How does "paraphrasing" differ from "rephrasing" differ from "punning"?

In 2004, I asked Merriam-Webster the following question.Emily A. Brewster from the editorial department replied as follows.

Q: I'd to rephrase the following quotes as follows:

  1. “The haves have freedom, the have-nots have not freedom” (Ayn Rand).
  2. “It’s the economy, stupid” (Bill Clinton).
  3. “Workers of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains” (Karl Marx).

  1. The haves have capitalism; the have-nots have not capitalism.
  2. It’s capitalism, stupid.
  3. Workers of the world unite for capitalism; you have nothing to lose but your hunger.

According to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, paraphrase means “a restatement of a text, passage, or work giving the meaning in another form.” So, if I “paraphrase” something, I must retain its original meaning?

If so, in the above example, do I paraphrase the first quote (since for Rand freedom meant capitalism) but not the second or third (since by “the economy” Clinton did not mean “capitalism” but jobs, and Marx condemned capitalism)? If so, am I “rephrasing” the second and third quotes?

A: You are correct in your understanding that a paraphrase must retain the original meaning of the text being paraphrased. This being the case, your proposed statements are not paraphrases. (If Ayn Rand always equated capitalism with freedom, then your rephrasing of her statement is a paraphrase. However, if she ever used the word “freedom” to mean something other than “capitalism,” your statement would not be an accurate paraphrase; there’s no way to know for certain which sense of “freedom” she was using in the sentence in question—unless, of course, contextual text clarifies which she meant.)

Similarly, I don’t think the word “rephrase” can be accurately used to describe the modifications you’ve made to the statements in question. To phrase something is, according to the definition at sense 1a of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition, is to “to express in words or in appropriate or telling terms.” To rephrase something is to express it in words or in appropriate or telling terms again; what is expressed must be the same.

The changes you’ve made to the statements by Rand, Clinton, and Marx are nothing less than major changes, and I don’t think your versions can be accurately attributed to the people who made the original statements.

Regarding the word “rephrasing,” I did not find any evidence in our files of the verb “rephrase” being used as you suggest, that is, to create a version of someone else’s phrase with a word or two that affects the meaning being changed. In rephrasing, the emphasis of a statement may be shifted, but the core meaning is not changed. Most often when something is rephrased, even the emphasis remains the same as in the original.

What you are doing to the phrases by these people is using them as a kind of template for saying something other than what those people said. It’s an effective rhetorical device because the phrases will have a familiar ring to many people, but your phrases are so different in meaning from the originals, that they cannot be accurately attributed to the people who wrote the originals.

3 comments:

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  3. In rephrasing, the emphasis of a statement may be shifted, but the core meaning is not changed. Most often when something is rephrased, even the emphasis remains the same as in the original.
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