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Ad Nomen Argumenta: Personal Names as Pejorative Puns in Ancient Texts

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Chapter Summary

The basic meanings of personal names in ancient Semitic and ancient non-Semitic languages were normally intelligible to ancient peoples. This chapter focuses on pejorative nominal (i.e., "name") puns in ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, and Greek. Cicero notes that the category of assonance is often used in puns on names. Describing this category he states that there is a "slight change in spelling . . . when the variation is in a letter or two." Regarding the phenomenon of homophony in general, Cicero wrote that "the play upon equivocal words is particularly clever, and depends on language, not on facts, but it seldom raises any considerable laughter, being chiefly praised as evidence of elegant scholarship." Sometimes, of course, homophony can be operative with regard to personal names.

Keywords:ancient Semitic languages; Aramaic; Cicero; Greek; Hebrew; Latin; pejorative puns

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