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What writers can learn from Elvis Costello – clever wordplay and #puns

If you are reading this you are probably a lyric-loving “word nerd” like I am.

You probably like your music with clever wordplay in the lyrics?

That’s why I’m a big fan of the lyrics (and sometimes the bitter wit) of Elvis Costello.

You can learn lots from his lyrics too.

costello my aim is true

Here are some of my favourite types of Costello wordplay and puns.

I’m sure these techniques have fancy Greek names. I’ll use simpler expressions.

If you know the fancy names – please add in the comments section below.

Also, if you have favourite Elvis Costello lyrics or wordplay  – please add them in the comments secion too.

1. the double meaning of a word.

In Oliver’s Army – the double meaning of occupation – a job (in the army) and the occupying of a country by another military force.

Have you got yourself an occupation?

2. The use of a word in two different meanings in lines side by side.

So I see us lying back to back

My case is closed my case is packed (Possession)

3. The sound of words and double meaning.

I don’t know if you’ve been loving somebody (some body) I only know it isn’t mine. (Allison)

4. Playful breaking down of  bigger words into smaller words

You Lack lust. You’re so lacklustre. (Possession)

5. Allusions to other songs – with the lyrics starting his song. similar – but different

We’re all going on a summer holiday. Vigilantes coming out to follow me  (The Beat)

If there’s anything that you want (Possession) – reminds me of The Beatles “From Me to You”

Yes that Possession song is packed with witty wordplay!


David Lee Roth once made an amusing barbed comment that music critics seemed to like Elvis Costello because they looked like him (with the nerdy bookworm look, I extrapolated)

I always like how Elvis Costello seemed happy to be more ambitious with his lyrics – to find different angles to the usual love songs and to try more ambitious rhymes and wordplay.

Elvis (Declan) seemed to make wordplay cool.

elvis costello books

Remember – if you have favourite Elvis Costello lyrics or wordplay  – please add them in the comments secion too.


If you enjoy clever lyrics – here are links to posts about the great lyrics of:

Billy Bragg and Paul Weller


2. what-writers-can-learn-from-billy-bragg-the-sting-in-the-tail-trick/


5. how-paul-weller-and-the-jam-can-help-writers-improve-their-writing/

Yes,  as you can tell, I love good lyrics – and I enjoy analysing and writing about little writing tricks to help your lyric writing and writing in general.

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I blog about fun pop culture stuff as well as more serious  business communication tips.



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These days, lots of people and organisations need help with how to COPE with too much work, too much information, too many meetings, delivering difficult news etc.   I like to help people COPE.



One comment on “What writers can learn from Elvis Costello – clever wordplay and #puns

  1. David Hilliard
    October 18, 2014

    I said I’m so happy I could die. She said “Drop dead”, and left with another guy.

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