caller to a radio talk-show, complaining about getting reliable travel information from a telephone helpline, outlines the complexity of their freelance work arrangements by saying that they do not have a ‘regular timetable’. Although this is unproblematic, an expression such as a ‘regular schedule’ might be expected. However, the word ‘timetable‘ is closely fitted to their overarching topic: rail travel, where we commonly speak of a train timetable. Although the speaker‘s choice of a near-synonym (‘timetable’ rather than ‘schedule’) involves a semantic connection between two related terms, it does more than this. Drawing on Jefferson’s (1996) analysis of the poetics of word-choices in conversation, this chapter proposes that near-synonyms can have an intimate relationship to a speaker’s course of action; they can foreshadow what the speaker is going to say, or do, and thereby can help to achieve understanding.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBridging the Gap Between Conversation Analysis and Poetics
Subtitle of host publicationStudies in Talk-In-Interaction and Literature Twenty-Five Years after Jefferson
EditorsRaymond Person, Wooffitt Robin
Place of PublicationNew York
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9780429328930
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2021

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