Word game involving linking similar-sounding words by definitions?
April 14, 2020 6:23 PM   Subscribe

Inspired by a recent Twitter conversation – What's this sort of word-game where you link similar-sounding words by their definitions? My family has played it, often on long car rides, and I've seen many Twitter threads of it... my earliest memory of it is, I think, some TV show for kids, but I'm not sure if it was supposed to be educational or funny.

There's at least two variations that I've seen:

The “loop” version wherein the game keeps looping back to the original word, like so:

“So is there such a thing as a thembo?”
“Yeah, that's a little metal cap you put on your finger when you're hand-sewing.”
“That's a thimble. A thembo is a container you put coffee in to keep it hot. ”
“That’s a thermos. Thembo was the name of the purple bad guy in the most recent Avengers movie.”
“That's Thanos. Isn't thembo that Caribbean dance where you have to bend over backwards to get under a horizontal pole? “

And there's the “chain” version, which drifts further and further away from the original word, and often doesn't even name each word in the step;

“So for D&D, I'm gonna play a bard.”
“Oh, you're gonna play a feathery avian sort of thing?” (bird)
“No no, that's not it, you're thinking of a lady on her wedding day.” (bride)
“Nah, you're thinking about when something has a very high luminosity.” (bright)
“Mmm, pretty sure that's what vampires do to you when they suck your blood.” (bite)
“Nah, that's what Australians put on their hooks to catch fish.” (bait) (with added Aussie accent)

It can be two people back-and-forth, or new people jumping in for each response.

Does anyone know what this sort of thing is called, what its origin might be, and bonus points for any good examples in film or writing or--?
posted by The otter lady to Writing & Language (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know of any canonical or canonical-ish name for it! My family didn't play it growing up, but I recognize it as something that predates the recent big surge in twitter-chain versions of it as a style of wordplay riffing.

Interestingly I have found that I very strongly and specifically think of it as the "chain" version, and have been mildly (and if I'm honestly self-assessing, unreasonably) annoyed by the recent faddishness of the loop version which feels a little less dynamic to me but fits the spottiness of twitter threading better as a social game.

(Also delighted to see Lore showing up as a citation.)
posted by cortex at 6:39 PM on April 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

I think this (both versions) is an internet meme from Twitter / Reddit / Imgur that hasn't got a widely used name but is sometimes called "No, You're Thinking Of"

* A subreddit that collects them: https://www.reddit.com/r/NYTO
* A brief discussion on "know your meme" proposing naming it that didn't go anywhere: https://knowyourmeme.com/forums/meme-research/topics/47273-no-youre-thinking-of
* An example from Twitter captured on imgur: https://imgur.com/gallery/GqZuM
posted by richb at 7:39 AM on April 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Well, it definitely predates the internet because I've been playing it with my family and friends since the 80s, but "No You're Thinking Of" does sound right, that's for sure the most common phrase used in it.
posted by The otter lady at 9:10 AM on April 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

I played a similar game in the '80s with my friends and we called it "Conan the Librarian" it was somewhat different--started with a question, i.e. "What is that movie about the powerful fighter who comes to your house, bashes in the door and takes back your overdue books?" Conan the Librarian. One friend won that round with "What is that movie about the fighting blond unrealistically proportioned doll who believed in race-purity?" Conan the Barbie-Aryan...and so forth. We would then riff on other movie titles, song titles, etc. But always started with "How about a round of Conan the Librarian?" (I am posting this answer after listening to the Metafilter podcast and decided Jessamyn would appreciate our name for the game).
posted by agatha_magatha at 9:21 AM on May 2, 2020

I heard this AskMe discussed on the podcast. I dug into basically this question for this Metafilter thread. There's a bunch of examples in the Chain Of Corrections TVTropes article, including a Mad Magazine example from 1955, and it was apparently a staple of Fibber McGee and Molly, a 1930s radio show.
posted by zamboni at 4:58 PM on May 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

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